Situated 1,500 meters above the sea and 23 kilometers west of downtown Chiang Rai is the mountain called Doi Hang, which boasts an abundance of plants, wildlife, mountain range views, hot spring warmth, and the simple lifestyles of Akha, Lahu, Lisor, Yao and Karen tribe people.Doi Hang is well worth exploring thanks to its landscape and local culture. The evergreen-dominated mountain is a suitable destination for adventurous tourists, who, however, will need local guides experienced in the trails as well as local nature and culture.
One of the most experienced guides is Apae Amor, who in 2006 was recognized as an outstanding guide of Thailand. He is described as the top expert on the trails of Doi Hang. This hill tribe man established Akha Hill House ? a homestay facility in the Akha village of which Apae is also the head.Apae used to be a farmer and collected forest products for sale in urban areas. When the market for agricultural products deteriorated, he turned to tourism. He is renowned for his excellent knowledge of the mountain, especially its trails. When he began his career as a guide, the only thing he needed to learn was more languages, so today Apae speaks English, Japanese, Thai, and Akha. Trekking can be enjoyed in countless ways, Apae says. ?A trip can last from a day to six days and seven nights. A trek is usually 8-10 kilometers long, and tourists can study nature as they walk through the evergreen forest. Trekkers have many things to learn: plants, orchids, ways to survive in a jungle, cooking rice and other dishes with natural appliances like bamboo stalks. On overnight stays in the forest, they will even learn how to make a shelter from leaves.?
There are trails to a three-tiered, ten-meter-high waterfall named Huai Kaeo, tea plantations, a hot spring, and villages of Lahu and Akha people, as well as other hill tribe people.A project to promote the education of hill tribe children is active at Ban Pong Nam Ron school in the Akha village on Doi Hang. Scholarships raised from the money that visitors spend on accommodation are available for students with good grades. Ten percent of visitors? spending on their homestay contributes to the education fund. At the school, seven Thai teachers teach students from the first grade of primary education to the third grade of secondary education, age 15. Foreigners sometimes work as volunteer English-language teachers there. Apae says he always welcomes volunteer teachers.In addition to his tourism activities, this Akha village headman plans to develop a fruit museum into a source of information on Thai fruits, herbs, and local wisdom, a place where all interested visitors can learn about the region.
Apae?s projects benefit not only his own purse but also those of many other local people who used to depend only on agriculture. Today they have an income from the homestay service and from the production and sale of handicrafts. The most popular choices include handmade cotton shirts and bags. The best source for more information on the trekking, the homestay, and the other attractions of Doi Hang and the northern hills is the web site <www.akhahill.com>. For visitors who want to see what is happening off the beaten track, the work of Apae Amor and his village are signs of new life in the North.
Story: Sirinan RojanatumPhotos: Sirinan Rojanatum