An Authentic Lahu Hill Tribe village in Chiang Rai
You don’t need to look far to find a hill tribe village in the North of Thailand.
Unfortunately a lot that you do find have been set up for tourism, especially the ones near to the cities of Chiang Mai.
Kept alive by a steady stream of tourists arriving by the bus load to get a glimpse into the life of these indigenous people. However what you will actually get is a bit of a depressing show and not real life at all. I avoid these villages on the tourist maps like the plague.
To find an authentic hill tribe village, you need to go off the tourist path.
There will be no huge sign welcoming you to the village, no donation boxes, no people wearing traditional dress all day, waiting to have their photos taken and no stalls set up with souvenirs. In fact you may not even know you are in one at all.
When we got to the Lahu village, 25 km from Chiang Rai’s main town, after some rather bumpy off roading through the trees and up a steep dirt track, there were only 2 other tourists in the village, a brother and sister from France who had slept overnight in a bamboo hut and were about to embark on a day’s trek back to Huay Mae Sai.
Village life went on around us as it would on any other day. Pigs and dogs roamed freely around the dusty floor while small children played an enthusiastic sounding game using pebbles and sticks.
We were told the tiny 2 room school was shut, as it had been all week, due to the teacher simply not wanting to open it, preferring to enjoy a long lie in instead.
Village life is very basic, houses consist of hand built bamboo structures, no electricity or creature comforts that most of us wouldn’t even think to go a day without. What I liked was that no one bat an eyelid to our being there.
Banyafu village is real. An authentic and genuine village, where people live and survive in a small, simple community of just a handful of families from the Lahu tribe.
We joined the trek back to Huay Mae Sai and the guide, Yatti, said that his grandfather built the village and he has lived in Banyafu all his life apart from a year he spent in Chiang Mai as a Monk at Doi Suthep temple.
Just standing in the village I felt a million miles from anything I had ever known, yet at the same time I felt welcome and content. I tried to pinpoint myself and Jmayel in the world, thinking of family and friends miles away, picturing them in their houses and familiar towns, but we were off the map in a rural tribal village, no one I knew could picture where we were.
This was the kind of experience we had begun traveling again for.
You can get to Banyafu village by yourself with transport, maybe stop and purchase a snack or some water from the small shop.
Or visit the owner at Akha Lodge Guesthouse in Huay Mai Sai village, they can arrange for you to go on a days guided trek to the tribal village through the hills. Click here for map of guesthouse.
Further up the same road that leads to Banyafu is Doi Bo Viewpoint. I highly recommend going there for some stunning views. Take a supply of water and food though if you plan on spending some time up there as there is nothing nearby in the way of supplies!
Lahu People: Originating from the Tibetan mountains, they migrated throughout China and Burma before arriving in Thailand with settlements along the Burmese border. Known as hunters, the Lahu are the third largest hill tribe group with a population of around 80,000.
View Ban Yafu Hilltribe Village in a larger map
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