Meeting the Thai Akha Hill Tribe

1043 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

January, 2019

Product name

Product country

Product city

Travelled with


Reasons for trip

Whilst staying in Chiang Rai, we spent a day with the Akha hill tribe. The journey to their village of Suan Pa took an hour and we could see the Doi Tung mountain range ahead. On route, Mai our guide told us about the Doi Tung Development Project founded by the Princess Mother. The hill tribes were heavily involved in opium growing/trading and operated a ‘slash and burn’ policy damaging the forests. The project encouraged the growing other viable economic crops and helped them set up local industries.

Having turned off the main road, a narrow concrete road which twisted and turned led us to the village where we met our local guide, Archai.

Before our trek began, we saw the large white washed Catholic church of St Gregory and met a family preparing a pig for a celebratory feast. The newly slaughtered animal was being butchered in the open air on wooden chopping boards laid on the floor, whilst a huge wok on an open fire cooked already cut meat and a cucumber like vegetable.

Having been provided with water and doused in mosquito repellent, we set off with Archai leading, and Mai translating as he only spoke the Akha dialect. Archai was resplendent in his colourfully embroidered black cotton waistcoat and he carried a large knife.

Having left the village, we crossed a small stream on stepping stones and began walking uphill on a narrow, steep and muddy path. The slopes were covered with coffee bushes and some were beginning to flower. Although the going was difficult, Archai kept stopping to pluck leaves of all descriptions and tell us how the hill tribe used them: in cooking, for medicinal purposes or to make household goods like brushes.

We learned about worms in bamboo which could be eaten, how to tell the difference between poisonous and edible mushrooms, how to use a banana leaf as a bag, and the part that birds, bees and insects play in the annual cycle.

Eventually we reached the top and followed a broad open area for a short while until we had to head down another steep, narrow and muddy track but this time, there was a sheer drop on one side. It was hot, steamy and slippery and I was very grateful for Archai’s guiding hand.

Eventually, nearing the village, we reached a beautiful clearing with large waterfall: the stop for our picnic lunch.

Large banana leaves were cut down and laid on the ground to create a table on the sandy shore of the pool. A small fire was quickly established (sadly with a zippo lighter), and a lady from the village arrived with two huge blue plastic bags bearing lots of Tupperware and a red container of sticky rice. A long piece of bamboo was cut, and Tilapia fish soup was poured into it and left in the fire to cook.

There was lots of smoke, but it was a fabulous experience with the sun streaming through the high trees. When the fish was ready, we sat down on the banana leaves, with banana leaf plates. A bamboo ‘serving bowl’ was placed in the middle and herbs and chillies were emptied in, before the fish broth was poured in and finally the pieces of fish including the head. The Tupperware boxes were emptied around the bamboo and contained cooked minced pork, a chilli and herb salsa, cooked green vegetables and lovely fresh watercress-like salad leaves. It was absolutely delicious

Having cleared away, we walked back to the village, and drove to the factory with its various components devoted to rug tufting, ceramic making, coffee making and weaving, all providing work for the hill tribes and helping them enjoy more prosperous, healthy lives. Here we enjoyed a cup of Doi Tung coffee and bought some useful things from the factory shop for home.

Helen Jackson

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.