There are a lot of hill tribe village tours in northern Thailand, and it can be hard for travelers to find a way to visit hill tribe villages in an ethical way. There are many villages busy with groups of tourists that have disrupted village life, communally, economically and environmentally.
This has more often than not occurred with group package tours and treks, and as a tourist, your familiarity with hill tribe culture will be quite different on one of these, compared to visiting in a small group that is culturally responsive. Listed below top 10 tips to know while visiting a hill tribe village:
1. Be Cautious
Please be cautious with trekking operators that promote new area or village. Most good quality eco-culture friendly operators go to the same area and villages year after year. They have an outstanding relationship with them so everything is in equilibrium and harmony so they do not need to go to a new area.
Many of the hill tribe villages lack handicrafts as they spend most of their time working in their fields. There may however be old women in the village taking care of young children that do make handicrafts. In this case there will be one home or area where handicrafts can be explored and bought. No one will trouble you to buy anything and you are not perceived as a major source of income.
2. Know them socially and economically
Make certain you are not allowed to give chocolate to children or money for pictures. Fruit is the best alternative to give and can be purchased for around 25 Thai Baht per Kilo. Hill tribe children get toffee any time their parents can pay for it as it is very cheap but they never have sufficient money for fruit. Look out to purchase around 10 Kilos of fruit for a usual sized village.
Nothing should be exchanged openly between the visitor and anyone in the village. Donate your gifts or fruit to the village headman, elder or teacher and they will share out the same. They know all the children and make sure everyone gets their reasonable share. If you do this on your own or the guide the older children will take it away from the younger ones. Another ploy is a child will sprint back to their house and put it away and come back for more. The teacher or village headman will not let this occur.
3. Be familiar with the nature of the Hill-tribe village
A village is a very common place and what belongs to one belongs to all. Envy and hate between villagers can happen because one family or person received something from you and they didn't. It is factual that many villages that are visited by tourists go down drastically in population because of jealousy. Most move away to a diverse village. It happens generally that of another family member who is married to someone in that village.
4. Learn when to use cameras
Before taking any snapshots during your village trek or hill tribe tour, wait for a bit. When you reach there, you will find lots of excitement, so keep your cameras in your pack or the vehicle
After about 30 minutes and after when the fruits has been given out, things will settle back to normal. You will be familiar with when to take pictures when the children are playing, the villagers are doing their normal daily routines and you are mostly ignored. This is the point in time to take out your camera and take pictures. You will get much enhanced candid shots of the villagers doing what villagers do. No need to inquire or pay money for photos but take your photos from a distance not in their face. Your guide should be acquainted with this.
5. Select the best tour guide
You should ask to meet your guide first. Talk by yourself with your guide. Find out how much your guide has information about the village as you can. Tell your guide you want to give toffee to children and pay villagers money for photos and if he or she has problem then find a different operator and guide. Many tour operators don’t mind about the well being of the villagers and will say yes to anything you desire to do.
Ask how many persons are departing on the trek with you and get it in writing as an element of your receipt. Many people tell a small number but later to find out there are approximately 15 persons going on the trek. If they come to receive you and there is more than what they wrote on your receipt, when you have paid for the trek then get your money back. 6 persons should be the maximum and the lesser the better and a private trek is most excellent. The fewer people on the trek or tour the better is the enjoyment.
6. Know where to stay
For a magnificent experience making permanent friendships and learning local culture and Hill Tribe Home Stay is a must. The most excellent areas for a village home stay is Doi Inthanon National Park and the small village of Thaton, both away from the normal tourist crowd.
Although both are infested with Karen hill tribes they are much different in what is obtainable to enjoy. At Doi Inthanon home stay you will practice hiking in the cloud forest, swim at the waterfalls, learn to roast coffee and enjoy village life. In the Thaton Home Stay you visit further hill tribe villages such as Lahu and Akha, learn to weave cotton, visit the local market, cook Thai food then a private long exotic tail boat ride.
Both are at clean relaxed traditional homes with your own bedroom, clean toilets with showers and all beddings are provided. In both villages your guide speaks ideal English and in Thaton your guide speaks all the local hill tribe languages.
If you take pleasure in hiking and the outdoors of Doi Inthanon is the best one. For a more exotic experience, the village in the Thaton area is better option.
7. Get the Best Eco-culture tour and trekking operator
An eco-culture tour and trekking operator will definitely reduce the number of persons visiting a particular village. The influence of even 50 visitors a month in a village is disturbing and should not be allowed. Some superb operators take visitor to a village only once a week and then not more than 6 persons. They have a lot of villages they can visit so that they can take tourists daily to different villages.
There are areas where several trekkers visit each month to the same villages. In many villages in many areas, the villagers will run up to you and try to sell you jewelry made in China as soon as you turn up. You will need to disburse money for photos or make a purchase from them. Once you buy something from them you will be bombarded by several more selling the similar trinkets. The villages a great deal visited by tour groups and trekkers are mainly the Mae Teang and Pai areas.
Some would like to visit hill tribe villages on their own and most of these want to squander an evening with a family in the village. This is not a superior idea. You must be acquainted with the culture and customs of the village and each village is special. You can do a lot of damage by just entering the village from the wrong gate. Many include gates for visitors and gates for residents and the villagers believe if you enter from the wrong gate you could bring in ghastly spirits with you. They will then have to waste their money for a ritual to cast out dire spirits that you brought in.
8. Study the local culture
If you shell out money to stay with a family the other families will be jealous and this could cause disturbances among villagers. They also hardly have enough food to feed their family and will feed you and not have sufficient to feed themselves. They do not eat the similar food as Thais so if you bring food they may not eat it.
They do not utilize fish sauce but salt and they do not consume the white pig but black pig. Also they do not have their own animals, not even the eggs. They buy eggs and meat from other villages to eat as they will not slay their own animals and sell them to other villages. If you give them money for food they will have to go a long way to the market which will cost them time and money.
9. Staying overnight in a village
If you are of the opinion of staying overnight in a hill tribe village, then it is best to go for a Home Stay that is included in your trek or tour not in a big group trek or going on your own. This way you will be treated like family not an unnecessary guest. You will be able to trip local markets, visit adjacent villages and cook meals with your host family. You will make friends for a generation while enjoying an amazing experience.
10. Get your tour operator easily located
If you would like to visit a real hill tribe village locate a tour or trekking operator that track the basic rules of Eco tourism in Thailand They can give you a local hill tribe guide that knows the society of the village and knows the villagers like family or has family in the village.
Eco-tourism is expensive so before you go out to get the best price for a trek or tour, first consider about who wins and who loses on a cheap tour or trek.