Nestled high up along a mountainside in Northern Thailand sits Lanjia Lodge. The valley below is a sea of green; the jungle hills dotted with rice fields, orchards, and ground crops. In the distance the mighty Mekong River snakes through the valley below and on the other side of this natural water border lays Laos.
It is peaceful here. Chirping birds, crowing roosters, the wind rustling through the leaves, and singing crickets are our background music as we relax and unwind in the common area of our lodge.
Four separate buildings make up the guest quarters at Lanjia Lodge. Each building has four well-appointed guest rooms. The buildings themselves were designed to blend into the surrounding Hmong and Lahu village, made of bamboo, woven walls, and thatched roofs; the overall feel is rustic. The luxuries come in the form of comfortable beds, down duvets, soft pillows, western style bathrooms, and the hottest, most consistent water pressure showers we have had in our three months in Asia.
The entire staff at Lanjia Lodge comes from the surrounding village. A community based development project, the lodge gives the hill tribe village an economic boost employing over fifteen local staff members and educating them on tourism, hospitality, and of course English. As well as the much-needed wages being infused into this small community, portions of the proceeds are also used for revenue sharing. The revenue sharing aims to help improve living conditions through health, sanitation, and education, and also funds programs to help preserve the customs, culture, and traditions of the Lahu and Hmong hill tribes.
Our two-night stay at Lanjia Lodge started with being picked up in a private van in Chiang Rai and driven through the valleys and foothills of Northern Thailand. The ever-changing scenery in our hour drive included small villages, cornfields, lonely wats, a tea plantation, and road side stands. The road up through the village itself is a steep one, paved with concrete and lined with village houses.
We arrived at the Lodge shortly after lunch and were shown to our room, given an overview of the property and offered sweet ginger tea. The afternoon was spent at our leisure and we strolled through the village. Our boys created quite the stir with the local children who ran around the streets and yards in bare feet playing tag and a game with rocks.
Kiew Karn Village has approximately 1500 inhabitants of Hmong and Lahu origins. The government owns the land they have settled on but the Hill Tribes have been granted the right to live on and farm the land without paying rent.
Dinner was served after sunset in the common area. More food than we could have ever imagined eating and all of it “baby spice” for our foreign pallet. I was surprised by the lack of mosquitos until Mike mentioned that it was probably too cold up here for them. We aren’t traveling with pants but luckily we purchased second hand jackets in Chiang Mai to brave the cold morning and evening motorbike rides we took there. If you come here, bring warm clothing!
We slept well that night in the pitch black and utterly quiet sanctuary, cocooned in our beds under mosquito nets. The boys thought it was “just like camping” albeit with comfortable beds and an attached bathroom!
We awoke early as the village awoke around us, the thatch walls doing little to hold out the noise of the activities outside our room. Homemade bread, jam, fruit, eggs, ham, bacon, and local tea and coffee brought a huge smile to our faces and we filled our bellies in anticipation of the day’s activities.
Down the steep hill we walked to a local house to learn to make our very own batik cloth. Choosing from examples we were taught the process of melting bees wax and using it to paint intricate designs on white cotton. We let our children make up their own pieces of art instead of copying one of the examples; our boys aren’t much for making copies! We learned about the dying process, the cloths are dipped and dried in indigo dye five times before they are boiled and dried to make the final product. The dying and boiling were left in the capable hands of our Hmong teacher and were returned to us the next day as our souvenirs.
Still early in the day, we traveled by songteow to a tea plantation were we learned about cultivating, drying, and the fine art of drinking tea and then we moved onto a medicinal farm where we learned of the different uses and treatments made with local plants. We planted our own trees in the garden and our boys fell in love with three little puppies. I asked our guide about the dog situation in Thailand (so many street dogs!) and he told me that these particular dogs would become food for the family that raised them. Our boys were shocked that these cute pups would one day be dinner.
The most interesting and enlightening part of our stay was a tour through the village streets where we learned about the Lahu and Hmong tribes. We were able to visit the head shamans from each tribe where animism beliefs and traditions were explained to us and we were able to ask the shamans questions through a translator.
The shaman’s main roles are performing ceremonies for birth, marriage, and death, dispensing herbal treatments for minor illnesses, and performing elaborate ceremonies for more serious illness. Many of the rituals involve trance and animal sacrifice and a few of the ceremonies were explained to us.
When a Lahu villager gets sick they go to their shaman to ask for help. The Lahu believe in nine spirits and the shaman will determine which spirit is troubling the body by having the patient hold a circle of string. The shaman asks questions and if the string sways he knows it is a problem of the spirits. If the string does not sway he advises to get help from a western doctor. If the shaman determines he can help, the villager goes home to prepare an offering of boiled chicken, rice, and whisky. A ceremony is performed and the spirits are appeased. The shaman is then entitled to eat the offering.
The Hmong people also seek help from their shaman when they are sick but the offering is a slaughtered pig. The family will kill a pig and cut off its head. The shaman goes to the family’s house and performs a ceremony with bells and shakers and believes he is pulling the sick person’s spirit out of hell. The family then consumes the pig body and the shaman takes the pig head for his own dinner. You can tell how many a people a shaman has helped throughout the year by how many pig jaws are hanging in his house.
What we liked best about our educational stay at Lanjia Lodge was that it felt like we were observing and learning about a traditional way of life with utmost respect for the people. Eight years ago Mike and I visited a Karen village as part of a tour and that visit felt exactly like a human zoo. Instead of coming through in a whirlwind and snapping photos of the local people our stay at Lanjia was instead one of real learning about the life, problems, and culture of the village and the money spent on a stay here is distributed to community projects to lift the people out of the poverty cycle while still maintaining their traditional beliefs.
We would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to the staff of Lanjia Lodge and Asian Oasis for graciously hosting our family. It was a highlight of our stay in Northern Thailand. I can honestly recommend it to travelers who wish to support a good cause while educating themselves about Northern hill tribe peoples.
If you would like to book your own stay at Lanjia Lodge please check out the Asian Oasis website for more information.