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I spent a night at a Lahu Hill Tribe village during a trek in Maehongson Province.
The Lahu people migrated to northern Thailand through Yunnan province in China and Burma.
The population is around 150 and the village is overseen by a chieftain, who retains this position until age 60. While animism is deeply embedded in Lahu culture, some villagers also practice buddhism and christianity. The village shaman’s house is marked with some distinctive decorations.
Our guide also informed us that most hill tribe people rarely obtain formal land rights, usually just building on and farming uninhabited land.
The level of infrastructure here seems a bit more basic. Most of the village is unpaved and villagers relied on individual solar panels for electricity instead of an on grid supply.
Water for the village is pumped from an unfiltered local stream and not a municipal supply. Although it is fairly safe to drink, bottled drinking water was brought in for tour guests to avoid stomach issues.
Chickens, dogs and small pigs roamed and foraged freely through the village although large adult pigs were kept in pens. We saw some cute, skittish newborn piglets playing next to their protective mother.
Most of the dwellings are stilted bamboo houses with pigs, dogs, chickens cohabitating under the raised platforms. The family we stayed with had a large house at the top of the hill with two separate sleeping quarters, a kitchen and an outdoor common area all connected on a raised platform.
The rooms and outdoor area had solar-powered lights and the Lahu family’s room also had satellite TV. I counted 8 people from 3 different generations staying and the non-partitioned room.
The grandma appeared the hardest working person in the home stay family. She did most of the cleaning, washed dishes, carried water, chopped firewood, started the fire, and woke up early to feed the pigs. It’s not everyday you meet a spritely machete wielding matriarch.
Our industrious guide started preparing dinner the moment we arrived at the house without taking a moment to relax. The kitchen room consistent of a fire pit with a kettle, pot, fry pan and charcoal grill. There was a shelf to store plates and utensils and a raised wooden platform to hold the produce transported to the village earlier in the day. The Lahu villagers placed slices of wild lemon in the doorway to keep insects away from the other food and hung a small platform above the flame where the smoke would help preserve herbs, spices etc…
Our guide made chicken massaman curry (gaeng matsamun gai แกงมัสมั่นไก่), roast chicken (gai yang ไก่ย่าง), and stir fried vegetables (pad phak ผัดผัก) for dinner. The flavors were good and this was a nice satisfying meal after trekking.
The 8 guests on the tour slept in two rows of four in a approx 30 square meter room. This was cozy but not cramped and the room was very clean. We were provided with an inch thick mattress, mosquito net, sleeping bag and blanket. Although it was a little nippy at night, I found the sleeping bag more than sufficient for warmth and used the blanket as a pillow. The mosquito net didn’t do a particularly good job of keeping out bugs and I got bit a several times overnight.
The roosters started crowing around 2am and continued until about 7am. The calls usually came in waves, instigated by more vociferous individuals and followed by equally enthusiastic imitators, of which there were many. The village loud-speaker comes to life around 6:45 am with songs and various announcements in Lahu language.
Notwithstanding the nocturnal nuisances, the home stay was a clean and comfortable experience. For more fastidious travelers, I wouldn’t let staying in a hill tribe village dissuade you from trying an overnight trek.
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