The six recognised hill tribes in Thailand are the Lisu, Karen, Mien (Yao), Hmong, Akha, and the Lahu tribe, each with a distinct language and culture. The hill tribes of Thailand make up about 2% of Thailand’s total population.
The indigenous tribes of northern Thailand attract tourists from across the globe. These ethnic groups populated the mountains of Thailand hundreds of years ago, mostly originating from Vietnam, Tibet, Nepal, Laos, Myanmar, and China.
The Lahu hill tribe is one traditional society that dwells along the Mae Taeng River, otherwise known as the Taeng River. The Lahu tribe, that originated from China, is one of the largest hill tribes in the region and are split into four different subsections – Black Lahu, Red Lahu, Yellow Lahu, and the Lahu Sheleh.
The Lisu hill tribe is a Tibeto-Burman highland tribe, originally from southwest China. The exact origin of the Lisu is unknown. All of the Lisu currently found in Thailand came from Myanmar (Burma). They can now be found in Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Sukhothai, Tak, Kamphaeng Phet, Phayao, Lampang and Chiang Rai provinces.
The Karen hill tribe in Thailand are the largest ethnic minority group, with an estimated population of around one million. They originated from Tibet, moving south to Myanmar and northern Thailand. Today, the Karen hill tribe live in proximity to areas alongside the Thai-Myanmar border such as; Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and some in central Thailand.
The Mien hill tribe settlements can be found in Chiang Rai, Phayao, Nan, Lampang, Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok and Kamphaeng Phet provinces. You will find them mainly in the Chiang Rai province. Evidence of Mien (Yao) history as far back as 5th BC. For the past 2000 years, the records show that the Mien lived in the surrounding mountains near Tibet
The Hmong hill tribe live in a least thirteen provinces in North and Central Thailand. About 75% live in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phetchabun and Tak. There are Hmong villages in Mae Hong Son, Phrae and Nan provinces as well. They are spread over a vast area, more than any other tribe apart from the Karen. Many Hmong live in the United States with large Hmong populations in Minnesota, California and Wisconsin.
The Akha hill tribe, also known to the Thais as the Gaw, are located primarily with Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai province. The Akha are closely related with the Hani of Yunnan province, China.