Thailand is a home of the following six major hilltribes: Meo or Hmong, Yao or Mien, Karen or Kariang, Akha or Iko, Lahu or Musoe and Lisu or Liso.
These hilltribes live mainly on the mountains in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces in northern Thailand. For details about the history, culture and lifestyles of the hilltribes, tourists are recommended to visit the Tribal Research Institute in Chiang Mai University. Tourists are strongly advised against exploring the hilltribe areas by themselves, as the rugged terrain and the vast size of the mountainous regions prevent the government authorities from closely controlling the areas for security purposes.
Generally, jungle treks last from two to seven days and consist of two or three modes of transportation, they are travel on foot or by jeep, rafting, elephant riding and horse riding. The best time for trekking is November to February when the weather is refreshing with little or no rain. Since these hilltribe settlements are a major tourist attraction of the North, guidelines on trekking in these areas are given below for the safety and convenience of all visitors:
- In Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, there are many private companies specializing in trekking tours. Use the services of only those tour operators or guides licensed and registered legally. Make sure that they have properly filed their names and registered with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Tourist Police to prevent any possible problems which might arise. See advertisement in this website or Thaiways publications or ask for a list of licensed agencies from the TAT office.
- The best recommendations about trekking companies can be obtained from those who have made such a trek before. They are more than willing to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction according to the services they have received. You may also inquire of the Tourist Police about reports of any problems certain companies may have encountered.
- Each company has its own itineraries and destinations. The major areas visited by trekking groups are Chiang Dao, Wiang Papao, Phrao, Ngao, Mae Chan, Fang, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son.
- Unlawful drugs are strictly prohibited. Do not at any cost get involved with demonstration on an invitation to sample narcotics or any other types of drugs while on a trek. You can find out from the Tourist Police which areas have security problems. With this information in hand, you will know what areas you should avoid.
- Tourists should have a thorough understanding of the services the trekking company will provide, such as the number of days of trek, area to visit, meals to be provided, etc. Should the trekking company or guesthouse offer to keep your valuables, traveller's checks, passport, etc., you should prepare a complete listing of the valuables and ask for a receipt for such.
- Make a survey of companies that do include the area you want to visit in their itineraries. Since rates are varied due to several conditions, e.g. destination, duration and transportation modes, it is worthwhile to shop around.
- Under no circumstances should tourists go trekking by themselves without a registered guide, since you are not familiar with the terrain of the mountainous areas of northern Thailand. Besides, some groups of hilltribes do not reside in a specific area but move from place to place frequently, you do not know which tribal villages welcome strangers and provide sleeping accommodations.
- Show respect for religious symbols and rituals. And always ask permission before taking photos of tribespeople or their houses.
- Use your common sense; don't take any unnecessary risk thereby spoiling your holiday.
- Help preserve the jungle's natural state by not harming wildlife or causing unintentionally sparks which might lead to forest fire.