Stunning ’70s photos show indigenous Thai tribe before tourism boom

The simple life: Stunning 1970s images reveal how indigenous Thai hill tribe survived before tourism took over

  • Dutch photographer Don Oppedijk captured stunning pictures from remote tribe in Chiang Mai in 1977
  • The photos a rare insight into the lives of Thailand’s indigenous people and the basics lives they once led 
  • Chiang Mai welcomes almost 10 million tourists yearly causing natives to venture downhill and look for work

Beautiful vintage pictures show Thai hill tribe people in the 1970s before mass tourism changed their lives forever.

Dutch photographer Don Oppedijk, now 65, captured the locals in the remote mountainous region of Chiang Mai, Thailand, which he visited in 1977.

They show families living on muddy hillsides in huts knocked together from trees with dried palm tree leaves for the roofs.

Tourism eventually forced the people of the village to head downhill to look for work.  

Women in traditional head dress which was used to indicate the tribe or village they were from pictured in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 1977

Dutch photographer Don Oppedijk, who took the images, captures a young lad carries his baby brother on his back (left) while a boy runs outside his home

Villagers seen relaxing outside their bamboo huts where they lived on the muddy hillsides in the remote mountainous region

A view of modern day Chiang Mai, a hotspot for over 10 million tourists per year

Children are seen walking around with large baskets slung over their shoulders as they help adults collect fruit.

Women wear traditional head dresses decked out with beads while a man is seen smoking from a large opium pipe — once one of the largest exports from the region.

While black and white shots from the same region show kids smoking hand-rolled cigarettes made from fresh tobacco grown outside their homes.

The boy with his baby brother on his back smokes a cigarette in a black and white shot

A woman, with her head partly shaved, plays with her child outside her home while a man smokes an opium pipe

Remote life is simple for these smiling kids who are crouched under the roof of one of the huts

The culture embraced different hairstyles as well as hats and head dresses made from materials available

Young children would climb the steep hills with baskets on their shoulders to collect fruit in their village

A village elder relaxes on the wooden floor of his home as one woman takes a walk outside


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The pictures capture the indigenous people from the northern part of Thailand before economic development and tourism saw many leave their hillside homes and head for the big cities.

Their villages were spread out over the vast mountain hillsides and while some tribes still remain — becoming tourist attractions in themselves — many have moved on.

Don, who captured the pictures on trips across Asia in the seventies, said: ‘Thailand was very quiet at that time. There were a small number of tourists in the big cities.

Kids collecting fruit would have grown up only to be forced to move on as economic development sparked a tourism boom

A mother feeds her child outside their bamboo home in the village in the remote mountainous region

It was common for women of the tribe to wear traditional head dress just like this woman seen here taking care of her kids

‘But visiting the remote tribes was quite special. They were very isolated and the people had never seen westerners before. They were amazed. Their lifestyles were very basic.

‘They were friendly and welcoming and different from people in the cities. If I could go back in time to visit one more time I would.’

Chiang Mai welcomed around 9.6 million tourists two years ago and was expected to grow by 10 per cent in 2017, according to a Thailand government portal. 

The rise of tourism in the region, as well as the lack of employment there, caused its indigenous people to head to the cities to look for the work often unskilled. 

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