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The Akha tribe entertain by campfire.
The Akha tribe entertain by campfire.
White water rafting thai-style.
Journey through the forest on elephant back.
Visit the rural Thai villages.

Hill Tribe Trek

Thursday, September 14, 2000
This is a truly amazing adventure. Take a short tour trekking through villages and meet the hill tribes of Thailand, who base their life on primitive traditions.

There are people in this part of Thailand who are dedicated to ensuring that the impact of tourism, socially and environmentally, is kept to a minimum. The mountainous area has a cool, temperate climate and trekking to meet the hill tribe people has become a popular activity.

The hill tribes, or chao kow, are nomads who have migrated from regions in southern China and Tibet in the north. The 10 tribes consist of more than half a million people and each tribe's ceremonial attire is very distinctive, as are their courtship rituals, games, dances, agricultural customs, puberty rites, dialects, values and hygiene habits.

Their life is based on primitive ways, they rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Burning and slashing is slowly being replaced by cash crop growing and making and selling handicrafts. The Thai king is trying to discourage the tribes from cultivating the opium poppy.

The Karens are the most numerous and best-known of the hill tribes. It is thought they originated in Tibet, lived in Burma for hundreds of years and have been in Thailand since the 18th century. They are easygoing and friendly and are renowned as the best elephant trainers in Asia.

The Akha are the most remote and least developed of the hill tribe people. They live south of the Burmese border in the Mae Chan region of Chiang Rai. Their roots go back to the Yunan province of southern China and they have their own religious beliefs, based loosely on animism and superstition. Ancestor worship is most important in their lives.

Tourism enables people to stay in their own villages, rather than go to larger towns in search of work. It is now illegal to use elephants for logging, and rides ensure the animals make enough money to be fed. The income received from trekking goes directly to supporting the hill tribe people.

A tour with guide is usually three days, passing through villages and walking around four to five hours a day. It is fairly moderate walking, but the fitter you are, the easier and more comfortable it is. You stay in villages each night in very basic accommodation, sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor of a bamboo hut. Washing facilities are a hose, water pipe or stream.

Depending on the time of year, you could find yourself crossing rivers and bamboo rafting, but you will see lots of beautiful scenery — green and hilly, with rice paddies and villages made up of clusters of small bamboo houses. If you do whitewater raft, you will find the rapids great fun. The quiet stretches in the pristine jungle are like being in a forgotten world.

In general, hill tribe people — as well as rural Thai people — warmly welcome visitors to their villages. If visitors show a sincere interest in them and their culture, they are usually happy to show their village and explain their customs. Tourists are expected to dress modestly and you should never touch a person's head. If you are travelling with a partner, it's best not to touch each other or show physical affection.


The mountains of northern Thailand.


Intrepid Travel has eight-day Taste of Adventure packages, including return economy airfares, a three-day trek, accommodation and some meals, starting from $1325 per person from the east coast and Adelaide, and $1125 from Perth.
Qantas flies daily to Bangkok.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Intrepid Small Group Adventures
Ph: 1300 360 667 or see your travel agent
Qantas: 13 1313
Best Western: 13 1779

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