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Hill Tribe Trek Concern

  • himji

    Joined Travelfish
    24th November, 2010
    Posts: 29

    I've read alot about people hitting CM and a few other areas and booking on a trek to go and visit Hill Tribes.

    Is it me or does this sound a little weird and canned?

    I suppose what I'm asking is what's the appeal here that I'm missing?

    #1 Posted: 5/12/2010 - 05:05

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  • britishhippy

    Joined Travelfish
    17th October, 2010
    Posts: 8

    For me i think its part of the whole reason for travelling, to submerge yourself in another culture and experience things you never have.

    #2 Posted: 5/12/2010 - 07:59

  • himji

    Joined Travelfish
    24th November, 2010
    Posts: 29

    I hear you BritishHippy. It's just the picture in my head is going on a trip to gawk at the villagers sounds really wierd. It sounds a bit canned and not authentically meeting and living in that culture. Am I making sense?

    #3 Posted: 6/12/2010 - 00:20

  • busylizzy

    Joined Travelfish
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    This won't be quite the same as what you are looking at..... but I did a day tour that included a visit to a hill tribe in Chiang Mai two years ago. I didn't want to go for the reasons that you describe, but I did it to appease my sister who had been putting up with all of my travel preferences. The day trip included an elephant ride, a rafting trip and a visit to the hill tribe. It was the single worst day of our 6-week trip. Unfortunately, in her efforts to save money, she went for the cheapest tour she could find without doing any sort of research.

    We were dropped off at some point then left to walk 1-2 kms through fields, rice paddies, etc until we got to the village. I did enjoy the walk itself but on arrival at the village there were villagers lined up along their little tables, waiting for us to stop and buy their crafts. We walked past the tables while doing a bit of windowshopping, and were then taken to the area where their homes were. The houses were clustered closely together and we were invited to wander around their village to 'meet the locals'. The locals were sitting in the shade under their homes next to the piles of fabrics, etc that were for sale. There was no serious interaction at all.

    I took nothing away from this day trip: I got no appreciation for village life - not that I really expected to in an hour. I felt dirty, cheap and a voyeur. The elephant ride earlier in the day was so hideous, that I couldn't wait for it to end.

    I compare this to my time spent in Flores where we travelled independently. We went for long walks along the country roads through small villages. We smiled and waved at people who took a passing interest in us 'whitey's walking along their road, and often we were invited in to sit on their porch for a chat and to chew sugarcane. The moments spent with them were fleeting, but it was genuine.

    I know people have done the longer hikes through Chiang Mai to the local villages and enjoyed it. Just do your research.. I don't think you will ever get away from the feeling of canned culture when visiting tribe region as part of an organised tour. On the other hand, if you want immersion where you get the opportunity to stay with them, you won't be able to avoid it either. Just do your homework on the tour group that you run with. I would suggest that you don't book ahead of time, but wait until you are in CM, and can talk to other people there who have just finished the tours to get their opinion and recommendations.

    Not sure if this helps or not?!

    #4 Posted: 6/12/2010 - 02:45

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
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    I went with Pooh Eco Travel on a 3 day/2 night trek into the hills by the Myanmar border. We stayed with a local family, hung out with the villagers, practiced English with some of the kids at school. By hung out with the villagers I mean stayed up late drinking and smoking and playing guitar, shooting blow-darts at the ceiling.

    Did we go for an authentic experience? No, we went because it is an easier way to go camping. We met some great people, and had a lot of fun with them. To me it was like going out to a club in a new city and meeting some locals that you have a great night with and come away all happy, except instead of a club we were in a thatched roof house.

    We also payed for, and hiked in, a variety of food that only comes to them from these excursions and a part of our fee went to the local school. If we went to gawk then we were as much gawked at - everyone enjoyed themselves and the villagers who got work as our porters spent an extra two days with us, really cementing a sense of friendship.

    #5 Posted: 6/12/2010 - 08:34

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    I also object to this on multiple levels.

    Why is it we use the word "Tribe" when talking about more alien cultures and we use the phrase "Ethnic group" when discussing Europeans and others. we're more connected to? I find the word inherently racist and condescending, which leads me too...

    "Visiting hill tribes". Why hill tribes? Why not plains tribes, or valley tribes? Here in Mukdahan we have eight different "tribes", several of which have their own languages that are not comprehensible to "Khon Isaan" or Khon Thai" - yet nobody is interested in visiting them. Because they don't look any different than anyone else and they don't live in hills. They don't wear funky clothes or Jewelry or anything, and all speak Thai as well as their indigenous language. So they are not a good photo op.

    Hippy claims this is about "immersing yourself in another culture" to which I would have to respond "Bullshit". This is about getting some happy snaps with people who look sufficiently different that you can go back and get brownie points with your hippie friends about how you immersed yourself in another culture. When you come to Thailand you are now in another culture that should be different enough to earn those points. But because a lot of people do that, that is insufficient to get hippie brownie points. And if you want immersion that has meaning - that takes months, or years. Going and buying some trinkets and moving on isn't going to educate you one iota on the lives of these people or immerse you in anything other than some crappy shopping.

    How about if I go to Britain to visit "British Tribes". I can go and "interact" with the "locals" there. Maybe I can find some Brits wearing "traditional" English clothes and eating "traditional" English foods - there's an idea, really making a sacrifice to learn about that culture, suffering that cuisine.

    It's such a crock. The idea of "Visiting hill tribes" is to me revolting - like they are zoo animals put there for our amusement to get some cool pictures. WTF?

    Of all the aspects of tourism I object to, this is on the top of the list. I prefer crude, drunk sex tourists over this kind of condescending, self congratulating nonsense.

    #6 Posted: 6/12/2010 - 10:11

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
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    I used the term 'locals'. I prefer hiking in hills/mountains to plain hiking. I did go to see the lifestyle of the ethnic Karen people - I don't remember anyone wearing any ethnic get-up though. Actually, when I visited the Ukraine, for example, I did try to eat traditional Ukrainian food - far better than what you'd get at a restaurant.

    Like the hyperbole of preferring sex tourism to this though - as you can't be serious. I prefer people who want to explore new things and are testing their comfort zones as much as they can more than self-congratulatory ex-pats who cast dispersive judgments.

    I will admit to my own elitist tendency with my often made suggestions to spend more time in a small area rather than try and make a wide arc - but this is a little ridiculous. I think these issues are a lot more nuanced than this thread considers.

    Case in point - the 'ethnic cultures' of Northern Thailand are on hard times due to years of conflict with the regime in Myanmar, not to mention an inconsistent Bangkok government that has oscillated between quick fixes and complete disinterest - the more people are introduced to this the more consciousness is raised. The same would go for the Tibetan people of Western Sichuan, etc., by staying at a temple and having guarded conversations with the monks one is able to cut through the fog of multi-sided elite interests and get to the point of the plight faced by those living on the ground. In southern Xishuanbanna a visit to local Dai temples and villages will enlighten a traveler to the decades of forced integration these people faced, though today their 'otherness' is now championed as a source of national strength.

    #7 Posted: 6/12/2010 - 19:16

  • Captain_Bob

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    "It sounds a bit canned and not authentically meeting and living in that culture"

    What's "authentically" mean to you?

    If a westerner just wanders into a random remote village expecting to sleep there, they can expect to be treated with suspicion and even hostility. If you are a "paleface" and don't speak their language and they don't know you, how do you expect to "meet" and "live" in their midst? By their own nature, the routine treks are well-established setup opportunities for westerners to come stay in the same village with people who's customs and values and daily life is much different, but hey - I just described why the overwhelming majority need to do it as a "trek" with a guide. You can go with more customised guides like "Pooh-Eco" and perhaps end up in places way less visited by tourists, but there needs to be at least some pre-arrangement, meaning the village leadership has agreed to let foreigners stay there. Ultimately however, I find most travellers/tourists aren't willing to pay 5000-8000 baht for the quieter, off the beaten path privately guided options, when they can just join a scheduled group trek for a third of the cost.

    Maybe what you're suggesting, however, is that there shouldn't be "trekking" in the first place (?)

    #8 Posted: 6/12/2010 - 19:36

  • britishhippy

    Joined Travelfish
    17th October, 2010
    Posts: 8

    MADMAC, if I did go to see a hill tribe I wouldn't be one of those people taking photographs apart from the one I'll take and frame for u!
    It's not for u, we get it but u can hardly call it bullshit! You yourself have wrote about taking the time to see the country for what it really is and if visiting a hill tribe is what it takes then that's what it takes.
    If you don't like it that much, protest it. I've got some "hippy friends" that can help you!

    #9 Posted: 7/12/2010 - 00:55

  • eastwest

    Joined Travelfish
    17th December, 2009
    Posts: 771

    While I think Mac may be a bit oversensitive over the "tribe"-naming he has a point regarding the zoo-thing.

    I do find it a zoo experience as well. Some points that others have given "immersing yourself in the culture" "eat the real food" may be valid points but they do not apply to the standard treks around CM.
    They are set up for tourists.
    The food you get is westernized (after thousands of tourists have complained or not eaten over the past 10-15 years) and how original/authentic can a village or tribe stay if every day 30-40 tourists pass through the village day-in day-out over a period of 10-15 years?

    I find it very telling that casey, who took the real authentic tour, saw locals/tribesmen in plain clothes while in the touristy treks the local will wear the "authentic" clothes.

    Masai dances in Kenya/Tanzania, Tipi villages in northern america, Iglo/Inuit stays in the arctic, Hill tribe treks in Thailand. It's all the same to me:
    It may give a glimpse of past history or be plain fun but it's not authentic unless you go off the tourist trail.

    #10 Posted: 7/12/2010 - 09:01

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  • glomer

    Joined Travelfish
    23rd February, 2010
    Posts: 86

    I'm with you, Mac, on the word "tribe." Long, violent colonial history there.

    #11 Posted: 7/12/2010 - 09:17

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6270
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    "I will admit to my own elitist tendency with my often made suggestions to spend more time in a small area rather than try and make a wide arc."

    Actually Casey I would not consider this elitist at all. Unless you have a very specific cultural interest (like architecture for example), then if you are a "cultural tourist", it makes a great deal of sense to stay in one area for several reasons:

    1. Language is culture. If you don't learn the indigenous language, then how can you possibly interact with the people there in any meaningful way?
    2. If you want to "immerse yourself" in the culture, then the best way to do that is make some friends there with whom you can converse on more than the superficial level and begin to understand what makes said society tick.

    If you pass through for a day or a week, you are not immersing yourself in anything. You aren't giving yourself time for immersion. Eating some foreign food? What's the big deal? That's not some sort of special experience. Might be enjoyable (or horrific) but not special.

    As for hiking, this isn't the best place to do it, because nature is a little more unforgiving here. But in the dry season it's certainly doable (wet season - just a bad idea). But hiking is not a cultural experience (although the Germans get an A for effort in trying to make it one).

    "I prefer people who want to explore new things and are testing their comfort zones as much as they can more than self-congratulatory ex-pats who cast dispersive judgments"

    If you want to test your limits, then you have to go to places where other tourists don't go. That would pretty much exclude these hokey "hill tribe tours", since lots of people go on them.

    My deep seated objection to this notion of tourism is, as I said, on multiple levels. First we are treating the indigenous people as some sort of zoo attraction. It grates on a human level. Then there's the elitist level - "I am better than your average tourist because I am not coming for some crude hedonistic reason, but to improve my understanding of the world."

    This tourist type (and I recognize I am generalizing here, there are exceptions) also almost never (if male) has a "local" for a girlfriend. He doesn't date them - or even consider entertaining romance with them. This most basic of human needs and interaction is something he would inherently consider unacceptable because of how he would be perceived amongst his "sensitive" friends. I can't tell you how often I've run into these types who make outrageous (and obnoxious) comments about my wife - mother to our child.

    But by far the biggest problem I have with this aspect of tourism is it's inherently voyeuristic nature which tries to turn these people into some sort of observable show. Do I object to a guy with his pack hoping on a bus and going where the wind blows him, hiking around, eating in the next eatery that comes by and experiencing the indigenous environement in this way? Hell no. Whatever floats your boat. If you enjoy that kind of tourist experience, that's great and no harm done. Just don't think you're better than someone else who's come to chill on a beach or chase girls in a bar. The sum of a humans value is not measured by how he or she goes on vacation. There is nothing worse than the sanctimonious beatnik. Most people have limited amounts of down time want to find ways to use it which are restful / enjoyable to them. And we are all very different in our interests, needs and desires.

    As you can probably deduce from my position on this subject, it is the inherently racist approach of the "visiting hill tribes" phenomenon - ostensibly by people who would reject the notion of racism - that I so object to. The marketing for this "experience" is inherently racist, all the while pretending it's something else.

    If you are serious about immersing yourself in another culture, then find a way to go to a place and stay there - for years. Otherwise at least be honest that you are going to these places for your entertainment, not your education - because you ain't getting any.

    #12 Posted: 7/12/2010 - 12:05

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
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    I think you make a lot of good points - and I have to admit that I've never gone on a day-trip to see people set up in traditional cloths, so maybe I'm missing the point here. However, there are day-trips that will still test some people's boundaries, not everyone can test their boundaries in the same way - not everyone needs to go to places where no one else goes to test their limits.

    Mostly though I object to the idea that you get no education from anything but years of immersion in a culture. This is a pedagogy that I absolutely disagree with. Any level of experience can educate, there is always an opportunity for an awakening. Most people in the world can not immerse themselves for many years in the many cultures they may be interested in - so they have to gather what knowledge and experience they can when they can.

    I didn't start the judgment of tourist types here. I was trying to set an argument against judging anyone's type of tourism so it is funny that now I'm accused of an elitism towards 'educational' tourism against 'hedonistic' tourism. I don't 'prefer' any type of tourist more than the other (though loud and pushy in any type does bother me). I've managed on some trips to go up into hills hiking for a few weeks and then go down and sit on a beach drinking beers for another - so it takes all types and even better to put them in a single jar. Also, "drunk sex tourists" honestly means something different when I read it than sitting on a beach and chatting up the the local waitress.

    #13 Posted: 8/12/2010 - 05:59

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United States
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    Why not ask all these questions of one of these minority peoples? They're not daft, no doubt they've thought quite a bit about just this very subject. I will give you a hint, if you are there, it's because the village has made a collective decision that they wanted you to come.

    #14 Posted: 8/12/2010 - 06:58

  • eastwest

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 771

    Mac made some excellent points but I agree with casey on his main point about immersing yourself for years in a culture.

    Travel/(cultural)tourism does give an insight into a culture no matter how briefly or shallow it is and the interest often starts with a short visit. OK, you won't discover all the nuances and details but if you're interested you might read up on it more (like with any subject) afterwards or return.

    I guess Mac's point is more the complaint that people who visit briefly start acting as experts on any subject that they saw without knowing all the details and I guess most people here would agree that that can be annoying.
    The other day a tourist left a note saying "why do you ruin the beautiful nature on your plot by cutting the trees?" without asking anything. I have never cut any tree but he/she just made an assumption based on some tree stumps that were cut long before I took over the land. It's that sort of prejudism/short-sightedness that some people show which does get very irritating.

    @somsai
    You're probably right. So they choose to live in a zoo. That only makes it worse for me. A bit like a caged tiger who's been in the zoo too long to care about it's freedom and too happy about the free food and comforts that are brought to him.
    And from the tourist point of view makes it more a tourist trap than ever before.

    #15 Posted: 8/12/2010 - 08:56

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Casey
    Again, don't get me wrong - nothing was directed at you personally. I didn't see you write anything that I would call elitist. In fact I find myself in agreement with everything you wrote - I obviously failed to phrase things properly, but Eastwest did it for me. He hits the nail on the head with this:

    "I guess Mac's point is more the complaint that people who visit briefly start acting as experts on any subject that they saw without knowing all the details and I guess most people here would agree that that can be annoying."

    And yes, I also agree with Somsai. The people in that village, driven by economic necessity or desire, have made a choice. And they are free to make it. But it still rankles and I would not personally participate. It's like making a circus act out of your life and culture.

    #16 Posted: 8/12/2010 - 10:09

  • himji

    Joined Travelfish
    24th November, 2010
    Posts: 29

    Wow, lot's of views an opinions here.
    Thanks for sharing guys. I'm not going to add to the debate here as I'm in no way qualified to do so.

    However, as for me, a humble tourist that will spend my three weeks running all over Thai what I'll take away from this is; My initial gut was fairly accurate. A cheap package will be just a zoo trip with people and degrading for the people and probably for me to have gone along with it in the first place.
    But with the right trip, it could be a worthwhile trip where I may learn something and I'll get to experience a the tiniest taste of a life I'd not get a chance to in my three bedroomed house in the suburbs of a metropolitan city.
    Sure if circumstance would let me I could spend years exploring every part of every culture I visit but I have people that depend on me right now so I'll have my taster and take home with me what I can.

    #17 Posted: 9/12/2010 - 06:15

  • busylizzy

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    Awesome discussion, guys.

    Himji - good luck with whatever you decide to do. I think one of the key things to keep in mind if you do decide to visit a village (whether on a tour or not) is to be sure to treat people there with respect. I think one of the most galling things is where people think it's OK to shove a camera in someone's face, or through their front door without asking first. That really is treating people like they are in a zoo.

    I find by asking, or if I can't speak the language, pointing to my camera and playing a game of charades, people are generally happy to have their photo taken. Sure, I may miss out on the 'natural' shot, but at least I haven't disrespected them. I was in a market once in Flores and found that some people refused. Any many that said it was OK would cover their mouth. I realised this is because they were embarrassed by the red stained teeth from chewing betelnut!

    Another funny story here in NZ... .we have a fairly ritzy street in Auckland called Paratai Drive. It's where the extra wealthy tend to congregate and build their multi-million dollar homes. Some Asian tour company started bringing tourists through here by the busload, pissing off the locals bigtime. Story goes that the tourists would jump off the bus, and walk up and down the road happily snapping away at the' locals' tending their gardens, washing their cars or whatever. Some had no hesitation in wandering around through people's gardens. One local even found a camera-toting tourist helped themselves to their bathroom off the hallway near the front door.

    It's not so nice when that tables are turned, I guess.

    #18 Posted: 9/12/2010 - 07:04

  • eastwest

    Joined Travelfish
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    Very funny story lizzy, that made me laugh. I wonder if those people see the irony of it since I'm sure some of them have done a "hill tribe trek" (or an equivalent somewhere else)

    @ himji. Enjoy your trip anyway you do it and take some good impressions with you. And please DO add to the discussion. Nobody here knows everything, it's never black and white, and you can see from the different opinions that there are different views. Go and visit and then give your impression/view to the discussion. It's just as valuable as ours.

    On a more general note:
    I think it's more about personal boundries than anything else. In all honesty I have more admiration for a "holiday"tourist, leaving his home town/region for the first time in his/her life, on a touristy group tour than a seasoned backpacker who is "discovering" the adventurous routes visiting the small unknown places.
    Not that I don't respect the seasoned backpacker but the first time tourist probably has to overcome bigger fears and probably has the bigger sense of excitement/disappointment. And that's what it comes down to isn't it.

    #19 Posted: 9/12/2010 - 09:21

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Liz, that is absolutely hillarious! Great story.

    #20 Posted: 9/12/2010 - 10:59

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
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    mac-

    I agree that we all have things that bother us about people who visit when we live there. In Shanghai the problem is less about people pretending to be experts than it is people who try to completely shield their self from any local experience, turning their nose at the local food (not that shanghai food is the best) and spending their trip shopping for dvds. Ours is one of those situations where the grass looks greener I think.

    #21 Posted: 9/12/2010 - 21:20

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Well, of course I take my cultural and political baggage with me, like I guess we all do. Mine was very hard won - not saying others aren't - but have strongly shaped my outlook on things. And one of those things I am keenly sensitive to, mostly because of my Somali experience, is racist thought that thinks it's liberal thought. You see people bending over backwards to accept "cultural norms" when the behaviors are such the person would never normally accept. We've seen this theme here before when talking about sex tourism. When someone sees a 60 year old white guy in the company of a 20 year old Thai girl, he / she is disgusted. But when they see a 60 year old Thai man in the obvious company of his 25 year old Mia Noi, well that's OK, because it's culturally acceptable. At it's core, that thought process is racist and condescending and I notice it right away. Ditto treating villages as petting zoos - there is something just plain wrong with that. I agree with Somsai, the people have opened their communities in this way for financial gain, and they certainly have the right to do so. But I find the whole thing demeaning to all involved.

    #22 Posted: 9/12/2010 - 22:08

  • Captain_Bob

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    Good account of the Paratai Drive thing Lizzy. I lived in snobby little Remuera in Auckland for several years and can attest to the same phenomenon. I used to motorbike around the city on weekends and had Japanese tourists walk right up and take pictures of me and my little red crotch rocket on places like Mission Bay and the hill in Devonport ("Nice bike!" - CLICK!) and I don't even have stacked rings around my neck or beetlenut red teeth. Start to understand the anxiety of Pennsylvania Amish with busloads of camera-toting tourists treating them like museum objects. Gotta admit the collective decision to let trekking groups stay in Thailand hilltribe villages comes off to some as tacit approval of rampant photo taking, but it's still pretty rude when they stick their lens into private houses without the simple formality of asking first. It's a zoo-like experience if you treat it as such, or you can step back, put away the camera and maybe look listen and learn a thing or two.

    #23 Posted: 10/12/2010 - 02:34

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    "It's a zoo-like experience if you treat it as such, or you can step back, put away the camera and maybe look listen and learn a thing or two."

    bob, I would suggest that the reason for the happy snaps is the desire to be able to say "I was in this very different place and I integrated with the "locals"' and then give a dissertation on how they live (and how much better it is than how we live - or how difficult their poverty is and we should do something about it, etc.) and how worldly the person giving the dissertation is. Without those happy snaps, it isn't working. That's why we want happy snaps of "hill tribes", and the more exotic the better. Hopefully wearing non-western fashion, because otherwise it just looks like you went to a normal village here and took some pictures, and that's not going to work if you are trying to paint yourself as a sophisticated traveller - vice a crass tourist.

    Perhaps I am just jaded here, but I honestly think most of this is gratuitious self gratification coming from people who's ego is tied to their world view and the wearing of that view on their sleeves. This is why "hill tribes" are the thing to visit. Nobody ever comes to see the tribes of Mukdahan - because they aren't sufficiently different for a photo op.

    #24 Posted: 10/12/2010 - 10:37

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
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    I've been reading but not commenting on two threads for a few days. This one and Madmac's homestay one.

    And I keep getting the two mixed up, they both seem to be about the same thing.

    #25 Posted: 10/12/2010 - 11:14

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Well the homestay would ostensibly be about someone who just wants to come and really experience a village - not pass through and get some photos, although that would not surprise me (that kind of guest). But the more I think about it, the more I am disinclined to do it, because again, I don't want to turn my wife's village into a petting zoo. The language barriers are so significant, and language being the critical component to understanding these environments, that I just don't see this as working. Transients in these environments can't appreciate them because they can't communicate with indigenous persons. That's why they go to see places with natural beauty, architectural beauty, beach or party scenes. And if we look at travelfish, those sites are by far the dominant ones written about or sought out. I've never seen anyone ask: Where can I find a dusty village in an isolated backwater with no phone or internet service where I can spend a few weeks eating bad food and experiencing how the other half really lives? People like the idea of going someplace other western tourists don't go, but only if they are going to see or do something cool or exotic. As I thought about this more, I realized that I like to go to the village because I love my in laws and want to spend time with them. I like working on my farm and building things there. I have friends there, and enjoy sitting in the evening playing Thai chess and drinking a beer. None of these things are going to appeal to tourists coming through. They don't have time to form the connections, they don't play thai Chess and don't have the time to learn. They don't have a farm to work on... etc. You take that stuff away, and village life is boring and sucks. Thus you have to find a way to entertain them. Nobody entertains me when I go there. I'm on my own. So I don't see this working or being enjoyable or useful to do.

    #26 Posted: 10/12/2010 - 11:49

  • Thomas922

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Global Village
    Posts: 346

    Wow! Good ****. I am late but I get squeemish when I hear the newbies in the GH's talk about Hill tribes n treks and how they "did" this place and "did" that place. even Lp guidebooks talk about how many of these treks are locals in traditional costume who are paid to mill around for tourists. Last time in Mai Hong song near Pai, I was riding my motorbike miles from town and ran across real Karen people. In their jeans and t-shirts. And their good Thai language. They were poor yes, but many are just trying to live like normal folks. They just have no real recognition as citizens.

    Bottom line, if you want to visit rural places and see or experience for a short time the old ways or traditional culture that's fine. But I have met so many travel snobs in my day who are so judgemntal about how travel is done it sickens me. I want to see the "real" this or the "real" that, they say. I lived recently in Tokyo in the heart of a local area and people tell me they want to see traditional Japanese. Japanese laugh at this because half of them in Tokyo come from small towns and also if you meet the old ladies in my neigboorhood you will experience all the tradition you want. From food to prayer, to which holiday to visit which temple or shrine and what to wear and when. Most of Bangkok outside of the main area is almost all traditional but people want to skip any place they see white faces and malls, then go straight to a beach with white faces or a "Hill Tribe" or volunteer at an orphanage that is set up to get tourists money. (Many of the kids have parents nearby.)

    #27 Posted: 11/12/2010 - 15:55

  • Thomas922

    Joined Travelfish
    1st July, 2007
    Location Global Village
    Posts: 346

    Also Mac...many don't know what a Mia Noi is. A minor wife or basically a Thai man's accepted mistress. (Not all women are happy about it mind you.) She must be socially acceptable in many cases she is pretty and educated. To have a "low class" mistress is enough for a Thai wife to cut it off (his member) as she loses face. Many people know that the average business man in rich countries screws a young worker or waitress at the men's club whatever, but act as if every older white face they see with a younger Asian is open to their judgement. In Thailand that isn't the issue. Thai's don't understand why "rich" men want lower class women. The age thing rarely phases them as much as the class., whereas we are more open to love without "borders". But I digress. To the OP. I hope you enjoy your trip and see as much as you want any way you want. keep an open mind and enjoy the sights, the locals, and even the cool foreigners from other countries including your own. I can almost guarantee you will make lifelong friends and acquaintences.

    #28 Posted: 11/12/2010 - 16:05

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6270
    Total reviews: 10

    Thomas
    Interesting take. I know two Mia Nois here in Mukdahan (possibly three - third is unconfirmed) and they are poor. That's the reason they are Mia Nois - money. I know them quite well. They are nice girls actually. But the wives of the men in question do not know about these relationships (although they must suspect). But whether or not a guy is with a Mia Noi, or it's just a one off thing, I see around town this kind of thing all of the time. You can't miss it. I don't care really. But I find the inconsistency of those who do care when the man is white irritating. These same people who cast dispersions on sex tourists wouldn't even think of casting same on the asian men who are doing the exact same thing.

    #29 Posted: 11/12/2010 - 18:14

  • Thomas922

    Joined Travelfish
    1st July, 2007
    Location Global Village
    Posts: 346

    Good post Mac. I got my info the first time I found out what a Mia Noi was from a Thai journalist who pointed out that when the wife knows or finds out about a minor wife, her class status can embarrass the family. Everyone expects a rich Thai man to have one so when he is caught .......(When they are of high status or "high-so" as they say. It's changing these days anyhow so........

    #30 Posted: 12/12/2010 - 08:04

  • neosho

    Joined Travelfish
    13th August, 2008
    Posts: 386

    Well, my older sister (64) is coming here in January. She's never been out of the US and when I asked her what she wanted to do, she didn't have a clue. I'm just proud she's doing it. Part of her stay is going to be with us here in the village. So I guess whatever cultural experience she gets out of her trip will be dependent upon me. Hopefully it will inspire her to travel more.

    #31 Posted: 12/12/2010 - 08:41

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd March, 2010
    Location China
    Posts: 1219
    Total reviews: 53
    Places visited:
    At least 48

    "Transients in these environments can't appreciate them because they can't communicate with indigenous persons. That's why they go to see places with natural beauty, architectural beauty, beach or party scenes."

    I agree - one reason I did the trek I did was that we were going with a Karen guide who had excellent English and was there to help us talk with the local family we'd be staying with - and find the trail. Not that we didn't have a lot of fun our two nights with them, but if it were two weeks I'm sure we'd all get a little tired of hand-gesturing.

    My primary reason for doing the trek was that I wanted a guide on the trails around the border hills with Myanmar - the natural beauty, the village was a place to stay for the day, though I think it turned out to be even more fun than the trek itself which was largely along a rocky riverbed.

    Anyway, I'm in total agreement that for myself I usually go for natural beauty or historical significance because I know in my short visit I won't have the time to learn the language and immerse myself in the culture - noting of course my tendency to believe that even in this way I can glean some better understanding of the culture I'm going through, be it the dominant ethnicity of the area or a minor hill village.

    sounds like what a lot of us want is a sign along the trail that says, "kill your camera"

    #32 Posted: 12/12/2010 - 09:55

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6270
    Total reviews: 10

    Casey
    While I am not into hiking in these parts, and have only done it occassionally, there is a utilitarian question that applies in your case. You're out on the trail, night comes, and you've got to bed down. So a homestay for this practical question makes imminent sense in places where there are no guesthouses available. My mother used to stay in this womans home (Mrs McKenzie - a delightful woman) when I was in University and she wanted to come visit. My mother always enjoyed sitting and talking with her. Of course, there was no language barrier.

    But I don't object to homestays as a practical way of finding a place to sleep. And I also don't object in the sense that you can see how people here lead their daily lives. That's all OK. What I object to is the elitist attitudes that can accompany the sorts doing this who openly disparage other types of tourists who's interests are more hedonistic and then engage in what I find the quite demeaning pursuit of "doing hill tribes". In short, in my view such contact should be genuine and incidental to have value, not something sought out for voyeuristic reasons.

    #33 Posted: 12/12/2010 - 10:45

  • Kpawsuh

    Joined Travelfish
    11th February, 2011
    Posts: 7

    I can totally relate to you folks. I live in Juneau Alaska, where we get cruise ship after cruise ship of tourists getting off a ship that just sailed in on the Pacific Ocean, and asking what the elevation is, or telling us we should clean the glacier as it looks dirty.

    I vowed to never be one of those tourists, but now that I am trying to figure out what to see in Thailand, all of the cool things are wrapped in cheesy tours. I am taking my 15 yr old son, and diving in Koh Tao, then visiting a friend in Chiang Mai who is a missionary for the next couple of years (Don't get me started on the whole bring them religion as they need to give up the religion they already have thing). I saw there were elephant tours and one in particular where you actually ride on the neck and they teach you the commands and you get to "drive" your own elephant, and then go visit the hill tribes. I don't really want to go visit the hill tribes as I know what it feels like to be a zoo exhibit. "On your left we have a real Alaskan! Don't get too close, he may bite" But you need them and their dollars from buying authentic miniature plastic totem poles made in Taiwan as they are the main economic engine of your town.

    To those of you that do live in country, what can you do to see the cool things around Chaing Mai, and not be a cheesy tourist? Thankfully, Koh Tao is just dive and sit on the beach. I'd ask my friend, but he has only been there a short time and he may answer that we go and convert the hill tribes.

    Thanks (and what crappy trinket is the one to avoid so I don't end up a cheesy tourist?)

    #34 Posted: 11/2/2011 - 08:59

  • busylizzy

    Joined Travelfish
    31st December, 2007
    Location New Zealand
    Posts: 2087
    Total reviews: 20
    Places visited:
    At least 107

    "..buying authentic miniature plastic totem poles made in Taiwan"

    This reminds me of my after-school job years ago when I worked in a souvenir shop in downtown Auckland (NZ). One of my tasks was to unpack all the new stock and peel the 'Made in China' stickers off before putting it on the shelf. Then I would chuckle as the Japanese business men came in and would buy up 30 of each item to take back to all their business associates.

    When overseas, I tend to limit my purchases to one 'quality' item per country. It could be artwork that I know I will be happy to have hanging on my wall in 10 years time, or a silk bag that I know I will get semi-regular use of, or a cloth that I would use as a table cloth, or similar. I did buy a couple of scarves and a silk bag when last in Cambodia.. and was disappointed to find the exact style bag in Vietnam a year later. I know have no idea where they originated. My favourite souvenirs are from artists/craft places where you can see them actually making the item rather than from a market.

    My advise on trinkets: don't buy anything until the end of the trip. You will see something really cool and interesting on your first day. By your last day, you would have seen it 1000's of times and realised that it's not so special. Pay more for a quality item. PIcture yourself wearing it, using it or displaying it in your lounge when back home. Will you like it when you are back in your reality rather than holiday mode?

    #35 Posted: 11/2/2011 - 10:18

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd March, 2010
    Location China
    Posts: 1219
    Total reviews: 53
    Places visited:
    At least 48

    I'm not really a craft person but I usually by fabric - as lizzy says, to use as a trouble cloth or something. If you go to some local markets in smaller communities you can find crafts and jewelry that is more 'authentic', at least something the locals are buying and not produced for tourist consumption. That's a good place to get hand made fabrics.

    Cook-wear is also a great idea - if you're into it. Laos coffee 'nets', Vietnamese coffee drips, a Lao bbq 'pan', etc. etc.

    That said - I remember in Luang Prabang finding one of the wood carved buddha hands with the lotus flower in it and thinking it looked nice, I'd not seen it in any other Asian country, so it reminded me of that place in particular.

    #36 Posted: 11/2/2011 - 17:11

  • Thomas922

    Joined Travelfish
    1st July, 2007
    Location Global Village
    Posts: 346

    Hey Kpawsuh, don't worry about being a cheezy tourist. We all started somewhere. Just see what you want. There are many places that give advice on better touring through the hillside so if you really want to see one day, just do it and get an idea of how you feel about it. There are outfits that keep it in small groups. If not, there are tons of good things around Chiang Mai . Read the guides section on this site and look at pics in guidebooks at the bookstore. Just because it is touristy doesn't mean it isn't worth seeing or doing. I love Doi Suthep. The temple on the mountain. It is touristy but I still love it after a couple of times. Just go early. It is cooler and less crowded.

    As busylizzy said, save the shopping until later in the trip. All the stuff you see at the night markets in Chiang Mai is also at the ones in Bangkok and at the weekend market At Chatuchak. MBK has it all inside with air-con. There are a few locally made bags and such in Chiang Mai but I try to find a decent t-shirt. Just take one less with you. They do have some that support tribes at a shop I went to.

    Like this one
    p://www.borderlinecollective.org/handicraft-shop/

    #37 Posted: 12/2/2011 - 13:34

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