After the White Temple and the Black House, you may find yourself wondering what else there is to see in Chiang Rai. Make sure this is one of them to really appreciate the hill tribes and other communities in northern Thailand. Officially, it’s the Hilltribe Museum and Education Center, and there’s plenty of both.
Organized by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), the association was founded in 1974. Before making your way to the museum, however, you’ll be asked to start with an introductory video. Have a seat and take it in — it’s comprehensive, if a bit long at around 20 minutes. You’ll know all the facts by the time you start.
A look at some original Hmong tribe pieces and patterns, complete with some closer looks. Not pictured here are some original exhibits, including some flip-flops made of bamboo.
So, what were they smoking? Opium — the government claims production has markedly decreased in the hilltribe areas. Thanks to loose border controls and bribeable government officials, it’s taken a long time to clean up.
OK, so the first main area (where you’ll watch the video) is an appetizer — the other room is more information than museum, though there’s enough to see to fill at least a half hour. Most of it isn’t exactly photogenic since it’s more information than exhibits. If you want pictures of print-offs and pages taped on the walls.. Well, just visit the place. It’s not the most exciting place, but the souvenir shop has plenty of colorful (if slightly expensive) offerings from the hill tribes.
The first-floor Cabbages and Condoms. For anyone unfamiliar with the restaurant, one of its focuses is to promote safe sex — the founder Mechai Viravaidya wanted condoms to be as easy to get as cabbages. Condoms are free at the counter, of both the male and female variety. The free drink coupon from your Hilltribe Museum ticket is redeemable here for a tea or coffee, though it’s clearly aimed at you getting in the door to enjoy a meal.
It’s educational without beating you over the head, informational (sometimes to a fault), and displays their interest in protecting the tribal members from exploitation. The organization also offers tours that support the community development of the area (and does it so in a completely above-board way). Learn more on their website, but you’ll need to call them at 053–719–167 to reserve your tour.
Want more? Look outside the museum for a street market with plenty of fruits, crafts, some clothes, and so on. It’s not the biggest thing around, but it’s worth meandering through on your way to your next stop.
Name: Hill Tribe Museum
Address: 3rd floor, 620/35 Thanalai Rd., A.Muang, Chiang Rai Province 57000 (GPS: 19.909202,99.835631)
Directions: From the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal, take a right out of the bus station, then an immediate left, and walk to the T. Take a right onto Phahonyothin road, then walk 450 meters to the four-way intersection, then take a right. Walk about 300 meters (just past the next four-way intersection), then look left for the building.
Hours: 8:30am-6pm (Monday-Friday), 10am-6pm (Weekends and holidays)
Admission: 50 baht