The term “Hill Tribe” is a blanket descriptor used to indicate any number of indigenous groups native to Thailand, Laos and Burma, as well as displaced groups who have migrated from Yunnan, Tibet and elsewhere in China. They are typically subsistence farmers and hunter gatherers, but the vibrancy of their respective cultural practices and the relative isolation they’ve enjoyed from modern society make them a phenomenal curiosity for many eco-tourists and other travelers.
The six major hill tribes within Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu. With proper preparation and expert guidance, it’s possible to visit all of the above tribes.
Family-friendly tours of Northern Thailand are readily available. It isn’t difficult to gain access to the region, but it can be somewhat challenging to do so without treading heavily on local environments or restricting your travels to overly touristy destinations. Small group tours come highly recommended. It’s advisable to book in advance, and you should cross-reference your sources when it comes to the credentials claimed by various tour groups regarding their reputation for low-impact, environmentally sustainable practices.
The better tour groups offer access to a combination of off-the-beaten-path destinations (these being the best way to experience authentic cultural practices) and established tourist traps (the better to support local economies dependent on the trade). In either case, it’s possible to immerse oneself in exotic attractions without treading too heavily on ancient ways of life.
It should be noted that fly-by-night outfits are to be assiduously avoided.