written by the American Expat in Chiang Mai
Right now, in this third week of January, the Chinese New Year is being celebrated worldwide. And in Thailand, there are a very proud Hill Tribe people, the Lisu,that are also celebrating their new year. Since they
originated from Southwest China and Tibet, they carry the same date for new years as the Chinese, and in the hills of Northern Thailand it is an important celebration. The Lisu maintain the same Lunar Calendar that the Chinese used in the original homeland, and for four days and four nights, the Lisu villages have colorful and elaborate celebrations that outsiders are all welcome to attend. All of the Lisu people dress in their traditional colorful outfits, with traditional dancing and feasting going on during this time. It is an exciting event for a Westerner to attend.
Lisu villages tend to be quite remote, however, and usually are at 1000 meters or more above sea level, with a preference to the top of mountains amongst the dense forests and waterfalls. To reach the villages, one must drive on unpaved roads up the forested mountain or by mountain climbing motor bike, and some villages can reached only on foot.
The Lisu are animists and ancestor worshipers. They are a strong people known for their rugged individualism, and they believe that the Lisu are a cut above all other Hill Tribe peoples. Lisu are actually the newest of the Hill Tribe groups, having first arrived into Thailand around 1910. The population of the Lisu in Thailand is only 30,000, making them one of the smallest of the Hill Tribes. In years past, the Lisu was involved heavily as opium growers and sellers, and they flourished in that role. Today, they are involved in high altitude farming and hunting, and perhaps a little in the business of illegal substances such as Ganja (the word for Marijuana in Thailand).
Other than the celebration period, the Lisu do not cultivate relationships with tourists and other travelers, but are know for their politeness towards visitors. However, they cling to their ancient traditions. Christian missionaries have not been very successful in converting the Lisu from their ancient religion. You will not see many of the Lisu in the markets of Northern Thailand cities like the other Hill Tribe people, as they prefer to remain somewhat isolated in their villages in the mountains.
The Lisu have light colored skin, and are generally regarded as the most attractive Hill Tribe people. The people tend to wear very brightly colored clothing — reds, greens, blues, orange, yellows, pinks— with a goodly amount of silver ornamentation.
One of the best guidebooks for your travels around Thailand…