Is it wrong to visit indigenous Thai Hill Tribes?

Is it wrong to visit indigenous Thai Hill Tribes? I’ve been hearing a lot of debate on this subject over the past few months. Northern Thailand is riddled with hundreds of these “Thai Hill Tribes”.

Thai Hill Tribes people? Who?

Children in a Karen “Long-Neck” Hill Tribe

Thai hill tribes are villages of people with varying indigenous decent, mostly refugees that have migrated from neighbouring China, Tibet and Myanmar (Burma) over the past couple hundered years. Comprising seven major tribes: Akha, Karen (including “Long Neck”), Hmong , Yao, Lisu, Lawa, and Lahu, each have their own distinct culture, language, art and colourful style of dress. Thai hill tribes’ people make their homes in the mountainous regions of the North.

The main profession of all these thai hill tribes is farming. In fact, they have preserved their way of life with little change for over the past thousand years. Of course, this different and unique way of life has considerable appeal to the fellow traveller who would like to experience a culture different to their own. Heck – that’s why most people want to travel isn’t it? So what’s the issue with taking one of the organized tours to visit their villages?

Tourists meandering through a Karen Hill Tribe

The debate

Some of the more ‘versed’ backpacker types I’ve met have said things like:

“Don’t do it, it’s oppressing them!”,

“They guilt you into buy things”,

“It’s terrible, it’s not even authentic – did you see the Christian church in their village?”

Karen Hill Tribe woman wandering through her village

I even have heard a much more graphic, and somewhat derogatory term

“Human Zoo!”.

Hmmm, hearing that certainly made me question my own desire and intrigue to go visit one of these communities. So what’s the good side then?

Karen Hill Tribe handicraft shop

The Skinny

Though there are some thai hill tribes which have definitely lost a bit of their traditional way of living, due to the reaping benefits of selling their locally produced products to tourists, and posing for countless photo shoots with visitors, you have to remember that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of these villages in the North. The few which are accessible to tourists are villages which have agreed to let people come into what is essentially their homes.

Posing for a photo after buying some local hand-woven fabrics and a gold coiled ring

Akha’s performing in their village for all the villagers during Christmas

Having spent several months living in an Akha Hill Tribe village myself, I know how kind and welcoming many of the inhabitants are. Though they may come across as incredibly hospitable, there is also a side of privacy and caution which is instilled in their way of life after centuries of being oppressed and unrecognized as citizens by local governments, in addition to the more pressing issue of having rival tribes invading and stealing what’s been earned quite laboriously – even if it’s a bag of rice. It can take some time to earn the true trust of these people. Even after months of living in the village and developing strong friendships, many were still shy and uneasy with photos being taken of them.

Cooking the local catch of the day in an Akha Hill Tribe village

The point I’m trying to make here, is that the villages you will visit on an organized tour have agreed to allow people to pass through, and to experience what life is like in & around their homes. Most will get a commission from the tour companies, in addition to being able to sell homemade handicrafts – this has become their livelihood. In fact – people claim that’s just a tourist trap type activity – though in the village I was in, devoid of tourists, I still saw them selling the exact same woven clothing, fabrics and handicrafts… to each other. The only difference with the thai hill tribes the local operators visit is that they can now provide a service to the curious minds of visitors with their welcoming smiles, photo opportunities, and authentic art and tapestries. This is ideal for a visitor quickly passing through who wants to have a taste of what local thai hill tribes are all about.

Akha village elder making handwoven tapestries.. as a gift, not for sale.

The best part about these tours? These locals are ok with tourists passing through. It’s their 9-5 job. Once everyone’s passed through, they carry on with their daily routines, celebrate their traditional festivals, and carry-on living life as they would have otherwise. It’s a way to make a livelihood, especially when many are not recognized by local governments as citizens, depriving them of their education systems, and restricting the types of employment they can get outside of the thai hill tribes.

Karen Hill Tribe member making fabrics on a loom

The comments I heard that I think raised my eyebrow the highest in disbelief *the rant continues* are the ones expressing the lack of ‘authenticity’ found in the tourist-driven thai hill tribes. I’ve got news for you: They don’t fake those neck rings.. they’re pretty authentic… and heavy too! As far as the christianity influence having infiltrated it’s way into their Animism (believing in the spirits of Ancestors) beliefs go… When Burma was under British rule, Christian missionaries came and went straight to the hilltop villages of Burma to convert many tribal people into Christians – many of which have migrated to the safer hills on northern Thailand. British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948. Missionaries continue to visit the Burmese and Thai Hill Tribes in their crusade. This is not new, and judging by the history of the world (especially Asia), religions have continuously come in and converted local inhabitants over the past 2000 years. If you look closely at the thai Hill Tribes, you’ll actually notice that their Christianity actually incorporates many of their animistic beliefs into it. It’s more of a hybrid religion. Lastly, yes.. some of them have concrete homes and cell phones. Did the people making these allegations of inauthenticity truly believe that the villagers have no desire to reap on some of the ‘futuristic commodities’ of solid housing and communication that the entire rest of the planet uses?  I think it would truly be inauthentic, if not oppressive, if we expected them to live as they did 100 years ago simply for our pleasure of seeing something ‘really different’. Seems a little selfish, walking in with a huge SLR camera (or the slightly more tacky tourist taking pictures with their iPad.. it’s not a camera, people), and expecting the locals to not want a piece of that capitalistic action, don’t you think?

Karen Hill Tribe girl resting in her hut

Akha children being brought into the 21st century, with yours truly!

I’m not trying to make your decision for you. I’m not trying to tell you what’s right or wrong here either. I only think it’s fair to make your own decision if you’re able to see both sides of the coin first. Perhaps you can investigate which tour company is doing this in the most non-intrusive, sustainable way. If you choose to go, go with an open mind. Appreciate what these local people are actually allowing you to do, by visiting their homes. If you like some of the Thai silk, or gold ring bracelets they’re selling.. buy one. If you don’t like them… don’t buy them. Smile at them. Try to say hello, and thank them for letting you into their home. If it still doesn’t sit right for you… don’t go. It’s no sweat of their back, or mine.

If you’d like to read up on some ideas for making sure your visit is culturally responsible, I found some GREAT tips over at Off The Path Travel. I suggest you check them out before planning your Hill Tribe visit to make sure that you’re having a neutral (if not positive) impact on the tribes you visit!

MISSIONARIES!!! Just kidding – English teachers being kindly welcomed into the Akha community

Peaceful Akha Hill Tribe village

Have you visited any of the Thai Hill Tribes? What was your experience like? If you haven’t visited them, would you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.. I’m interested to hear everyone’s opinions.. both sides of the coin!

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  1. Thanks for posting this…I have mixed feelings about these types of tours and haven’t done any here in Chiang Mai. I felt uncomfortable after a couple ‘homestays’ in Vietnam (when I really didn’t know what I was signing up for) and now look at these trips very warily. Is the tourism helping to support the tribe and, in a way, even maybe preserve their traditional culture? Or is it being invading these groups’ space and way of life? I’m still not sure. But until I feel like I have a stronger stance (one way or the other) on them I don’t want to participate. Do you know of/recommend any good tour companies in CNX?
    Alana Morgan – Gen Y Wanderer recently posted..My New NormalMy Profile

    • Hi Alana! That’s a great question, and the root of the answer lies in the term ‘sustainable tourism’. I believe that there are elements of cultures which would otherwise be lost, such as traditional tapestries and so forth, without tourism dollars. Jobs in cities, sadly, have more appeal, even though many who attempt to move to cities end up living in slums, and don’t have the job training needed. That said.. tourism dollars brings a new opportunity to many of the villagers. Financial stability. This enables the younger generations to have things such as higher education at their disposal, thus creating more opportunity for them, and their village, in the future. I met one youngster who was a star english student, who wanted to become a doctor.. only so they could return to their village and help their families. I fear, without tourist driven income, this would never be a possibility otherwise.
      globe_trottah recently posted..Is it wrong to visit indigenous Thai Hill Tribes?My Profile

  2. i don’t wish to get into any great debate but i think if these tribes are open to visitors, then it’s ok to go. how else should they maintain a livelihood?

    i love all the photos. what gorgeous colors. i think one of those neck collars would look sick on me! :)

    thanks for sharing, Ian.

    xo – lola
    lauren dimarco recently posted..Chicago francophiliaMy Profile

      • You realize that the attraction you’re visiting is only interesting because its a chance to see a different way of living and culture. By constantly visiting them, tourists are destroying the thing they came to see.

        • I agree to some degree, Jared… however, their situation is unique in the sense of the oppression that they’ve faced for so long. First of all, I don’t consider their village an ‘attraction’, like one would refer to Walt Disney World or the Eiffel Tower. It is an indigenous group of people who have been denied many human rights. If you isolate them, then they are further oppressed to have even less contact with the outside world… or to the money that exists therein. It is not possible for the vast majority of them to go to school, get health care, or any of the other bare essentials we may take for granted. For groups open to the idea of being visited, they are able to gain tourist money as income otherwise unavailable to them.

          What you say is very true… they will change as a result. I hesitate to use the word ‘destroy’ however. Most of the world has changed, and is constantly changing at a very rapid pace. Isolating certain demographics because they live in a way our own people did hundreds of years ago only further prevents them from joining the rest of the world to a level they may otherwise wish to be a part of. It’s controversial of course – so isn’t it best to leave that decision to those affected? by that, all I mean is isn’t it best to support those who wish to allow those interested in visiting their village, to help give them the tools to move forward? I’m not saying this is right… merely asking the question. I value your opinion in this. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for presenting the other side of the coin on this debate. We talked at length with our host in Chiang Mai, and she brought up the point that being in Thailand is obviously better than being where they came from (or they wouldn’t have come).

    Many of them have left other countries to escape conflicts there, and the tourism trade allows them to make a living, feed their families and to stay in Thailand, where their lives are better.

    You can see more of my thoughts on the matter here: http://thereandbackagaintravel.com/2012/01/thailand-hill-tribe-karen/
    Shanna Schultz recently posted..Looking Down the Road: Hogmanay in Edinburgh on New Years EveMy Profile

  4. Beautiful photos! I visited the Karen and Akha tribes while in Chiang Mai, and at first everyone was a little uneasy about being there – some people also said it was like a zoo. However, I felt that it was less zoo-like if you actually interacted with the people, especially the children. We spoke the people, asked to take pictures of/with them, and bought some of the items they were selling, and that made a big difference. Each experience is what you make of it, and if these people are allowing visitors to come into the their homes, than I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    Great post, Ian!
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    • Hey Erin!! Thanks for sharing your experience.. it seems that most people who actually take the time to interact with others while visiting actually come out with a positive view on the situation.. it’s just the initial dilemas that I think most people face thinking that the people here are somehow opposed to you visiting, and don’t actually want to be there. This is a lifestyle they have chosen, for the most part..and it’s much better than much of the oppression many of them faced prior to living in Thailand.
      globe_trottah recently posted..Without-a-Drop Challenge: 3 months of alcohol free travelMy Profile

  5. thank you for writing this. i have been looking for some sort of discourse on this contentious topic. third time in chiang mai now and i still haven’t had the will to sign up for one of those hill tribe tours. you have a point. treat the changes (tourist influx, religious conversions, technology) as natural and necessary for these villagers, and the experience will seem more authentic. that is the life they have now so why look for something more preserved, or backward? you could but those villages might not be easy to get to for travelers just passing through. i’ve blabbered on. great post!
    paul | walkflypinoy.com recently posted..Why Travel Tuesday: Fatehpur SikriMy Profile

  6. Excellent article and one that puts in perspective the differing views on responsible tourism. I am sure that I will be referring back to this article in my research and adding a link to it on our site

    • Wow.. I’d be honoured, Paul! Thanks for the positive feedback. It can be a bit of a touchy subject, I feel, but one that should be discussed openly. I think the most important voice in this matter is that of the people who live in these villages. In a recent trip to Borneo, I experienced very similar, after staying with a tribe who was not on the beaten trail (story coming), and had their outlook only reinforced that of my own. Thanks again for following :)
      globe_trottah recently posted..Is it wrong to visit indigenous Thai Hill Tribes?My Profile

  7. I agree with your commenters. Your photos are so beautiful! I guess to me these “villages” don’t look authentic and seem to be mostly for show and for the benefit of tourists. This does bother me. They are quite accessible to the public- just off the a main road. A tourist can easily visit several “villages” and go back to his 4 star hotel bed in the evening. They are easily driven into by bus loads of tourists at a time. The village I am familiar with is very remote and not accessible by road at all during the rainy season. I realize not everyone can visit these remote and true villages but this is where you’ll see the real deal. I can’t wait to take a look through the rest of this site. Thanks for an interesting read on a stimulating subject.
    Lynn recently posted..23 LeadersMy Profile

    • Hi Lynn! Thanks for the great perspective. I agree that it is definitely possible to visit villages which aren’t on the tourist trail, though for the time-refrained traveller, it may be a bit more difficult to arrange something like this, especially with no familiarity of the area. Of course if people all start doing this, then all the villages will become almost forced into accommodating the increase in tourists who start visiting the more remote… and then the cycle begins again, though this may be something unwelcome by some of the villages. If someone would rather not go to the tour bus driven villages, perhaps it’s best to talk to some locals in a city who may be able to recommend somewhere, or better yet.. bring you to their own village. Not always as easy as it seems though. I hope you enjoy future posts as well, mate! Thanks again for your comment :)

  8. Awesome post on a very difficult topic. I think that if you travel with the right intentions and make an effort to respect the difference in cultures… you will find yourself in the midst of some of the most welcoming people on the planet. Way to go Ian!

    • Hey Mike! Thanks for the comment! It was a topic which was irking me a fair bit as I just listened to what I thought of as veteraned backpackers having such animosity towards something which they either hadn’t experienced first hand, or had, but went in with only their own interests in mind.

      I agree completely that with an open mind and a little effort to understand and respect cultual differences, maybe even some understanding to what they’re trying to accomplish, that you will definitely have one of the most memorable experiences! Cheers Mike!
      globe_trottah recently posted..Bamboo Nest – Northern Thailand’s best kept travel secretMy Profile

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  10. When I was in Chiang Mai I was actually persuaded not to visit the Karen Hill Tribe by another girl staying at my hostel from comments like you listed above. Before arriving it was something I really wanted to do! Thanks for writing this post and giving me a better view on the situation. Luckily for me, I plan on visiting Burma and Northern Thailand (again) this April so I can go and visit this time :)
    Jessica Wray recently posted..Five Bites: TaiwanMy Profile

    • Hey Jessica! Thanks for the feedback! There are certainly some hilltribes which are being manipulated by tour companies as some people mention.. but certainly not all of them. Like I mentioned, if they don’t want to do it, there’s certainly other options for them. They’ve chosen to allow guests/tourists in to their villages. It’s certainly a unique experience, and one which you should go into with an open mind. I always feel it’s best to make your opinions for yourself – I merely wanted to show the other side of the coin :) Enjoy your trip here in April!!!
      globe_trottah recently posted..Forensic Pathology Museum – A look inside Bangkok’s “Museum of Death”My Profile

  11. I recently read that two women of the long neck tribe were granted visas for New Zealand and Finland – so the paperwork for getting out of Thailand is okay, but they are not granted exit visas from the Thai gov’t because they are afraid of losing tourism. In this thread there are merely pros on the topic, and saying they would be worse off if they were not in the refugee camp.
    But an important aspect of happiness is freedom, and being forced to live in a refugee camp without the possibility to work unless they are in tourism…..isn’t that wrong? Especially when they do have options outside of Thailand?
    I really want to visit this tribe, but was very disappointed when i read about these two women… I hope there are more pro arguments than already listed…anyone?!
    I don’t want to contribute to “enprisonment” for refugees…does anyone know more about this..??

    • Hey Ava – I didn’t read that article.. I’d love to, if you could send me a link to it!! Keep in mind that newspapers want to make the best story, even if it only means showing one side of the story. The situation with refugees around the world is dire, and it’s terrible when politics is involved. This is people’s lives, and for the governments, it’s just about tax revenue.

      I have been to several hilltribes, and happiness takes on new forms, some of which you won’t find anywhere else.

      I see it in reverse sometimes too, being an expat in Thailand. I will never EVER get the same rights as a Thai person living here – even if I were to marry a Thai. I will always be a foreigner bound by their political system. The difference of course is that I’ve chosen to be here, rather than having no choice in the matter.

      I wouldn’t look at hilltribes as refugee camps necessarily though. They are their homes – they have beautiful homes with beautiful cultures. There is a sense of true community.. and slowly but surely, they are getting more and more recognized by the thai government. The village I was living in had all it’s roads paved, and was finally getting electricity, water, internet and other amenities accessible to their homes. It’s a changing world, and this is one of the situations that still exists, but won’t much longer. At least with them allowing tourists in to their homes, it’s a way of sustaining their culture, AND making a living in doing so, before being bound to conformity and working in a mall somewhere. Just my two cents. I merely wanted to illustrate both sides of the coin here :)
      globe_trottah recently posted..Bartering vs Bullying – The livelihood of many localsMy Profile

  12. Hey Ian, thanks for your reply!
    I found the article i mentioned (“Please set me free”), but I see now that it was published in 2008. I don’t know if things have changed since then, I will have to research that some more.
    Although it is published in a women’s magazine (Marie Claire), it is a good interview that gives good insight to the issue.
    You have some good points, especially since you have spent months there and know some of the people personally. I agree it can be a good way of sustaining a culture.
    However, if what the interview (link) says is still true, I will nede to reconsider my visit (my plan is/was to go there in January). I will try to find out whether they still are denied exit visas before I decide.
    Article: http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/kayan-long-neck-thailand

    • Hey Ava – thanks for the article link!
      I’m curious if this is an isolated incident, or if it happens regularly. I have not heard any news of this before. There’s several other factors to keep in mind with this as well:
      1) was the information in the article factual? and if so, was it the FULL story? or were there other details that were left out just to convey a point?
      2) Though not going to visit will apease an internal gratification to spite the Thai governments (possible) actions, it will not rectify the (again, possible) situation! If no one is aware of your protest, it will not help resolve anything.
      3) As for the long-neck tribes – if this article holds any truth, and they are in a sense being held captive (which I have much disbelief in, from my own experiences), you are also in turn not providing them with your financial support.
      My suggestion, simply, is make sure you research thoroughly before making decisions that could affect your own experience, AND the livelihood of the locals as well. That was my only point in this article too.. too many people just buy in to one side of the story, without examining the other side first. :)
      globe_trottah recently posted..Yi Peng – Floating Lanterns Festival in Chiang MaiMy Profile

  13. Good point, it will not help them NOT doing anything either. Perhaps I can try to help them in some small way if I go there.. I noticed none of the travel agencies here (Norway) offer any trips to the tribe, so I suspect they are boicotting. However, i don’t know this for sure, and if I make it there I will report back to your site. Hopefully I get to talk to them and see if there is anything i can do to help. :)

    • Hey Ava! I love getting your responses :) I wouldn’t suspect your agencies are boycotting (unless they’ve told you this).. all the tour operators are incredibly small in Thailand, and barely make enough to spread around, let alone pay a commission to a large norwegian (or any other western) travel agency. Considering you can get full day tours locally, which include bamboo rafting, long neck visits, and riding in ox carts for about $40/USD including food, and transport there and back… it’s probably not in their interest to be booking it due to the incredibly small cut they would get… If you need some help arranging it when you arrive to Thailand, let me know, and I’ll try to ask around to help find the best operator for you. I actually know a guy FROM a hilltribe (not long neck, but another) who live’s in Chiang Mai now, and started offering tours to people to his village, to go on hikes, and live amongst his family for a few days. Just a thought… and he only books direct (no agencies).
      Ian Ord recently posted..Meet Off The Beaten Path Explorer: Sebastian CanavesMy Profile

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  15. Does anyone have suggestions for a tour that isn’t very invasive? I was planning a trip through a company that catered toward activities that wouldn’t exploit humans & animals and they had an overnight visit with a local hill tribe… it ended up that I couldn’t afford the trip and now I am trying to re-plan but I can’t find the information anymore. I want to make sure the activities I do are ethical for both humans and animals. Thanks!

  16. Hi,

    Unfortunately the situation described by a previous poster regarding Kayan resettlement occurred as the media reported. The UN, which viewed the applicants as refugees, granted 20 families with third-country resettlement in 2006 but Mae Hong San provincial authorities blocked it for roughly two years. After the media flare up they were finally allowed to leave.

    Another issue with the long-neck Kayan is that the MHS government has purposefully kept roads into their villages in poor condition to preserve “authenticity,” has in some cases refused the villages access to the government electrical grid for the same reason (thus forcing residents to rely on more expensive generators and car batteries) and prohibits public transportation to the villages. Moreover, these refugees must pay for their own medical care — something that if they lived in the camps would be provided to them at no cost. As a refugee resettlement professional who has spent several years working with Karen and Karenni populations, the state of the artificial Kayan villages is deplorable. These handful of villages are indeed human zoos, a term employed by the UNHCR to describe the situation. The villages have destroyed traditional lifeways, elevated male unemployment above 90 percent and have not provided significant financial benefit. For an in-depth analysis of these points check out “Ethnic Tourism and the Long-Neck Karen” by Jinranai Ismail.

    I cannot comment on other Thai hill tribes our the ethics of tours (and I certainly commend the author for his deep respect, understanding and time with the Akha!) but it’s worth noting to all visitors the fringes of society, legally and socially, within which these tribes live.

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  19. We visited a Meo hill tribe and a Karen village in 1976. We had the opportunity to interact with the villagers and my hubby was chuffed that he was able to chat with some of the older Meo people in Mandarin. We didn’t accept their offer to buy a huge bag of ganga for $25. More recently we spent two nights at a Tibetan homestay in Jiuzhaigou in China. Again we had a wonderful time and must have not offended anyone because the grandma, who is about a week older than me, sent us off with a bottle of her homemade barley wine (VERY strong!)and some homemade barley bread. I think it all depends on your approach. If you are genuinely interested in people, you will find they are often interested in you too and we have had wonderful conversations with people we meet, all over the place in our travels.

    • Love your stories and your approach to this subject Lesley!! I believe it’s entirely dependent on your attitude and willingness to communicate and to share. The world is filled with beautiful people – and we are just that, people. Putting others on a pedestal can in a way be harmful in itself, rather than interacting, communicating, and exchanging. :) Thanks for sharing!

  20. I’d feel kind of weird going to a village as part of a tour group. I generally don’t care for tour groups at all. But if you had some kind of local connection to visit one of the hill tribe villages as an independent person then I think it could really be an interesting experience.

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  22. interesting point made! Love the write up! I’ll be going to chiang mai in august! I’ve been reading up on different articles regarding the long neck village. And many have negative comments on it. Despite all that I still would like to learn about their culture. I’m still quite confused whether I should be joining the tour group or explore to the village myself.

    • Hi Ain, thanks for the comments :) I’m glad this hit home on a few points, as it was merely intended to have people think for themselves, as opposed to listening to only one side of a story. The karen, and all the other hilltribes, each have their own beautiful cultures, and are generally excited to talk about them… if of course it is within a community that welcomes outsiders. If you choose to join a group or to go on your own, just be sure to research prior if the tour company is giving back to the community they’re visiting, or otherwise, if the community you choose to visit is appreciative of foreigners taking photos of their homes, etc :)
      Ian Ord – Where Sidewalks End recently posted..Brownsberg Nature Park – Welcome to the Jungle, Suriname styles!My Profile

  23. I went with an organization called YWAM to Thailand for 2 months. We helped at this coffee shop in Chiang Rai, where there was a boy who came from a Lahu hill tribe about 3-4 hours away from where we were. So one day we got the opportunity to go and visit. It was an amazing time. We got there after a quite adventurous trek, and the people were so welcoming. They shared with us a snack (super super sticky rice patty). And then we got to play with the kids, and talk to some of the other people there. Even though there was a definite language barrier, it was still good. We held a church service along with them, sharing both of our cultures. Afterwards, they fed us lunch, and then ate whatever we didn’t. After that, they shared with us their tribal dance and even invited us to learn. It was so sweet!! As we were leaving, the head couple of the tribe came up to all of us and said that we were all welcome back any time and that we were recognized as one of them, family. They are seriously one of the sweetest people. Before I went, I had read a book about the tribes and just knowing how these people were once violent people, it made me so happy to see how God has worked in and through them to touch even my life! Seriously. God bless all the hill tribes and people in them!! I would love to be able to live in one for any amount of time and just love on those people. I will never forget that experience. Changed my life!

  24. I really enjoyed reading this post. My boyfriend and I are currently in Chiang Mai and would like to visit one of the hill tribe communities. We’ve faced these same questions before when visiting native communities in Latin America, always wanting to be sure we are aren’t doing any harm. I was really hesitant when seeing tour companies on ever corner in Chiang Mai and wondered if this was being done in an ethical manner. Your post provided a lot of insight, so thank you. We’ve decided to visit, but on our own so we may be in control of how long we stay and where we go. We are also looking to volunteer somewhere in the region. Can you provide any details on the type of work you were doing and what your overall experience was working and living in one of these communities. I would appreciate any of your insight. (You can email me directly through my website http://www.movingmindful.com if you’d prefer)

    Thanks!

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  26. I agree to most points. I too come from a tribe in the high mountains of the Cordillera, Philippines (it was my ancestors who built the world famous rice terraces of Ifugao). I can attest that the people from Ifugao need to maintain cultural practices but at the same time many of our tribes men are open to visitors/tourists who are curious and passionate of what my people have– but there are limits to the places that can be visited and to the behavior that the visitor should manifest.

    Same can be said with the hill tribes. Most of us who visited (and visits) went their to discover for ourselves the wonder that has been talked about in books and documentaries and we understood that there are limits.

    There are places opened for outsiders but there places left to be private. There certain behaviors acceptable to the tribes people but then again there are some which are considered disrespectful.
    The visitor should be wary of these things.

    My people and the hill tribes also experience the same criticism with regards to NOT BEING AUTHENTIC. Upon further observation though, people with this sentiments are usually those who could not understand (or unwilling to understand) the simple fact the these tribes men are also human beings– positively curious, thirsty for information, malleable to changes that can make life easier, and passionately sociable.

    Visiting these tribes is acceptable as long as the traveler respects what is accepted, sacred and intimate for the tribes people.

    BTW, great post.

    • Hey Dani – thanks for this amazing reply. It is one of the most well thought out and heartfelt replies I’ve had on my site. Thank you so much for sharing your own perspective and experience!! I agree fully :)