Karen hilltribe


Where the Karen originate from is not clear but Tibet and the Gobi desert are possible homelands of the Karen. What is clear is that the Karen have been living in Burma for many centuries. In the 18th century Karen started migrating into Thailand

Where do they live?

Karen live in fifteen provinces in Thailand, all along the Burmese-Thai border from Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son down to Tak, Kanchanaburi and further south to the Isthmus of Kra..


In Thailand, the Karen are divided into four major sub-groups: the Sgaw Karen who call themselves and other related subgroups Pga-ganYaw, the Pwo Karen or Plong, the Pa-O or Taungthu who are also known as Black Karen, and the Bwe or Kayah or Red Karen. There are two sub-categories of Pwo Karen - in the north, the Pwo Rachaburi, and in the east, the Pwo Kanchanaburi.


The Karen languages, members of the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan language family, consist of three mutually unintelligible branches: Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa'o. The Karen languages are almost unique among the Tibeto-Burman languages in having a subject–verb–object word order; other than Karen and Bai, Tibeto-Burman languages feature a subject–object–verb order. This anomaly is likely due to the influence of neighboring Mon and Tai languages.


This is the largest of the minority groups and many of the Karen were converted to Christianity by the missionaries, with some tribes still practicing animism or being Buddhist.

Much of Karen life is dictated by the spirits. The most important is the "Lord of Land and Water" who controls the productivity of the land and calls upon the rice spirit to grow. Also important is the matrilineal ancestor guardian spirit (bga). The village priest is the most revered individual: he is the ritual leader and it is he who sets dates for the annual ceremonies. As the Karen have been incorporated into the Thai state, so increasing numbers have turned to Buddhism. However, some Karen, especially the Sgaw Karen, have been very responsive to the gospel.

Culture and lifestyle

The Karen wear woven v-neck tunics of various natural colours and turbans. Unmarried women wear distinctive long white v-neck tunics. The Karen occupy lowland areas, engaging in agriculture, including rice cultivation.
Most Karen live in mountain villages and practice shifting cultivation of the rotating field type (that is, they move their fields, not their villages). They are primarily subsistence rice farmers. But because they live in the lower mountains, they have interacted significantly with the Thai population.

They are also skilled weavers and the most environmentally conscious of the hill tribes - practicing crop rotation, thus preserving the forest. The Karen are the only tribe who own elephants.

Their formerly isolated villages now boast electricity, running water and a dirt road. Many marketable crops, such as tomatoes, soya beans, peanuts, beans and peppers, have become almost as important as the basic rice crop.

Important festivals

As many Karen have been converted to Christianity they celebrate Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter.  During Easter the Karen also engage in ‘finding the egg’. More about this tradition here: (https://bit.ly/LBsM0A)

Buddhist Karen celebrate the New Year (‘Nee Saw Ko’) in  January More about this here: (https://bit.ly/N3qTda)


Tiger Trail tours that include visits to Karen villages

TTAC01 - Tribal Culture of Chiang Dao - 1 day

TTFT01 - Chiang Dao Family Adventure Tour 1 Day

TTAC02 - Doi Inthanon National Park Adventure Tour - Rainy season

TTAC02 - Doi Inthanon National Park Adventure Tour - Dry season

TTTK01 - Palong Adventure in Chiang Dao Join in Tour - 2 days

TTTK02 - Tribal Culture of Chiang Dao Join in Tour - 3 days

TTTK03 - Chiang Dao in depth Tour - 4 days

TTTK04 - Explore the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary Tour - 3 days

TTTK08 - Doi Inthanon National Park in depth Tour - 3 Days

TTTK10 - Trekking in Style - Meet the Palong People of Pang Dang Nai - 2 days

TTFT03 - Meet the Palong of Chiang Dao - A Family Adventure Tour

TTMT10 - Mae Hong Son Trekking Adventure

Interesting links




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