Last weekend, I read “A Village, Or A Zoo?” the Washington Post travel section's cover story about the author's experience trekking through the hills of northern Thailand, visiting various ethnic tribes. The main draw was the same as it was for me and just about every other backpacker visiting Chiang Mai – the Karen Tribe who use metal rings to push their collarbones down and give the impression of extended necks. Such exotic cultural norms seemed right out of the pages of National Geographic, but easier to access – less than $100!
When Gary, Elliot, Jen and Chris brought the article up for discussion in the third installment from This Week In Travel (at the 30-minute mark), I again took interest, and thought I'd relay my personal experience.
I'd heard backpacker's mention hill tribe treks in northern Thailand almost as much as the Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan, so I made it a point to go on one myself. Every other shop in Chiang Mai was offering them, so arranging it was easy.
Upon my group's arrival in the Karen village where we would spend our first night, there was little excitement or interest shown by the Burmese people. They continued to go about their normal business creating handicrafts, with the younger women posing for a few photos. It was thoroughly anticlimactic. I don't know what I expected, but it felt hackneyed.
I wrote a 3-part series on my experience trekking in northern Thailand where you can get a feel for the typical adventure, complete with elephant rides, campfire games, and whitewater rafting. It is one of the few activities on my trip around the world which I would *not* recommend. Instead, at a slightly greater cost, I believe a similar trek in less developed northern Laos would've been more interesting.