Hill Tribes of Thailand
The mountainous area west and north of Chiang Mai, the borders with Burma and Laos have indigenous hill tribes living there. They are a curiosity for many tourists and traveler alike and the hill tribe tours are big business to the operators in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
There are five hill tribe groups in Thailand, although a sixth tribe exists, called The Karen, they are not a 'true' hill tribe in the sense of that the other five remain (to a greater extent) reliant on their old way of life.
The Lahu represent a group of about 750,000 people, only a small fraction (about 85,000) live in Thailand. There are five factions - the Black Lahu, the Red Lahu, The White Lahu, the Shehleh and the Yellow Lahu.
The Akha number about 550,000 people, about 50,000 live in Thailand. The majority of those live in Chiang Rai province. They are somewhat disliked by other Thais and are derogatorily known as the Kaw or Ekaw, a name they will take offense too.
The Lisu are a hill tribe numbering about 900,000 people. Only a tiny fraction (30,000) live in Thailand. Almost all of which come from southern China over the past sixty years.
The Mong are known as the maew in Thailand and Laos and are believed to number about 10 million. It is unknown the exact number living in Thailand but figures of 1 million are considered about normal. This hill tribe originated in Southern China and their language reflects this. The two main Mong groups are the Green Mong and the White Mong. The Green Mong are called the derogatorily named the 'Striped Hmong' by the White Hmong.
The Mien are a hill tribe known as the 'Yao' to the Thais, Lao and Chinese. This hill tribe are thought to be related to the Mong with about half of their language sharing Chinese origin. They number 2 million with around 40,000 living in Thailand. They live around Chiang Rai, Nan and Phayao. The Mien are often encountered on the way to other hill tribe villages in the valleys.
Although not a main hill tribe this tribe features heavily on the hill tribe tour circuit due to their strange practice of wearing multiple rings around their necks. This has the effect of stretching the neck muscles to the extent that they are often referred to as the 'long neck tribe'.