Off the Beaten Path: Trekking Through Northern Thailand

by Karin Hansen

Northern Thailand Hill tribe country

Northern Thailand’s area of the hill tribes offers a unique opportunity to get off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the daily lives of the native people. While certainly not for everyone, the experience of trekking into the jungle and living amongst three different tribes was certainly one I’ll never forget!

An elephant, prior to our four hour ride
It all began with a four hour elephant ride, starting on the banks of a river and ending on the platform of our home for the night- a hut on stilts. The elephant ride through the thick jungle is an exhilarating experience in and of itself, with sightings of water buffalo, exotic birds, and very large snakes, and cliff-hanging trails that might make you regret looking down.
Our accommodations in the Akha village.

While staying in primitive huts in the tribal communities, we were able to experience the unique cultures of each of three tribes- the Akha, the Lisu, and the Karen. We lived amongst and interacted with the people and participated in some of their daily activities, including visiting the schools and learning how to cook over an open fire.

A young mother with her child.

As a whole, the people were friendly, warm, and always smiling. They welcomed us into their homes and took us trekking to some of their favorite spots, such as beautiful waterfalls hidden deep in the jungle. Since there was no electricity, in the evening we would sit out on our balcony and enjoy the sounds of the jungle. We had brought along some crayons and markers, and the children would often come up to our balconies to color and draw with us. We also brought along school supplies to donate to the children, which is greatly appreciated and encouraged as a way of thanking the communities for allowing us to visit.

My friend and I with some of the Akha children in their traditional costumes.
While we opted to experience the area of the hill tribes as a three day, overnight excursion, it is also possible to enjoy as a day trip. I’d recommend hiring an experienced guide out of Chiang Rai and venturing out from there. The overnight experience is certainly unique, exciting, and enlightening, but we were surely pleased to return to Chiang Rai and the luxuries of our hotel. We just couldn’t wait to bathe after three days and nights without running water. There are many options for nice hotels in Chiang Rai, depending on your taste and budget, but some of my favorites include the Anantara, the Le Meridien, and the Four Seasons Tented Camp. Regardless of which option you choose, you’re sure to fall in the love these warm, welcoming people and remember the experience forever!
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