The Highland People Discovery Museum is an ethnographic museum situated in Chiang Mai – Northern Thailand, that shows the identity, lifestyle, and culture of hill tribes in Thailand.

The purpose of the museum is to convey a sense of traditional and modern tribal village life through crafts made by villagers, photographs, and exhibit descriptions. This role of the Museum has become increasingly important with the rapid economic and cultural changes that are occurring in the region. In the future, it will be probably not possible to see many of the objects anywhere else except at the Museum. 

Who are the Hilltribes?

There are many different definitions of the hill tribes in Thailand. According to the Department of Public Welfare which holds the hill tribes under its work target, the hill tribes are the nine ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Lahu, Akha, Lisu, Karen, Lua, H’tin, and Kamu. Some linguistic schools have made a categorization of the hill tribes as follows:

  • Lisu, Lahu, and Akha belong to the Sino-Tibetan/ Tibeto-Burman family.
  • Karen belongs to the Sino-Tibetan/ Karenic group.
  • Hmong and Yao belong to the Austo-Thai.
  • Lua, H’tin, and Khamu belong to the Austo-Asiatic/ Mon-Khmer.

Visitors to the museum have the chance to know the rich variety of their culture through their costumes, silver ornaments, and other handcrafts, their farming, and hunting equipment, their musical instruments, and their weapons. The exhibits include as well a wide variety of baskets, ceremonial stringed and wind instruments, silver jewelry, and many ritual items from all the tribal groups. Short cultural description and video boards displaying cultural diversity and tourism in highland areas are also parts of the indoor museum.

The Museum is now in the process of implementing plans for creating an outdoor exhibition of hill tribes’ cultures. The exhibit will consist of traditional houses and ritual structures representing the major tribal groups. Visitors could also see demonstrations of traditional crafts by tribal people in these areas. The Museum also arranges special educational stays in tribal villages that are respectful of villagers’ culture and beneficial to both villagers and visitors.

Location: Ratchamangkla Park, Chotana Road, Muang, Chiang Mai.

Working hours: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday

The Museum is available to visit for free but I kindly encourage you to support this initiative by purchasing traditional tribal crafts from their shop.