Exploring northern Thailand together as a family can be a culturally enriching experience for kids and adults. Most of the tourist highlights and adventure activities for kids can be found in and around Chiang Mai city, but for a more authentic and cultural experience, you’ll need to venture further out into the countryside. This is where the real northern Thailand is.
Here you will find rolling hills, lofty landscapes and lush forests. You will also find the colorful ethnic minorities, commonly referred to as ‘hill tribes’, who migrated from China, Laos and Myanmar, hundreds of years ago. Today their villages, are scattered throughout rural northern Thailand in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces. Each group has their own unique language, culture and customs, living off the land, growing crops such as rice, cabbage and corn.
Traditionally they lived in simple houses constructed of wood or bamboo, and a network of households would form a village. Traditional villages had dirt roads and poor infrastructure, but modern villages now have cemented roads, electricity and even wifi.
When we visited the area, there weren’t many opportunities for an immersion and we weren’t interested in just a day tour. We discovered an eco-resort just south of Chiang Mai where they employed the locals from the hill tribes, so we were able to spend a few days and connect with them there. Now there are many options for you to have a meaningful immersion experience.
Visiting hill tribe village
If you visit a hill tribe village, a likely scene will be that of young children running around and playing together, chickens and pigs roam, whilst a motorbike zooms by. Simply watching how daily life goes by in a village, is a cultural wonder. But why not immerse in the experience and interact, connect and bond with the locals.
The longer you spend in a village, the deeper the insights and the richer the experience. Staying overnight in a village, at a hill tribe homestay, can be an amazing opportunity to share a cross-cultural experience together as a family. Imagine waking up to the sound of chickens, village kids playing football, conversations over a fire pit, the crackling of firewood, or eating rice wrapped in leaves.
Sharing daily rituals with your host family such as cooking and eating together, participating in household chores such as feeding the pigs, or helping on the family farm, is a true cultural immersion experience that is hard to forget. Watching and learning about how a hill tribe family lives and works, is a cultural eye-opener for many families and a life changing event. Their materialistically simple way of life, and devotion to family is inspiring. What’s great for traveling families, is how villages are always filled with kids, it’s such a kid friendly environment, that parents can relax and enjoy the experience too.
How to plan your visit beyond Chiang Mai with kids:
If you want to visit a hill tribe village, we don’t recommend you visit on your own. It’s always best to do so with a local guide, not only will you receive a warmer welcome, but you will learn a whole lot more, and you won’t feel like you’re intruding on anyone. There are lots of advertised hill tribe treks from Chiang Mai. Many of the package treks can feel like a canned experience, traipsing in large groups through villages, which have seen many foreigners over the years. Sometimes it is best to go for a more natural experience with a different tour group.
Thailand Hilltribe Holidays specialize in family friendly tours to hill tribe villages and homestays. They have a network of local hill tribe guides, who create fun and authentic cross-cultural experiences for children and parents, in a respectful way. This will provide you with a great memory and likely touch your hearts forever.
So, what are you waiting for? If you travel to Chiang Mai, and want to experience some real culture as a family, head out of the city and into the hills. Let us know about your experience.
photo credit of activities with hilltribes, courtesy of Thailand Hilltribe Holidays