Thai hill tribes map & highlights

Doi Inthanon National Park is three hours southwest of Chiang Mai and features Thailand’s highest mountain as well as several small Karen hill tribe villages, including Ban Mae Klang Luang. Three hours to the northwest of Chiang Mai can be found the small riverside town of Pai within Mae Hong Soon Province, close to Myanmar. Pai is in hiking and hill tribe heartland with numerous Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu tribes making the most of the waterfalls and hot springs within the Shan Highland foothills. Chiang Dao district is another area dominated by hill tribes with inhabitants of Ban Hua Tung village born and raised in the shadow of Doi Chiang Dao Mountain (2,175m).
Ban Hua Tung village

1. Ban Hua Tung village

Two hours north of Chiang Mai you’ll find Ban Hua Tung village which works in partnership with the local community and conservation initiatives within Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary. Although not a hill tribe, a home stay here provides a really immersive experience of life in rural Thailand as well as an excellent example of how community based tourism works for local Thai people and travellers, alike.
Ban Mae Klang Luang village

2. Ban Mae Klang Luang village

Stilted bamboo huts encircle the camp fire as chickens and pigs scurry, and waterfalls and rivers rush from within the surrounding cloud forest of Doi Inthanon National Park. Ban Mae Klang Luang village is inhabited by S’gaw people, a subgroup of the Karen. This was once opium growing country but now rice and coffee, as well as tourism, are the sustainable cash crop for hill tribe farmers.
Chiang Mai

3. Chiang Mai

Thailand’s second city is small enough to explore on foot and large enough to discover little secret pockets, all to yourself. Aside from the spa, cooking and action-packed activities on offer, Chiang Mai is a centre for trekking in the surrounding mountains to visit Karen hill tribes. You can also camp out and track wild elephants, and stay in a rural Thai village – all easily accessible from Chiang Mai.
Doi Ang Khang Mountain

4. Doi Ang Khang Mountain

Situated in the Fang district of Chiang Mai province, the slopes of Doi Ang Khang Mountain have become the fruit and vegetable basket of Northern Thailand with many hill tribes benefiting from the agricultural initiative undertaken by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the end of the 1960s. Catch a glimpse of life over the Burmese border as you stay overnight and take advantage of the cooler climate.
Hmong Hilltribe Lodge

5. Hmong Hilltribe Lodge

This simple, rustic mountain lodge offers an accessible and authentic hill tribe experience for those who aren't particularly keen or able to hike through a hot and humid jungle for hours on end. An open air evening meal and traditional H'mong tribal dances, combined with cooler conditions, help to create an enchanting overnight adventure in under two hours drive from Chiang Mai.

6. Pai

Set on the banks of the River Pai, this small misty mountain town in Mae Hong Son Province has become synonymous with hill tribe trekking tours and can get a bit tourist heavy from November to March. Escape the 7-Elevens and bar scene for Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu villages and expand your horizons amongst shamans, rattan mats and cultivated rice paddies.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Thai hill tribes or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Thai hill tribe holidays advice

Avoiding exploitation

Liddy Pleasants, from our holiday company Stubborn Mule Travel:
“A lot of the hill tribe villages are commercialised because they receive a lot of tourists. Some of them sell things, which is fine as they’re making money from handicrafts, but other tours are very exploitative. The long-necked women in particular have become human zoos. If you've organised your tour back home, your operator is likely to have checked out the places for you. But if you’re arranging it locally, it’s just a case of asking. The operator will always have pictures of the places you’re going to, and if it’s a photo of a woman with rings around her neck then you’re going to be going to one of the exploitative villages.”
Ant Stone from holiday company G Adventures:

Community based tourism

“Our local guides come from a community based tourism foundation that offers training to help them provide an authentic and interesting experience that's beneficial for both travellers and hill tribe communities. The project partnership is proud to present the authenticity, tradition and culture of hill tribes in Thailand as well as encouraging opportunities to experience real life in the mountains, for example we stop at Mae Malai market to pick up supplies en route to our overnight stay in the local village.”

Encouraging empowerment

“Responsible tourism and working in partnership with hill tribe communities in Thailand has helped to empower the indigenous women and create employment opportunities for younger people. The community based tourism projects that we work with also allow communities to supplement the income that they traditionally make from cash crops as well as encouraging them to manage their own tourism resources whilst still preserving and protecting the natural environment.”

Handmade hill tribe souvenirs

Jub Yata works for tour operator, Intrepid Travel. Here's her advice on purchasing ethical and authentic hill tribe souvenirs: “An ethical souvenir to buy from Karen hill tribes in Thailand is a cotton scarf or sarong. They're embroidered in typical Karen patterns using plant seeds and silver thread. You can also purchase silver jewellery and weaving bracelets at the Karen village and the local market that we visit in Doi Inthanon National Park.”

Thai hill tribe tips from our travellers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Thai hill tribe travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
I am so pleased I got to have this experience and I will remember the Karen villagers with the fondest of memories.
– Kelvin Simnett
“The whole village were very welcoming and made us feel like part of their community for the short time we were with them. We never went hungry, with the villagers always making sure we had a good meal, there was always a variety to choose from at meal times and it all tasted delicious! We were pleasantly surprised by the accommodation both in the village and in the jungle. I am so pleased I got to have this experience and I will remember the Karen villagers with the fondest of memories. Can’t praise highly enough.” – Kelvin Simnett

“Enjoyed every minute of it from being picked up from my hotel in Chiang Mai to having to say good bye to the hill tribe family and the team. The Karen hill tribe village stay was insightful and they were so welcoming. Walking with elephants was truly amazing, they are so happy. The camping in the forest was great fun and the food was excellent. The views from the village and in the forest couldn’t be better!” – Sally Hillyer

“There is a fair amount of hiking up and down steep slopes so remember to bring your hiking shoes or boots. There will also be sudden downpours from time to time so it's a good idea to bring a raincoat. Fitness-wise, if you hike regularly you'll be fine but those who aren't used to it may find it strenuous. You will be pretty much hiking all day minus meal times but there will be plenty of breaks throughout the day. I think just generally be open-minded and willing to immerse yourself in the local culture is important.” – Cindy Fung
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Charlie Marshall] [Ban Hua Tung village: Takeaway] [Ban Mae Klang Luang village: pxhere] [Chiang Mai: Arian Zwegers] [Doi Ang Khang Mountain: krisanapong Detraphiphat] [Hmong Hilltribe Lodge: Brian Snelson] [Pai: Patty Ho] [Ant Stone advice: Justin Vidamo] [Kelvin Simnett quote: Takeaway]