A Rare Look into Thailand’s Hill Tribe People

After an interesting and educational week in Shanghai and Xiamen for our Global MBA project in China, we headed to Chaing Mai, Thailand. This area of Thailand was a short airplane ride from Shanghai and full of amazing experiences. One notable experience was our time with the hill tribe people, specifically the Hmong tribe.


Hmong Tribe

The Hmong hill tribe people of Thailand are mainly refugees from China and Laos. In general the tribe was fleeing political unrest in China (the Indochina Wars) and Laos (the Secret War) and to find more arable land as their method of farming was not advantageous to the land being cultivated for long periods. Some of the tribes ended up in refugee camps (Karen and Hmong, most notably), while other settled in the mountainous areas of Northern Thailand. The Hmong people were particularly lucky are they were given political refugee status and an eventual path to citizenship which was not afforded to all the tribes (mainly the Long Necks who still remain illegal immigrants or economic refugees among the mountains). If you would like to read more about the ethical issues surround the Karen Long Neck Tribe, please see Ethical Issues with the Karen Long Neck Village.

Royal Project

The slash-and-burn style of farming that most tribes used were not very good for the land, and the crops they were producing (mainly opium) were not good for the surrounding areas. In an effort to stop the sale of opium and increase the viability of the land the Royal Project was started by the His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. Officially it was founded in 1969 “to solve the problems of deforestation, poverty and opium production by promoting alternative crops”. The tribes were relocated to plots of land on the sides of mountains that are owned by the government. The Thai government brought in western famers to educate the Hmong tribe on how to farm crops not locally grown, such as almonds and strawberries. These crops were also expensive to import so they could make money by producing the crops locally. The western agriculturalist also taught them better, sustainable farming techniques. The Hmong tribes live and work this area to support them. They make money by selling their local crops and handmade goods to visitors as well as back they sell the crops they farm to the Royal Project whom then sell to the mass market.

Our Experience

Upon arriving at one of the Hmong Tribe villages we were welcomed by several cheerful children running and playing who lead us to a school where another group of children were napping but we were welcomed to look around. They teach the children their native language as well as English. As we continued walking we saw many of the crops growing and a number of different homes. It can take a family many years to finish their homes, so they will start with split bamboo and as they make more money through the sale of their crops and goods to visitors and the royal project they increase the styling the of their home to wood with tin or tile roofs, and sometimes with the relative luxury of a cement floor. We met a few ladies who showed us their intricate weaving for their everyday and formal clothing. They informed us they were getting ready to have a celebration for a couple that had just married. We were able to see some of the crops growing and eat lunch made from the crops they were grown. It was wonderful to see a self-sustaining village that is flourishing. Still much needs to be improved for them and other tribes but it was a nice experience to see the progress.

Allison Shapiro

MBA Candidate 2016