The Akha Hill Tribe people find themselves fighting to sustain their way of life in a time of consumerism and destruction of the natural environment while living in the mountain border zones of 3 countries: Thailand, Myanmar, Laos. The Akha in Thailand came from Burma. The first Akha hill tribe village in Thailand was probably established in 1903. As refugees trying to survive while in exile, they have resorted to set tourist spots in front of their huts where they can sell their handicrafts to make some income.
The traditional garments you see are reserved for special occasions, special visitors or for those who continue living in the traditional manner (mostly the elders).
Their magnificent headdress makes the Akha one of the most recognizable ethnic groups in Southeast Asia. What I’ve been told is that the women will wear all of the silver that the family owns. The richer the family, the fancier and heavier the hat. The hat is made of a silver box, with strands of either silver balls or plated silver pieces. Some of the older women in the tribe have black teeth as the result of chewing on a betel nut. These nuts stain your teeth black and have the effect of alcohol on the body; they are quite addictive. Contrary to the elders, the younger generations don’t fall under the same concept of black teeth being beautiful and some choose to keep their teeth white.
Despite the authenticity of village life, many of the villagers wear regular clothes and ride motorcycles into town. It seems life continues in much the same way as it has for years, except it looks like modern life is creeping in slowly. Evolution is a reality the elders are struggling to accept.
I truly enjoyed spending time with the Akha women however; I was not able to feel the bond I felt with the women and girls of the Padang tribe.
About 1 hour north of Chiang Rai, you find one of the most touristic attractions of Northern Thailand. The Princess Gardens. The royal villa was originally built as a summer residence for the princess mother and now houses a museum displaying her work to improve the life quality of local tribal people.
The garden is located on land that was a strategic location for those involved in the drug trade (Opium and Heroin). Because of corruption and financial struggles villagers would sell their daughters (as young as 11) to serve as prostitutes in the big cities but all this has changed since the gardens were built.
Today the kingdom and gardens support the Doi Tung Development Project, it offers housing, running water, electricity, employment and education.