Akha Headdress

The Akha Tribes

The Akha are one of the six hill tribes in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand. The hill tribes (chao khao, literally ‘mountain people’) are considered non-Thai by the Thai authorities, and live scattered in their own villages among the other ethnic groups. Each hill tribe has its own (sub-)language, customs, clothing, and religion, and even between the villages differences occur.

The Akha migrated in stages from Yunnan (China), where the great majority still lives, into eastern Burma (Myanmar), northern Laos, and the north-west corner of Vietnam. The Akha who now live in Thailand started migrating from Burma in the early twentieth century, and probably established the first Akha village in Thailand in 1903, in the Payaphai region near the Burmese border.

Their main source of income, like the other hill tribes, is poppy seeds or opium. Today, few hill tribe villages are self-sufficient in food, and trade has become increasingly important. Additional income derives from tourism.

The Akha mostly reside in Chiang Rai, the northernmost province, and in the provinces Chiang Mai, Kamphaeng Phet, Lampang, Phrae, and Tak. (Map by Carmen Kors)