Hmong tribe chiang mai- girl gone athentic - people of the golden triangle

The People of the Golden Triangle

For centuries, the mysterious region of South East Asia known as the Golden Triangle has captivated many. The early 20th century saw a surge in the infamous tabloid tales of being the world’s second largest home and traffic to opium and heroin.

Fast forward to today, the Western imagination is transfixed by the six culturally distinct people occupying this region – Akha, Karen, Lisu, Hmong, Lahu and Mien – also commonly (and loosely) referred to as the hill tribes.

The Golden Triangle once knew no boundaries. The remote mountainous villages were a meeting trade point where India, Tibet, China and Mongolia set passage to access the rest of South East Asia. Diversity of cultures was therefore a norm. What is intriguing though is how the many cultures in this region have managed to stand the test of time, preserving age old cultures, languages and dress.

Recently though, the Golden triangle has become a home to the displaced people of South East Asia. With no country to solely call their own, this region between Laos, Burma and Thailand is even more mysterious as – despite the hostility of the environment and outside influences – the people fight to maintain and continue their distinct ways.

For some it is pottery making and basket weaving , others silver smelting and for most if not all, it is the intricacy of their clothes. Commonly handmade from either cotton or hemp, and hand dyed from natural plant material, it is impossible not to admire the thought and detail each tribe boasts of; never loosing sight of their ancient ways, theirs is a story told one stitch at a time.

The Akha People

The 20th century saw the Akha people migrate from Yunnan to South East Asia, with the majority settling in Burma. With the Burmese disputes, they then headed to the Golden Triangle.

The Akha traditional costume consists of homespun cotton, hand dyed in natural indigo. What really sets them apart is their flamboyant headdress.

Akha women and their children - girl gone authentic - the people
Akha girls in handmade clothes
Akha girls in handmade clothes.
Akha woman elaborate headdress
Akha older woman's elaborate headdress. The older one gets, the fancier the headdress. In the olden days and still practiced today, silver was a symbol of wealth. More silver meant a higher ranking within the community.
Akha silver jewelry - girl gone authentic - the people
Akha silver adornments.
Akha young girl headdress - girl gone authentic - the people
An older Akha girl's headdress.

The Mien (Yao) People

Originally from China, the Mien people had migrated to Laos, where disputes later forced them to flee to the Thai/Laos border. They recently received refugee (cringe at the term) status from the Thai government while the third largest group of Mien people relocated to the U.S upon government sponsorship.

The Yao women traditionally wear fine blue clothing dyed from indigo, a trademark red scarf and embroidered turbans.

Mien Yao girl - girl gone authentic - the people
Mien Yao Women - girl gone authentic - the people

The Karen People

Perhaps the oldest group of people to have reached the Golden Triangle are the Karen people. They arrived in this region in the 17th century, and have been known to be the pioneers of the rice terrains. Living in harmony with nature is a skill that they have mastered.

In Thailand, the Karen people are a part of the sub ethic group known as the Palaung. The other sub group is known as the Padaung – these are the ‘long neck’ people, who only started migrating to Thailand only about 15 years ago.

The Kayan (Padaung) Women

The Kayan women adorn themselves with brass neck rings which in time, give an illusion of a head hovering over an elongated golden neck – a beauty trademark. The women start wearing neck rings from as early as 2 years old, with a ring or two added each year. By the time they are in their 20’s, the rings can weigh as much as  25 pounds.

Contrary to popular believe, the women are not forced to wear neck rings, it is indeed a fascinating, futuristic sight seeing Kayan women with neck rings wear modern clothes.

Karen people of the golden triangle - girl gone authentic - the people of the golden trianglePeople of the golden triangle - Long neck tribe
Long neck people of the golden triangle - girl gone authentic triangle
karen people of the golden triangle - girl gone authentic
long neck woman people of the golden triangle
People of the golden triangle praying

The Hmong People

The Hmong people are a sub group of the Miao people of China. After the great migration in the 18th century, quite a fair number had found a new home in Laos. However, from 1975, or post the Laos disputes, most settled in the northern Thai mountains. The vibrant Hmong colors are quite impossible to miss.

hmong tribe - girl gone authentic - people of the golden triangle
Hmong tribe chiang mai- girl gone athentic - people of the golden triangle
colourful hmong tribe outfits - girl gone authentic - people of the golden triangle

The Lisu People

The Lisu people are a nomadic people of Tibetan descent. Traditionally slash and burn farmers, they reside in scattered homesteads across the hills of the Golden Triangle. The women play with textiles, layering beautiful colors and patchwork to make perhaps, the most vibrant outfits in the region.

Lisu tribe woman - girl gone authentic
Lisu tribe women - girl gone authentic - people of the golden triangle

The Lahu People

Initially from Tibet, the Lahu people migrated to Yunna, China and towards the mid 1800’s they moved further south to the hills of Thailand. The Golden Triangle is home to both the Black and Yellow Lahu, with the Yellow Lahu making up at-least 75% of the group.

Lahu tribe people - girl gone authentic - people of the golden triangle
Lahu tribe girl - girl gone authentic - people of the golden triangle
Lahu tribe woman weaving

Words by Khumoetsile Seamogano


Akha People – Tim Daper

Karen People – Jorgen Bisch, 1962

Lahu People – Eric Lafforgue

One thought on “The People of the Golden Triangle

  1. I love it. Good for you and to go through the troubles of doing so. But making it easily available To survive time is doing a valuable deed that is way overlooked. I married a Mien wife and surprise at how the culture (Seattle) is still so ignorant to the diversity. I’m referring to everyone black, white, Asians, euros, all that derived from Spain once upon a time, Africans, etc. Was making a Mien statue today and googled me in traditional garment for reference and surprise there is only a couple hundred in totality vs googling Bieber and u have over 100 million photos. Compare 200 something Photos = entire tribe of people vs one kid = millions of photos. The disparity is evident value of knowledge and learning is placed on the thing human progression has regressed

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