Baan Tong Luang Hill Tribe Village

In the northern Hills Region, outside of Chiang Mai, there are many native tribes who still reside there.  According to my research, today there are seven main tribe groups who crossed over into Thailand from Myanmar and Laos several hundred years ago.  There is much controversy surrounding these tribes comparing them to the dominant ethnic Thai group who reside mostly in the central and southern regions of the country.  First of all, the million or so tribe people are not recognized as Thai citizens and are considered as outsiders/criminals by many since they live on protected forests lands.  Traditionally, these tribes have been farmers who use “slash and burn agricultural techniques” to work the land.  In the past, after the land was depleted, they moved on to a more fertile area.  Due to pressure from Thai citizens, the government has begun to relocate some of the tribe people to central and southern parts of the country.  Many people believe that the farming practices of the tribes is environmentally harmful.  

It would have been wonderful to be able to take the time to travel and explore each tribe in their natural habitat but unfortunately, we didn’t have that luxury.  We heard of the “next best thing” which was the “Baan Tong Luang Hill Tribe Village.”  

The Baan Tong Luang Hill Tribe Village was founded in 2003 by Mr. Choochart Kalamapijit to help the hill tribe families who worked at the Maesa Elephant Camp.  It was Mr. Kalamapijit’s vision that the families who lived in the village would be able to generate more income by selling agricultural goods and handicrafts.  

In doing research for this post, I learned that Mr. Choochart Kalamapijit established the Maesa Elephant Camp in 1976 when the Thai government was interested in developing tourism in the Chiang Mai area.  To develop the elephant camp, Mr Kalamapijit leased 12 acres of land from the government and rented 6 elephants from the Karen hill-tribe.  Initially, the camp was very successful by introducing elephant rides and a show with the elephants doing tricks.  Over time, the camp grew to include an Elephant Nursery and Thai Elephant Care Center.  

After the death of her father, Mrs. Anchalee Kalmapijit, took over ownership of the Maesa Elephant Camp in 2019.  Mrs. Kalmapijit spent her lifetime around elephants and when she was older, she help her father with managing the camp.  As the new owner, Mrs. Kalmapijit had a new vision for the future of the camp and elephants.  She made drastic changes to allow more of the elephants to live in a more natural habitat.  The Elephant Nursery and the Care Center were merged and are now called The Chang.  In the beginning, 19 elderly elephants were retired. Today, I am happy to report that on March 23, 2020, when non-essential businesses were shut down due to the Covid pandemic, Mrs. Kalmapijit made the decision for all rides to be stopped and shows were to end.  As more land becomes available, more elephants are allowed to roam free of chains and spend the days with their mahouts (handlers) while foraging for food.  

It would have been wonderful to see the tribes in their natural habitat but according to the tour reviews, what you actually see are cordon off areas offering handicrafts for the tourist to buy.  One wouldn’t actually get to visit the villages.  Due to the travel time and these reviews, we opted to visit the Baan Tong Luang Tribal Village where 5 of the 7 hill tribes are represented.  The tribes are the Karen, Hmong, Akha, Lisu, and Kayaw, 

We followed the path to this set of buildings not far from the entrance.
I couldn’t resist taking this picture of this beautiful dragon fly. I have never seen one this color before!
For a few minutes, I was an honorary Akha tribe member!

The Akha tribe originated in China and in the early 20th century, made their way into Southeast Asia. Due to civil war in Myanmar and Laos, about 80,000 Akha people immigrated into the northwest region of Thailand. Their main income is generated from farming soybeans, chilies, cabbages, and tomatoes. Although, at one time, there were heavily involved with raising poppies for the opium. Sadly, the village traditions are slowly eroding away as the young people leave to find employment in the cities as it is getting more and more difficult for people to support themselves through agriculture.

As you can see from the picture, Akha women are known for their embroidery skills. The style of the headdress defines the age and marital status of each woman, who designs her own. They embroider with threads that they have woven from cotton on a hand loom and use silver coins, feathers, and sometimes, monkey fur to decorate them.

I have to say, the most interesting group was the Long-Neck Karen Tribe who are also known as the Padaung Tribe which is a sub group of the Karenni or Red Karen Tribe . At a very young age, the girls start to have brass coils wrapped around their necks. Every few years, more coils are added. It appears that they are stretching their necks but actually, they are pushing down on their shoulders and collapsing the rib cage to give the elongated effect. It causes chaffing and can be very painful but young girls, accept this…a right of passage, maybe? The coils are considered to be part of the culture and one of beauty.

This seventeen year old, young woman is weaving a tapestry that will take her about two days to finish. David and I purchased one just like it.
One of the mature women in the long-neck Karen tribe posing to show her longer brass rings around her neck and brass rings around her knees.
This lady is weaving with a Back Strap Loom. It is one of the more portable looms and is popular in villages that we have visited throughout the world. I do not know what tribe she belongs to. I believe, due to the brass coils around her knees, she must be part of the Karenni tribe but I have no idea what sub group. As I said earlier, there were very few signs or guides to help us understand where we were in the village.
Homes in the Karen Tribe village. Notice the leaves on the roof. They covered the metal roof underneath…possibly to dull the sound of the rain when it hit the roof? The middle building, with open walls, is the school house.
Inside the classroom
Women from the Palong Hill Tribe. They are identified by their colorful embroidery on their skirts and jacket.

The Palong people originated in China and later, migrated to Myanmar. Between the years of 1982-1984, to escape the civil war raging in Myanmar, several tribe members escaped to Thailand. Today, there are between 4,500-5,000 Palong people in Thailand. Agriculture and factory work are the main means of support for families. The Palong women are known for their beautiful textile handicraft and embroidery.

Handicrafts from the Hmong Village. The Hmong are believed to have originated in southern China. Today, they live throughout Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. There are three groups of Hmong tribes, the White Hmong from , Blue Hmong (also known as the Green Hmong), and Striped Hmong. The names came originally from the costumes worn to celebrate the Hmong New Year. The White Hmong live throughout Laos. The Blue Hmong live in northeast Laos and Vietnam and the Striped Hmong live in Thailand. I really love the colors that they use!

Walking throughout the village:

From a vantage point, we could overlook one of the tribe’s village with the rice field and their garden in the foreground.
This is a sesame mill. It was used to grind sesame seeds to produce oil. A cow or water buffalo would be hooked up to it and walk around to grind the seeds.

At the end of the day of wandering through the villages, we discovered this peaceful street with lovely flowers. It was a lovely ending for the day.

It has taken me forever to write this post. I have been procrastinating it because of the lack of information I had after visiting the village. I don’t even know if there are guides offered as we didn’t see anything like that when we bought our tickets. I have tried to research the various tribes and really hope that I have given accurate information.

This was the last place of interest that we visited before heading to the Thai/Laos border to enter Laos. Next post will be about that adventure crossing into Laos.

Until then, I wish you sparkles, joy, blessings and good health in this New Year of 2021.

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