Chiang Mai Culture Guides



Chiang Mai Culture | Hilltribes and other Minorities

The people that inhabit the hills of Northern Thailand have long been a curiosity for visitors to the kingdom. Living a life apart from the lowland Thais, these migratory people seem trapped in a time warp stretching back to the middle ages.

Until recently the mountains of Chiang Mai and adjacent provinces were almost empty of human habitation. The Thai and associated groups, like the Shan and Thai Lue, inhabited the valleys but left the hills to nature. Oppressed by authority, population pressures, or just an extension of a nomadic way of life, the hilltribes gradually moved in to the north of Thailand and occupied and exploited this empty land. Most of this immigration has occurred within the last hundred years.

There are two notable exceptions; The Karen have lived on the northern and western Borders for about 300 years, and the Lawa or Lua were in and around Chiang Mai before the Thai arrived 700 years ago.

The H'mong (Meo), the Akha, the Lahu (Muser), the Lisu, and the Yao (Mien) are all relatively recent arrivals.

Very recently military oppression by the Burmese has meant an influx of more minorities into the border areas where they seek sanctuary. They are mostly Karen and affiliated tribes, the most notable being the Padaung, whose women stretch their necks with brass rings.

The Tribal Research Institute

The tribal museum was established in 1965 on the premises of the Tribal Research Institute at Chiang Mai University. Due to space limitations in the original building as the collection grew, it was moved in 1997 to its present location on the lake in Rachamankla Park.

It provides very detailed information on each of the hilltribe groups including traditional clothing and handicrafts as well as more factual information like farming cycle charts and festivals. It could be considered a 'must see' for anyone contemplating a hilltribe trek.

If you want more information, you can access its library which contains books covering every aspect of hilltribe life and there is a daily slide and video show.

For further information contact:
Tribal Museum,
Ratchamangkla Park, Chotana Road, Muang District, Chiang Mai 50180
Tel.: (66-53) 210872, 221933

Last Updated: 02 Oct 2007