As the guests, it’s up to farangs to adapt to the customs of the hill tribes and not to make a nuisance of themselves. Apart from keeping an open mind and not demanding too much of your hosts, a few simple rules should be observed.

  • Dress modestly, in long trousers or skirt (or at least knee-length shorts if you must) and a T-shirt or shirt. Getting dressed or changing your clothes in front of villagers is also offensive.
  • Loud voices and boisterous behaviour are out of place. Smiling and nodding establishes good intent. A few hill-tribe phrasebooks and dictionaries are available from local bookshops and you’ll be a big hit if you learn some words of the relevant language.
  • If travelling with a loved one, avoid displays of public affection such as kissing, which are extremely distasteful, and disrespectful, to local people.
  • Look out for taboo signs (ta-laew), woven bamboo strips, on the ground outside the entrance to a village, on the roof above a house entrance or on a fresh tree branch; these mean a special ceremony is taking place and that you should not enter. Be careful about what you touch; in Akha villages, keep your hands off cult structures like the entrance gates and the giant swing. Ask first before entering a house, and do not step or sit on the doorsill, which is often considered the domain of the house spirits. If the house has a raised floor on stilts, take off your shoes. Most hill-tribe houses contain a religious shrine: do not touch or photograph this shrine, or sit underneath it. If you are permitted to watch a ceremony, this is not an invitation to participate unless asked. Like the villagers themselves, you’ll be expected to pay a fine for any violation of local customs.
  • Some villagers like to be photographed, most do not. Point at your camera and nod if you want to take a photograph. Never insist if the answer is an obvious “no”. Be particularly careful with the sick and the old, and with pregnant women and babies – most tribes believe cameras affect the soul of the foetus or newborn.
  • Taking gifts can be dubious practice. If you want to take something, writing materials for children and clothing are welcome, as well as sewing tools (like needles) for women – ask your guide to pass any gifts to the village headman for fair distribution. However, money, sweets and cigarettes may encourage begging and create unhealthy tastes.
  • Do not ask for opium, as this will offend your hosts.


Everything you need to know before you set off.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Thailand features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The truth about elephant tourism in Asia

The truth about elephant tourism in Asia

Elephants are born free, but are everywhere in chains – and it’s tourism which is increasingly to blame. Riding an elephant used to be on every visitor’s …

11 Aug 2017 • Gavin Thomas insert_drive_file Article
Why Thailand is the wine destination you never knew existed

Why Thailand is the wine destination you never knew existed

Asked to name the world's best wine country and you'll most likely tout the undulating vineyards of Italy, France or California. But Thailand? With its smo…

26 Jun 2017 • Tamara Hinson local_activity Special feature
Go it alone: solo travel in Thailand

Go it alone: solo travel in Thailand

Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim benea…

15 Feb 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month