After my stop in Nan I'd planned to take the bus direct to Chiang Mai. My guesthouse owners though, knowing I'd wanted to do the hilltribe trek, advised differently. Friends of theirs own some bungalows in the small town of Thung Chang where it's possible to visit some villages with your own transport. While there isn't much there (and hasn't made it into any guidebook) it was easy to reach by taking a local bus for a couple of hours.
The bungalows are the only real accommodation in town and I had to delay my trip there by a day because they were fully booked. It was worth the wait though, if nothing else for the view from the terrace.
The few shops and restaurants in Thung Chang are all along the main road but villages can be found down sideroads. The villagers here were originally from the hilltribes but were relocated by the Thai goverment. Bicycle hire was free from the bungalows which made it easy to explore the local area.
View at Siam Garden Bungalows (above). View from a sidestreet (below).
The two hilltribe villages are about 50km away up a mountian road which isn't in great condition in parts. The potholes, loose gravel and evidence of landslides made it slow going; the scooter was doing just 20km/h flat-out in the steeper sections. I'd underestimated both the terrain and cool January weather so the one-hour ride up was bloody freezing.
The villages are fairly remote but not as old-world as you might expect. I saw the Hmong village first; the houses were traditional, some women were in traditional dress and many houses had fires lit outside at 11am. But there were also people zipping around on scooters, selling canned drinks and a fairly modern looking school.
The Lua village was second. Traditionally the houses were raised up on stilts and the area below was used for keeping livestock. From what I saw at least, that area is now used for keping their 4x4 or pickup in the shade.
Hmong village (above). House in the Lua village (below).
I didn't stop at the villages but many people were friendly and said hello or waved as I drove past. I got about an equal number of odd looks though which is the most questionable part of treks that visit hilltribes - you are basically turning up at a village for a look around. That may be interesting to you (and it was), but that is someone's house and life you're sat outside on your scooter taking photos of.
I left my camera in my bag, grabbed a couple of pictures from my phone and headed back towards town.
More photos from Thung Chang on Flickr.