Friday, November 21, 2014

The Akha Hill Tribe

Today we are in northern Thailand, taking a day trip to what is known as the "Golden Triangle" ~ where the countries of Thailand, Burma, and Laos meet.

We have hired a driver for the day, which gives us both transportation, guide service, and a translator.  It is unbelievably cheap to do this here in Thailand, we almost feel guilty.  So we tip really big, and make a date to take his young family to their favorite place for dinner tomorrow night..

At the close of a long and very interesting day, which is another post entirely, we are stopping off to visit one of Thailand's many hill tribes, the Akha.

There is a bit of controversy over the visitation of these tribes.  On the one hand, there is the objection that they are being exploited, turning their little villages into a tourist destination.  On the other hand, as our guide Aderik explains to us,  by visiting them and purchasing their hand-made goods, we are helping them to feed and clothe their families.

As is our custom, we follow the customs of the country we are visiting, and after getting some coaching on proper ground rules and etiquette, and leaving our car behind, we approach the village on foot.

The Akha are the poorest of all the hill tribes.   Their primary trade was previously opium poppies, and the government of Thailand has made great efforts toward offering subsidisation of other crops as an alternative, such as chilies, soybeans, cabbages, and tomatoes; or even the tea farm that we visited earlier today.

We are greeted warmly, and felt like welcomed guests.  These little girls are selling the hand-made bracelets and necklaces that the tribe makes.   I notice that they are wearing western clothing, and the girl on the left looks like she is wearing a school uniform of some kind.  They are anxious to interact with us, we even try a little conversation, encouraging them to stay in school!  We are happy to buy several items from each of the girls, and the necklace that is in my jewelry box from that day is one of my most treasured travel items.  They follow us like little puppies for the remainder of our visit, very sweet little girls.

Their houses are traditionally constructed of logs, bamboo, and thatch and these are called "high houses", built on stilts, as opposed to "low houses" which are built on the ground.

Here you can see the bundles of thatch that they cut and sell, maybe elephant grass (?) on the left, as well as some kind of plant on the right that they dry on big tarps and then bundle for sale.

 I know from her beautiful smile that this is someone I would enjoy having as a friend!   I failed to get the name, but this is the plant that they dry, she is "husking" some of it away and then making bundles to sell.

Quite suddenly, though, I am whisked away by an elderly woman who has an iron-clad grip on my forearm.   And with a backward question to our guide, Aderik, is this OK?   The answer being, "Only because you were invited", we are the guests in the Akha woman's home.  

She is an amazing 83 years old!   Akha women define their age or status with the style of headdress they wear.  Hers is elaborate enough that I understand she is to be revered.

This is her "kitchen".  They cook over an open fire, and I noticed that their supplies are stored up off the ground 
to keep them away from roaming varmints.  

She has a few pots & pans and other kitchen tools to work with.

 And despite cooking over an open campfire, she has a small refrigerator!   Miraculous!

The main living area has dirt floors.  
We are told that a family of 16 lives and sleeps here.
I notice that it is very clean.

There is an elevated sleeping mat for the privileged members of the household (the eldest); you'll notice they also store their rice and other supplies here, too.

It looks to me to be a hard life, 
with the women doing much of the work

While the men-folk just sort of hang out

Though perhaps they were in charge of firewood

There are a few other signs of Westernization, 
such as the motorbikes

And, unbelievably, there's a satellite dish!


 And little boys are the same the world over ~ they love to play bows & arrows, even if they are just pretend.


So as we leave our new young friends, 
they follow us down the lane and out to our car, 
where they stood waving until our car was  out of sight. 

And I cannot help but wonder, 
what will life hold for them?


  1. just amazing to see how people live. so glad you started this blog!!!

    1. Yes, MC, when you see how primitively some of the world still lives, it makes you very grateful (again!) for all that we have. No running water, dirt floors, no real beds. In comparison we really have nothing to complain about

  2. What a great article about these people! I really enjoyed how you captured a piece of their lifestyle, their culture, the pieces of Western life they've selected to embrace and the traditions they are willing to share. You have such a great eye for capturing those pieces of their life that are unique to their life. Such as, the fridge, the satellite dish, the uniform ~ all a glimpse of what looked to be a favorite day in your travel life. I am alway looking forward to your next article! I agree with Mary!! Pus the story about your driver! All so very interesting!

    1. Glad you are enjoying our travel stories, KS. I am really just sharing what I find so interesting along the way. I am fascinated by how people live, what they eat, how they raise their families, how they earn a living, what they do for enjoyment. How is their life in another country, on another continent, the same as mine? How is their life different than mine? What might my life be like if, when I first opened my eyes, I was born here instead of back home? This is why we love our "experiences" with people in other lands far above just seeing the sights and saying "we've been there". And you're right, this is a wonderful memory for me. I will always think back fondly of this day and those two little girls who were so captivated with us; that, the connection we felt, even though we didn't speak the same language. I can see them now, so shy and sweet, standing on that dirt road and waving at us until they finally disappeared in the cloud of dust of our departure. Made me sad and made me smile all at the same time ~


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