While Natalie always enjoys visiting Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, she was ready to travel further afield.
She joined a Travel Indochina two-day adventure out of Chiang Mai in the north of the country to the home of the Lisu people.
Nat and the crew stayed at Lisu Lodge in a beautiful green valley. Staffed and managed by Lisu tribespeople, it is an award-winning sanctuary for their heritage and culture.
The lodge has six comfortable bedrooms surrounding an open living area. It was designed to blend with village houses and landscape and while traditional, some aspects have been adapted to suit western guests, such as having windows. Rooms have thatched roofs, wooden frames, walls of woven bamboo and rattan floors. There are fans and mosquito nets, and each room has a bathroom and flush toilet. Visitors are encouraged to use the lodge as a base camp and explore the surroundings.
Once everyone had settled in, there was a 13-kilometre bike ride to an elephant camp where you spend an hour or so taking an elephant ride through mountainous jungle to the river. A Thai-style jungle picnic is included in your tour, along with snacks for the elephants.
There's a stop at a village cultural centre where you see household items and tools used by the Lisu and Akha mountain tribes.
In the evening you are served a Thai dinner, followed by traditional Lisu dance performed by local children. Then you are delivered back to the lodge.
After breakfast on the balcony next morning, there are loads of activities riding through farmlands and orchards on an ox cart and some white water rafting. There are markets and massages, and then it's back to the lodge for lunch.
There was a visit to a nearby Thai village where young boys were studying Buddhism. The chief monk was instilling the respect and virtues of the religion and warning them of the perils of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Outside the village temple is a huge herb garden. Monks grow the plants for locals who prefer to use natural therapies and remedies. They are said to fix asthma, sinus, insect bites and some are aphrodisiacal. Something for everyone.
The Lisu Hilltribe people are a semi-nomadic indigenous tribe originally from Tibet. For over three hundred years they migrated through China Burma and Laos. Eighty years ago they began to settle in the northern mountains of Thailand.
One of Thailand's smallest ethnic groups, they go to great lengths to maintain patrimonial clans, rather than having a single village head man. Relationships are based on family but extend in wider circles to include the tribe. Their dress is so colourful they are known as 'Flowery Lisu'. In complete contrast, Chinese Lisu, whose numbers are greatest, dress in black so it seems Thai Lisu have embraced the flair of their adopted country.
Their village in Mae Hong Son province in the beautiful mountains is home to around 500. They exist by farming and craftsmanship. Their religion is Animism, a belief that all things are embodied with spirit, ancestor worship and living in harmony with nature and all beings.
Over time, many have converted to Buddhism, and more recently Christianity, but even those converts express their spirituality with a curious mixture of the old and the new. If they are ill, they visit the spiritual healer. If they want to know what the future holds, they kill a chicken, eat it and take the bones to the Shaman to read.
When it comes to the business side of things, the women are definitely in charge. They generate the major percentage of income as the men stay home, mind the children and cook.
An hour from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
Travel Indochina two-day Lisu Hilltribe Experience from Chiang Mai costs $220 per person twin share. A night at Lisu Lodge, full board, transport, sightseeing, transfers and English-speaking guide are included. The best time to visit is between November and February.
Emirates has flights to Bangkok and other great destinations from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Connections to Chiang Mai are available. For an exclusive Getaway viewers' discount, log on to www.emirates.com/getaway.
Prices correct at 24.09.2011.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Ph: 1300 365 355
93/2 Moo 4
Tambon Baan Chang
Amphur Mae Teng
Ph: 66 06 182 6300
Visa: Australians may stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa.
Electricity: 220V with European plug of 2 circular metal pins or Japanese plug with 2 parallel flat blades.
Time zone: GMT +7 hours.
Currency: The baht.
Telephone code: +66.
It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended for areas you will be visiting. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au