Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Mountains of Chiang Mai and the Hilltribes

Hilltribe Family

The Mountains were once the preserve of aboriginals and were avoided by the lowland farmers. With the arrival of logging interests and the hill-tribes, roads began to penetrate into the high hills. These roads now bring visitors who wish to visit these hilltribes and see their culture. You may either rent a vehicle and drive straight up into the hills yourself, or take an organized trek with one of the many companies offering this service.

Dirt Roads into the Hills (All 4WD)

The dirt roads in the hills provide an opportunity for adventure. A motorcycle or "Caribian" is essential.

Though exploring dirt roads can be fun, going up remote dirt roads is risky and should be avoided in the rainy season. Rain can make steep tracks very muddy and dangerously slippery, if not impassable. Turning around can be difficult. Hill folk may help if you get stuck, but you should offer payment for the rescue service.

Tourist facilities do not exist and you may have to improvise for accommodation. Fuel is sold from drums in villages on main routes only. All signs (if there are any) are in Thai and usually indicate routes to distant villages with unfamiliar names. Even on good dirt roads, it is possible to take a wrong turning. Some spoken Thai is essential (to ask for directions and handle breakdowns, etc.), or you should take a guide. Guides can be hired for reasonable sums (500-1000 per day negotiable) by contacting your hotel or a nearby guest house or trekking agency.

That said, try any of the following for access into the hills.

Trekker's Lodge The road passes a Lahu village and goes on to other villages (Lahu, Yao, Karen) up the valley. After nine kilometers Trecker's Lodge (60-200 Baht.) offers huts in a pleasant hill-side setting and provides a good base for further exploration.

Hilltribe Kid with mothersource: Chiang Mai website

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