HILL TRIBES AND MOUNTAIN BREEZES

Anna Thai, “Land of Abundant Rice Fields,” is what Thais call the northern part of their country. The region is perhaps Thailand’s most distinctive: it’s largely mountainous, much cooler than the rest of the country during the autumn and winter months, and possesses its own distinctive language and culture. The turbulent history of this region is, in some ways, still in progress. Lanna Thai’s hill tribes have yet to be fully integrated into modern society. As they continue to filter across the Thai-Burmese border into Thailand, they are the cause of considerable concern to the government. But this foment also ensures that northern Thailand is still ethnically and culturally vibrantly alive. Each valley—and increasingly each hilltop—has something unique to offer the discerning traveler. In the valleys, the sign of cultural individuality may well be local handcrafts—terracotta kitchen pots, say, or a particular weave or color of the richly embroidered pha sin, as the women’s formal ankle-length sarongs are called. In the hills, each tribe sets itself apart not only by its lifestyle and architecture—yes, even huts can be built many different ways—but also by its clOthing, embroidery and jewelry. Both lowland and hill communities also have their own customs. While some of these are widely shared, others are localized and are already dying out. Therefore, it’s helpful to read up on the region before you go, and stay alert to all the local nuances while you are there. You will be richly rewarded. Even the time-pressed traveler can catch some glimpses of a less hurried way of life. One has only to step into a temple compound anywhere in the region to find great serenity. Go to any village, and you will be surrounded by smiling, friendly, generous people. Trek through the forested hills and small, fertile valleys for some beautiful