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The Lua and Palaung Hilltribe in Chiang Mai

The Lua have been in Chiang Mai the longest of all hilltribes. They are thought to have originated from the Lawa who were pushed into the hills by the men from Haripunchai and the Tai.

The Lua accept alien ways fairly easily and over the years many have integrated and become like the Northern Thai. However a group of Lua have maintained a distinct identity, especially in upland villages.

They are found in the areas around Bo Luang (H108) and south towards Umpai.

They practice swidden agriculture as well as wet-rice cultivation and favor villages on the crests of hills. They believe in good and bad spirits and profess a belief in Buddhism. The women may wear costumes that have blue tunics and skirts to below the knees as well as a turban, but the men dress ordinarily.


The Palaung are the newest hilltribe to arrive in Chiang Mai. Like the Lua they may have originally been a lowland peoples.

Both Lua and Palaung speak a language related to the Mon-Khmer family of languages. The Palaung have been living in the Shan State of Myanmar for several centuries but have only started moving into Thailand since 1984 to escape from the fighting in their homeland. They number more than 2000 and live in six villages in the Doi Ang Khang and Chiang Dao areas.

The Palaung are noted for their skill in raising crops. They are strict Buddhists who also believe in nature and animal spirits. Their villages must have a Buddhist temple or shrine as well as a shrine for propitiating the spirits.

Living in raised houses, families are extended with married sons usually living with the parents. Villages have a headman, who usually comes from the largest family, as well as monks and a shaman for curing sickness.

Only Palaung women wear costume. They wear a short bright (often blue) long sleeved jacket with decorated trim and a red tube skirt with narrow horizontal white stripes. The women also wear large belts made of rattan coils which protect them and let them go to heaven when they die. Both women and men like to have silver and gold in their teeth.


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