The Khun Tan mountain range is pretty special.
In 1975, it was designated as a national park, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has declared it a “category 5 protected area”: meaning that its well-endowed with habitats, flora, fauna, and scenic features, as well as a rich in enduring human cultures that are in balance with nature.
You probably won’t see evidence of it, but there are Hill tribe communities living in the Khun Tan Range – the Yao and the Akha who have villages in the mountain sides of the northern areas of the range – on the other side of the tunnel.
The Akha are a semi-nomadic people who claim to have descended from close to Tibet. They have a distinct language of Tibeto-Burman origins. Their religion – Zahv – is a combination of animism and ancestor worship that emphasises their connection to the land and their place in natural cycles of the world. Yet, they traditionally use slash and burn agriculture, which has been forbidden by the Thai authorities due to its terrible environmental consequences. They celebrate Women’s New Year in August, where all the women wear traditional clothes that they have been working on all year, particularly having elaborate headwear that indicates the woman’s age and readiness for marriage. Many Akha in these hills have been driven here from the seperatist fighting in Myanmar.
The Yao people descend from hill tribes in China and Laos. They are part of a group of tribes that generally speak Hmong languages, and are mostly found in Northern Vietnam and Southwestern China. They are generally Taoist, with arguably strong influence of Buddhism. Like many other Hmong tribes, many of the Yao in Thailand fled Vietnam and Laos during wars in the 20th century after they fought on the losing side.
Its possible to visit these people, and you might be able to find someone who offers organised tours at Khun Tan Station, located at the northern end of the tunnel. Which is where you will find the station for the Doi Khun Tan national park.
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