I know this question has been asked before but I didn't see any replies (or I'm doing something wrong here, just signed up).
I'm flying off to Bangkok in June, and have 19 days to spare before I go to the main destination of my travels: Bali. First I was planning to just head up to Northern Thailand and do some trekking, visit hill tribes. But the more I read, the more I want to go to Laos. SO first I though I could combine the two, the typical round trip I've been reading about. Now I'm thinking I should just spend 2 weeks in Northern Laos and do some trekking and visit hill tribes there at a more relaxing pace.
Anyone done both or does anyone recommend rather doing a trek from Northern Thailand?
#1 africandace has been a member since 10/4/2010. Posts: 3
Spend a night or two in Bangkok then head to upto the North of Thailand. Cross at Chiang Khong - Huay Xai border and go to MUANG LONG, MUANG SING, LUANG NAM THA before catching a bus down to OUDOMXAI purely to catch a bus to NONG KIAOW. From there get a bus to Luang Prabang for the day before catching an early bus to Vientiane. From there had back into Thailand and onto the overnight train to Bangkok.
Not really thought much about the days there but i'm sure you're able to sort out the logistics! Sounds like a good trip to me though.
I'd recommend trekking in Muang Long. Click here
I have to say (and have said before) the whole notion of "visiting hill tribes" is a little distrubing for me. As if they were zoo animals. These are just people who are living their normal lives. I can understand being interested in different cultures, but hell, you are going to do that as soon as you get off the airplane. I've also noticed a strange fascination with "hill tribes" but never with other ethnic groups. In Mukdahan, where I live, there are eight separate tribes speaking. Orginally these groups spoke different dialect (one even a different language not related to Laos at all). In some of the villages here, not located in hills, some of these dialects are still preserved. I was in one with a friend of mine who's "Khon Isaan" and she couldn't understand a word they were saying. But no one ever seems terribly interested in visiting these "non-hill tribes". I don't quite get it. What's the fascination?
#3 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Northern Thailand has some very well organized short and long treks with Pooh Eco Travel that are more about staying with a family and getting to know your guides - but a lot of companies you'll find are see some hill tribes, ride an elephant and take a wooden raft down a river.
I've heard you can have a more sustained/'out-there' trek by going up to Muang Sing and Luang Nam Tha but didn't go there myself. If you get the right outfit you'll find you spend more time trekking through the jungle and passing through villages to sit with the locals. It's usually a good idea to find a guide who grew up in the area and is using you to help his community more than someone who has set up an operation in order to use the location to make a profit.
The first type of guide will often want you to have a more down to earth experience so that you come away with a positive view of the place rather than just a sense of the exotic. Again, I can highly recommend Pooh Eco Travel for that type of trip -- and if you move quickly I imagine you could do a few day trek in Northern Thailand and then swing down through Northern Laos back to Thailand.
Chiang Mia (5 with travel) - Trip to Luang Nam Tha (5 with travel) - Luang Prabang is a pretty place to stop (2) - Vientiane - BKK . . .
seems like you could do both CM and Northern Laos in 19 days. Get out of BKK right away and save exploring the city for an early return - that way you won't feel behind the ball at any point.
Thanks for the replies and the recommendations. So it seems possible to do both in the time I have! Yea, I'll skip Bangkok alltogether at that time, cause I'll have time to do that when I get back from Bali.
Madmac, I certainly understand your point of view and know that doing a trek like that does have consequences for the local community. Definitely has a zoo-feeling to it and is something I will have to figure out if I want to be a part of when I read more about the possibilities. I just finished a 1-month course: critical view on development aid and exotic travelling and we talked about things like this and in the final debate I actually took the "against" side, based on my grandmothers stories about how her isolated Maroon community (the hill/forest tribes of Surinam) with Taino-indian practices and culture got wiped away by tourism and oil companies. As she got wisked away from that community by her foreign husband. So why would I want do it myself, right? Its something I'm still figuring out and will definitely take into my final travel plans.
People are fascinated indeed, and probably hill-tribe visiting just has become a hype, a must-see, because some people way back when had an incredible experience and spread the word. Anyway, for me they are not more interesting than the rest of the Thai/Lao people,the non-hill tribes, but as you said, I will see their culture the moment I get off the plane. The more hidden cultures are interesting, just because they are more hidden (allthough now they are easy to reach).
Maybe I should have put trekking Thailand vs trekking Laos in my title, because that is what I mainly want to do!! But it seems passing through hill-tribe villages is always a part of this..
#5 africandace has been a member since 10/4/2010. Posts: 3
I don't want to come across as over critical either. But I guess you understand what I mean.
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
depends what you would like to get out of trekking - scenery, good forest, looking for certain species of flora/fauna, visiting hilltribes (what would you like to get out of the visit?), etc.
trekking in northern Laos:
most treks just zoom through villages, staying for at most a night. not much interaction beyond 'hi-eat-sleep-bye'.
if you want something in depth (almost like a course) about a specific culture, here's one option: http://www.akhaasia.org/index-1.html
more about the hilltribes on northern Thailand (some also found in northern Laos):
& 'offline' bricks & mortar museums:
Hilltribe Museum, Chiangmai
PDA Hilltribe Museum, Chiangrai
Tribal Museum, Muang Sing
maybe the museum in Luang Namtha? (not been there myself)
www.taeclaos.org in Luang Prabang
if you can find these books in a local library:
Peoples of the Golden Triangle
The Akha: Guardians of the Forest
Meet the Akha
feel that there is a lot a lot (at least for myself) to learn from other cultures, & it can be a 'beautifully humbling' process in which you might realise how much/little you know about your own culture(s). but needs some effort (need to do a bit of homework & thinking) + an open mind + lack of 'superiority complex', & best/most fun when you meet the right people who can facilitate the process & help transcend language barriers - bi-/multi-lingual good friends from the other culture(s).
I've been to the museum in Luang Nam Tha that the cat mentions, it's not very exciting by western standards. I would say you have to have a real interest in ethnicity of Laos/tribes in the area for it to be worth it. Personally, i really enjoyed it!
The Muang Sing museum was closed when i was there and no one knew when it was going to open again?!
I didn't explain that well; theres no glitz/glamour but some very interest stuff in there and probably the most information i came across in Laos about the different tribes. It didn't seem to attract many people but i would recommend it if you had an interest...
Is there a company similar to Pooh Eco Travel that operates in Northern Laos? Looks like Pooh Eco is only running near Chiang Mai in Thailand.
I'm interested in doing a home stay in a village over a few days, but do not want to do it if it results in the "zoo" experience people have mentioned, or if it's only a "village" so that tourists can get an "experience". Yuck. Also would hope the majority of the money I'd spend would go toward the community.
Any suggestions? I'll be doing a trip in early March. Thank you!
Lastly is there a best way to get to the crossing at Chiang Khong - Huay Xai from Bangkok? I'm debating flying from BKK to Luang Prabang OR trying to cross at Huay Xai but I only have a 14 day trip total so trying to maximize my Laos portion.
Thanks for any help!
#11 jaxphoto has been a member since 8/2/2011. Posts: 4
Wanderingcat or anyone else ... I took a look at the cultural programming at http://www.akhaasia.org/index-1.html and noticed "Akha traditional massage." Does anyone know what that is? I am a massage therapist and love discovering new styles and techniques. What is Akha massage? Has anyone had one? Has anyone heard about ways to take a class while I am in Laos? Curious.
Also, the AkhaAisa.org program is in Thailand. Do you know of anything like it in Laos north of LP? I am going to be in Laos in January and want to do some sort of educational retreat or homestay for a week in the far north.
Thoughts or suggestions?
#12 ccalvin09 has been a member since 27/8/2009. Posts: 20
Akha people have their own form of massage. Quite often tourists get to experience it when they go on treks & spend the night in an Akha village, at least in north Thailand. Don't know if anyone teaches it in Laos. Maybe try contacting the tourism office or the people at the Boat Landing Guesthouse in Luang Namtha & ask if they know of any contacts...
If you are going to Chiangrai then i could put you in touch with an Akha friend (a traditional medicine doctor) who speaks some English & could teach you...or you could also check lannadoctor.com (but the website is in Thai...it's the School of traditional & alternative medicine at Chiangrai Rajabhat University where my friend did his undergraduate studies).
In Vientiane you could check out the herbal sauna at Wat Sok Pa Luang where there is massage too, the lady running it is supposedly quite willing to talk to foreigners about the place & what they do.
Also, the AkhaAisa.org program is in Thailand. Do you know of anything like it in Laos north of LP? I am going to be in Laos in January and want to do some sort of educational retreat or homestay for a week in the far north.
They'd thought of expanding their program to Luang Namtha but no idea if it has happened...they are quite tight on funds. But they are in touch with their Akha brethen in northwestern Laos, so you could try asking them for contacts. & you could contact the tourism office/trekking agencies in northern Laos, spell out your specific interests & plans & have them tailor an itinerary for you (most of the programs they offer are just trekking from place to place, spending at most one night per village). Again if you are interested in Chiangrai then i could direct you to a village or two where you can arrange to stay for a week & learn all sorts of stuff from the villagers.
Thanks so much, Wanderingcat. That was a very generous reply and I appreciate your willingness to connect me with the correct people. When we have narrowed down our itinerary and I have done more extensive homework, I will be back in touch.
#14 ccalvin09 has been a member since 27/8/2009. Posts: 20
Visiting hill tribes is more like going to a petting zoo.
#16 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I met some people form Britain (lived in Cambodia/Thailand) while I was in KL and they talked about wanting to have their next vacation in the USA. She was especially keen on going to see real rednecks who are missing teeth and say ya'all -- the jokes started going around the table -- Come see the authentic hillbilly tribes of Tennessee! Look at the traditional denim fabric on his overalls!
Yep - same basic idea, although they were joking, while those "visiting hilltribes" are not, which is, I think, unforuntate.
I don't know if you ever noticed Casey, but living in Europe I became aware that it was considered impolitic to speak disparingingly of other cultures and their practices, art and so forth UNLESS you were discussing American culture. There disparagement was all but de rigeur. From American cuisine to the American entertainment industry to American fashion and any and all other cultural practices in between, it was open season. I watched a film with a group of German student (it was a documentary) on rituals of Australian aborigines which included painting themselves with mud and crawling around the ground on all fours like a dog. It was ludicrous, and I was impudent enough to say so. I was lambasted from every corner as a "typical American" who doesn't appreciate other cultures. The group then went on to deride anything and everything American. The irony seemed lost on them.
#18 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Strange MAC..Germans never seem to me to be very culturally aware. Very superior. It is strange to me that most of the fellow travellers I meet in SE Asia have so much to say about America but are always in groups of other white folk from their country. Spending most of their time doing stereotypical backpacker stuff. Of course I have met some great Germans so I will never lump them all together but the majority of the Europeans I meet are no where near as non-European aware as they think they are. Stay at a hostel in a big American city and watch them with their mouth all agape looking at the map. They marvel at how big it is and how they can't seem to relate to this many states all being one group. This happens on a daily basis at hostels around the states. And when I am in a hostel in Thailand for example many of them always try to lump me into the American way and are confused at the different levels of groups and sub groups we have. There are 300 million of us and 5-6 million Fins for example. One girl just couldn't understand how we didn't have group think like her and her fellow countrymen from Finland.
I am semi ranting but it just comes back to enjoying the parts of the culture you happen to see. Trying to see certain parts of it to get some mystical "experience" that really is no longer unaffected by outsiders because everyone goes there is now just like riding elephants and tubing in Vang Vieng. You really want everyday life, listen to Mac at least once and go somewhere your friends will say "huh?" about.
I find that most Europeans I meet who disparage the the States have never been there - but most importantly, they don't seem to have much of a personality. Seriously, most of my European friends in Shanghai will talk-**** about the States, but only when we are all trading barbs on each-other's places of origin. However, it's the really dull and asocial types who seem to only have negative comments about the USA at all times and places. I developed a theory that this has to do with their inability to be witty, intelligent, or interesting. In Europe a person can get by in a pub conversation by just slagging off the States and come across as 'well informed' and 'educated' - they carry that over to places where people have a diverse and worldly experience and it just doesn't hold any water and people quickly see through to their lack of personality.
I guess because I spent so much time in Germany and spoke German quite well it was very apparent to me. Of course, I am talking about Germany, although I have this same shared experience with both the English and the French. The Germans are an interesting case, because the pre-68ers are VERY pro-American in most of their outlooks. The post-68ers are much more jaundiced, and I think it's partly a rejection of their parents values (such as we saw in the US during the same period). But if I had a baht for every time a German told me "Americans have no culture" I'd be rich. My son (who is half German and grew up in Germany) once had a classmate tell him "America sucks". My son, who's been there a number of times, said to him "How do you know that, you've never been there." He said "I know it just sucks". I think this individual would fit your description Casey.
Outside of Germany Germans tend to be quite critical of anything not done "correctly". But again, this is not all Germans. I've met many who are quite flexible, so as you guys indicated, don't want to throw everyone in the same pot. But as a national charecteristic, they have some pretty fixed views about what is OK and what is not. Assailing American culture was definitely in the OK category.
#21 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
If ethnic minority peoples want you do bugger off, that's what you should do...
But I have found that, at least in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, minority peoples appreciate letting visitors know that they are there and have different cultures, economies, religions etc than the majority Khmer. So the exotic tourism side in itself is not a terrible thing to them...
I think that the key is the guide. When I meet folks who are genuinely interested in learning about minority cultures, I send them with quality minority guides I know from around who speak the languages of the villages they visit and are familiar with the customs etc (and to answer the question some might be asking in their heads, for a number of reasons members of different ethnic minority groups up here often speak multiple minority languages, not just their own). They also know people in the villages they visit and so are not just showing up randomly.
Many of us come, and some live, in the region because of the people. So I don't begrudge travelers who want to meet, see... different types of peoples during their travels...
Rasheed, it's the treating of them as some sort of exhibit that some of us find distasteful. As if they were exotic animals on display. If you want to go somewhere and check out what it's like there, I don't think anyone objects to that. But when someone starts talking about "doing hill tribes" or "visiting hill tribes" as if they were going to a petting zoo, it just sounds - well frankly racist and demeaning.
#23 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
But I don't put too much weight into the language travellers use when posting here. Africa seems to have thought about these issues even if his OP didn't seem like it. All types of ethnic tourism can be petting zoo-esque or informed and communicative depending on the attitude of the travellers and the execution. "Exploring Thai culture" can be crappier than "checking out the tribes".
You are probably right, but it still gives me an uneasy feeling every time I hear it.
#25 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I agree that a lot of villages enjoy sharing their way of life. My limited experience near the border with Burma in N. Thailand was more like a weekend up at the cabin with friends back home; drinking local brew, eating bbq randoms, playing a homemade guitar, getting a little over-brewed and shooting darts into the thatch ceiling (the guy who owned the house started it). Besides that though - sharing their language and showing off how they took care of daily life seemed to be a major point of pride for the Karen we stayed with. A major factor in this could be that they are squeezed between the regime in Burma and what they consider a less than sympathetic government in Bangkok. I've had similar experiences in the Tibetean areas of Sichuan and the minority melting pot of southern Yunnan. It seems wherever there is a dominant culture threatening to subsume a minority people's way of life they are keen to share what they think makes them a unique group.
Actually I get a similar experience in my wife's village. People here can be amazingly friendly and open, and I think the reason for that is that they live outside much more than westerners do - so they are in constant contact with other people. Their climate favors this. Westerners tend to build homes that are mini-forts and when they go in them they are more isolated from the world around them. So understand I have no problem with anyone going anywhere. My discomfort is with the idea that we are going to see some particular group (or worse just some generalized notion of "hill tribes") when we're not anthropologists doing behavioral studies but rather people trying to get a cool picture showing how their vacation experience was "different" than your typical tourist. If you spend time in any rural village here your experience will be different, because most people don't want to do that anyway. There is something about it that's both pretentious and exploitative that I can't quite put my finger on. How come nobody ever says they want to "do Issan villages"? The experience would be equally different. I think the notion of "hill tribes" sounds artificially exotic (by the way, we really should dispose of the word tribe unless we employ it universally. Tribe, as it's been applied in the English language, is a racist and demeaning term in itself. We don't refer to the Germans French as a tribe - they're a nation or ethnic group).
#28 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
It comes down to essentialized notions of the groups. As Thailand it too "touristy." The "tribes" are more primitive and the "West" is more modern. What tastes a little nasty is the evolutionary idea that the tribal people have yet to acheive modernity and can show us about our human past as they are stuck in time. Implied in the "tribe" idea. We used to be tribes, then we grew up and became modern...
Though I cringe a little when I hear about "tribes," it's another case where I don't get to angry. I use ethnic minorities, but that isn't a perfect choice. When people ask me what I mean by that, then I go off a little...
I still say the main reason Issan doesn't get many tourists is because it is out of the way - because the people are friendlier than I found around the islands, and, well, everyone knows how I feel about Lao culture and people. However, I never would have gone to Issan if I hadn't had 3 extra days to kill and wanted to get out of Si Phon Don.
Anyway, I like visiting hill villages because I enjoy waking up in a sleeping bag on a wood floor once in a while and trying some spicy breakfast food that could peel the paint off a wall. Since I don't own a cabin in Northern where-ever it's always nice to rent some floor space from someone who lives there.
I think that's why I usually refer to this as staying in a village or with the locals. Tribe has all those negative connotations, and I usually talk about ethnic minorities in my Geography lessons or when I'm reading a history book of the region, but I think it is a perfectly fine way to describe your experience to someone. Most people in America don't even realize that there are people other than Thai people in Thailand or the Han in China - so discussing ethnic groups is a wonderful way to open people's eyes not only to the diversity of Asia but also the complexity of political relationships that underlay regions that many consider as a homogeneous totality. People in the States are all very wide eyed and jittery these days when you talk about China(!), but that is the same silly totalizing perspective we brought to the USSR(!) when it was the boogie man. Besides that, the Tibeteans and the Karen I've known generally ask me to tell people about them, that they are different, and that they need to be noticed.
Ethnic minority or ethnic group is, I think, a more reasonable term.
Here in Mukdahan we have eight different "tribes", some of which are VERY distinct language groupings. Those languages are now being subsumed by the dominant Issan and Thai, but it's a slow process over generations. But again, there is an entire notion going on which you see in this thread, which I find distasteful on many levels. There is the pretentious idea that someone is coming here on vacation and going to elevate themselves by "doing hill tribes" instead of lying on the beach. I don't have any problem with someone wanting to go hiking in a certain area and interacting with whoever happens to be there. As long as we don't place ourselves on a pedestal while doing it. Like I said, if you want an experience that allows you to experience a different culture, then just go to any village in the region and stay there a while. Why does it have to be a "hill tribe"? Why not a plains tribe? The Phu Thai are a fairly large ethnic group indigenous to eastern Thailand and Laos. Nobody talks about visiting them either. I guess you guys get the idea. These are just people living out their lives, mostly poor and as such constrained. Believe me, when "hill tribesman" have the money, they buy a pickup. It's not like you're going to discover a new world or something.
#31 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I think what many people really want to see is wild men running around in bark nappies and carrying spears. They're not interested in people dressed in normal clothes, eating normal food and living a normal existence. People want the exotic. And from what I've heard, people are usually disappointed when they visit hilltribes because the tribes aren't really exotic at all!
What did they expect? If it's a place you can get to on a bus, then it's a place where people can engage in commerce. Would you run around in a loin clothe and hunt with a spear if you didn't have to. I'm sure there are places where they dress up for the tourists, but in principal, these are just people living their lives.
#34 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Ok I'm going to try to remove this thread. Getting quite sick of Madman's own pedestal.... You seem to have an opinion on many people with honest questions on this site, without knowing a thing about them. You have no idea of their intentions of 'visiting' (some of us are not planning on a trip to the zoo, but just want to do some trekking and learn about cultures, I do the same in Spain), not understanding that not everyone uses English words in the same way, so might put things awkardly for your liking(visiting a hill tribe for me sounds the same as foreigners who visit my country and want to see the culture, I am not offended), not getting the fact that while you might have spent so much time in SE Asia and found yourself a local girl who has taught you lots, others might be on their first trip somewhere far and might just read about what to do and find 'hill tribe treks' and therefore ask questions about it (when asking around or googling treks, on top of the list there was always "hill tribe treks", forgive me for not finding anything about "non-hill tribe treks"). The first time around in a country, I find it normal that you somehow end up doing the more known touristy things. I did not know tribe was a racist word, I read up on it just now and I understand your point, but I must say in my tribe we talk about our tribe and other tribes and no one is offended, saying we are from the Taino ethnic group just doesn't sound right, tribe sounds more powerfull and we are proud of it. I no way did I mean anything negative with that.
And the whole bashing on Europeans bashing on Americans??? where did that come from? I mean, like one of you describing the funny fact of unknowing Europeans in American hostels, have you EVER been in a European hostel and talked to the Americans there? It is hilarious!! "Belgium is the capital of Brussels..." I spent ten years in US and 10 in EU and I must say I would agree with the Europeans more, and so would most of my American friends.
Have fun critisizing first time travellers.
#35 africandace has been a member since 10/4/2010. Posts: 3
I don't want to feed any fire here, but would like to clarify as I think it was my comment about the Tennessee Hill Tribes that got that last bit started. My British friends who made that comment were doing so very tongue in cheek (but a little serious) and I just thought it was a funny addition to the thread. The closest I've ever been to Europe was the Ukraine - and I don't think you've let them in yet according to Russian objections. I also commented on the fact that we all slag each-other off here (Shanghai and abouts) and the whole point is that it is only an ignorant person who really goes full tilt against another nation and calls its people ignorant based on the dumb statements of some travelers. If it is a choice between people making ignorant statements about places or ignorant statements about groups of people, well, don't make me choose. I don't know, maybe my point got lot in the mix there - but I wasn't looking to choose sides European or American. I'm not really a fan of the ignorant American or the European that slags off on Americans because of them.
But you're right - we did go a bit far afield with that one. I mean, after all this is the first you've been back to the thread in a while so we just took it where the conversation led. A good chat in the pub. In fact, a conversation like this is just the type I'd rather be having sitting on a porch in 4,000 islands instead of people talking about the party they had in VV and the next party they'll have in Cambodia. It sparks an inquiry into how we view the world we are just passing through. I also take your thoughts on how you refer to yourself into consideration . . . if anyone's interested from my experience in Northern Thailand they say Thai People and Karen People - they just called me, "you" and handed me another shot.
A conversation that drifts is a healthy conversation. Or so I heard.
#37 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Calm down Africandace. It wasn't about slagging off Euro's. But yes anyone who slag's off another without just cause should be slagged off. Period. My experiences in American hostels was to point out that not just Americans are ignorant to things. In my personal experience many Euros have acted that way toward me. The thread took its own life. You were not here nor does anyone own a thread. The OP sets things in motion and it goes where it goes. If you read each post carefully, most where concerning what we thought wasn't right or didn't feel comfortable to us. No one made any hard concrete statements. We even mentioned that we won't put any entire groups in a box.
If you wanna say hill tribe so be it. But there is no problem with people expressing that they like another perspective. No one judged you. They just choose to do otherwise.
Enjoy your travels mate!