Hill-Tribe Regions near Chiang Mai
Concierge.com's insider take:
Society here has traditionally been organized by altitude, with Buddhist Thai living in permanent lowland settlements and animist ethnic minorities scattered on mountain slopes. Dozens of outfitters, including Maeping Riverside Tours, offer day trips and multiday treks to hill-tribe hamlets (66-53-302-121; www.norththaitour.com). These excursions often include an elephant ride, bamboo raft trip, rock climbing, or a dip in a mountain waterfall. Sadly, some villages near Chiang Mai have become detribalized, with the attendant big-city commercialization and social problems. Before you book, find out the packing list and degree of hiking difficulty, the size of the trekking group, and whether other tourists will visit the same villages on the same day. Avoid any "opium tours" or programs that include the Padaung, or "Long-Neck Karen,'' whose women encase their necks in brass rings. Though indigenous to Burma, the Padaung are frequently exhibited in Thailand in zoo-like conditions. Check with the Tourism Authority of Thailand for a list of licensed operators. Staffed and managed by hill-tribers, the 24-room Lisu Lodge near Chiang Dao is a soft-adventure base for trekking, river rafting, and mountain biking, with more amenities (hot water, Western-style toilets) than many other operations (66-53-278-338; www.asian-oasis.com).