A hill tribe visit and stay in Northern Thailand
My driver picked me up from my Chiang Mai hotel early afternoon for a short one hour trip to the Lisu hill tribe in Northern Thailand. This area has been settled with a variety of tribes that immigrated from various parts of China, Tibet and Laos, eventually seting up towns and agricultural farms in Northern Thailand with the help of the local Thai government. The Lisu people came to various areas around Southern China and Tibet with a very unique culture heritage and language. Many of the immigrants are farmers and fishermen and settled into the rural hills and countryside in the Northern regions of Chiang Mai province.
After a quick drive through the surface roads of Chiang Mai, we enter an agricultural area of rolling hills, rice paddies and many large leafed tropical forests. This area feels so far removed from the busy streets, markets and tourist zones in Chiang Mai, a heavily visited tourist destination known for it’s amazing temples and ancient landmarks. Driving further into this idyllic landscape, my driver finally turns left into a small road heading into the village and then to Lisu Lodge an eco resort that is integrated naturally into this agrarian environment. I am happy slow down my pace of travel and I will be staying here for the next few days.
Lisu Lodge is at the forefront of luxury and eco stays in Thailand. They offer spacious villas built with indigenous and earth friendly materials in a relaxed and modern rustic abode. The lodge features eco and green practices and hires many of its staff from the village. A very smart and green economic model in keeping employment local for this tribe and hiring the young villagers who will still live in the village nearby. Along with using typical green materials and practises like solar energy, sourcing locally or growing their own ingredients the lodge takes eco lifestyles a step further by offering soft and green focused tours like hikes, village tours, bicycling, rafting and tea tour experiences.
Lisu village tour
After settling in my room, I meet my guide for my first tour of the Lisu village to get familiarized with the local lifestyle and customs of this tribe. Even though the tribe has many modern conveniences like autos, motor cycles and electricity, the elders keep up traditional and cultural practises that are handed down the families. This includes their belief systems, religious practices, language, food and various customs. It’s an easy tour meeting some of the villagers including the older women who sew the various pillows and fashion items with colorful fabrics and one of the women shows the process of how the crafts are done, very meticulous and painstaking work for such little margins. In spite of this, they need this supplemental income for their own use. Unlike the busy markets and tourist districts of Chiang Mai, the locals here have small businesses creating home-made crafts that the women of the Lisu tribes make for a living. Primarily stitched fabrics that are made into colorful pillows, purses and other accessories that are relatively easy to make and do as a side business
Trying a locally brewed rice liquor
Shamanism in the Lisu Tribes
Further down we visit the villages shaman who is more of a spiritual advisor and helps with any personal problems that each family may have. It’s a strange practise for westerners because there is no medicine or herbs used in the healing process and more-so chanting and voodoo style practises that are still being used in spite of modern medicine. The guide mentions to me that offering chickens and checking the chicken bones is part of the process for the shaman to understand the condition and treatment for each problem. As part of the religious practises, the shaman relies on ancestors of each family to help conjure up the bag energy to drive out the demons and problems that have occurred to a suffering family member hence the voodoo like treatments. We meet other elders and talk more about the modern problem of their children leaving to the bigger cities to find work and a lifestyle away from this agricultural lifestyle that the younger generation is not interested in pursuing. So you typically just see elders in the village separated from their children who eventually support them financially.
Visiting the Buddhist temple
We head out to the local buddhist temple in the village which is next to the lodge and it is very worn looking but still operating. The local Abbott has created a nursery of various herbs and plants for medicinal purposes that are made into tinctures and products sold around the region. It’s closed today but we still wander around the temple grounds and walk down to the reservoir which is quite scenic and the water is used to irrigate the various farms in the area.
Lisu eco farming
We tour the lodge’s farm to see the produce grown for the lodge including rice and mostly tobacco for sale in markets. There are also vegetables and fruits grown for the kitchen to use for the meals for staff and guests. It’s quite an effort and whatever the lodge does not grow, they source from markets and purveyors locally to complete offerings that follow eco focused principles.
We head back to the lodge and I get the afternoon to relax, enjoy the grounds and have a nice afternoon siesta before dinner is served on the grand lanai and apparently I’m the only guest in this home, even though there are 22 other guests visiting and staying in one of the other homes, so I get the entire complex to myself including a village dance performance later in the evening.
Lisu Lodge cuisine and dining
Needless to say the food and dining service was exceptional with most of the food grown or sourced locally within the region. It seemed extravagant that I was dining by myself in the entire villa but right next door was a whole group of Germans also present. The service for one included a large choice of curry and vegetarian dishes to sample which easily could feed four people and I was really hungry that evening. Later in the evening, local villagers came to the villa to perform some traditional dances with an accordion type of instrument – it was unexpected and quite colorful. Unfortunately, the video images I took of the performance were blurred since the lighting was really dim and I only used my cell phone to capture these images below – but trust me, the food was really tasty and spicy!
After dinner dance performance of the Lisu tribe
An authentic eco accommodation
The villas at Lisu Lodge are wonderfully crafted with each villa accommodating up to 5 sets of guests per villa. The rooms and lounges are all made with indigenous materials and local furnishings, making this a very authentic stay but with modern amenities and special touches. I was also able to request a masseuse that comes to the villa and does a wonderful whole body Thai massage in the covered living areas of the villa.
Here are some images of the bedroom and living areas of each villa:
Looking out into the landscape from a villa
Bedroom suite at Lisu Lodge
Sunrise at Lisu Lodge
Morning is slow and luxurious, even the birds are taking their time in the morning to wait for the sunrise and start a busy day. Watching the sun rise through the bamboo groves is a magical experience while relaxing at the living rooms of the villa. Meals are arranged on the lanai with your choice of breakfast in a traditional cuisine or more western style service.
Morning blooms around Lisu Lodge
I hope you enjoyed this Hill tribe stay in Northern Thailand . If you did, please do share it with any of the social media buttons that are located around the post, thank you. I was a guest of the Lisu lodge and participated in some of their eco tours, all opinions as always are my own. If you would like to find out more information about the Lisu Lodge and its eco tour programs, you can check out their website here.