|A 2-1/2 day "trek" in the hills here was one of the major reasons for signing up for our tour. It was worth it.
The walking has been strenuous at times, but nothing overwhelming. There are steep ups and downs as well as level ramblings, stream crossings, and dried mud. We have walked mostly through forest. Most are walking in hiking shoes or runners. Our lead guide wears rubber boots for protection from snakes.
Along the way, we learn about native plants and their uses. Our crew prepared a cooked lunch using bamboo collected on the spot for the fire, cooking container, cups, and food in the form of bamboo worms (tasteless when cooked).
We have met members of the Karen, Akha, and Lisu tribes.
None of the tribes are indigenous. All migrated from Tibet to escape Chinese persecution. Some stayed briefly in Burma or Mayanmar, where war and other pressures drove them further south. Once in Thailand, tribes were relocated once again by the government, the Karen from an area set aside as a national park.
Tribal practices are changing rapidly. Few people wear traditional clothing and then usually as participants in a special ceremony. Men's clothes are nondescript combination of t-shirts, denim, sporting sweats, and cheap shirts. A few women wear hand woven jackets, but most wear nondescript skirts or sarongs.
Tribes were originally animist, then Buddhist. More recently, Catholic and other Christian churches have had success converting locally by offering free medical care or education. The result is a mixture of practices from attending Mass to leaving food and drink offerings for the spirits of a sacred spring or village gentry.
Young people have access to school and are able to find work in nearby towns, commuting by the ubiquitous motorbike. The income shows in improved houses, fancy motorbikes, and satellite TV. Cell phones are everywhere, including data service. I'm writing this in a bamboo hut in a village of about 25 homes.
The tribes are changing rapidly. Tourism is only a small part of the influences. They are minorities, and tiny ones as well.
The country used to be known as Siam - meaning something like "Land of Three Heavens." Now it is "Land of the Thais." For the migrants, perhaps the name Siam would have offered more comfort.