Because hilltribe houses are all constructed of locally available building materials - bamboo, timber, and thatch roofing - the traditional styles that have evolved for each tribe provide an interesting contrast. The differing house styles reflect wisdom and cultural preferences accumulated over generations. After all, while all of the tribes have lived in the mountains of Southeast Asia for hundreds of years, the locations and altitudes at which they have lived and the other ethnic groups who have influenced them vary considerably. For instance, Mien, Hmong and Lisu houses, which are constructed around a hard-packed dirt floor, show a Chinese influence, while Akha, Karen and Lahu houses are similar to the stilted houses of Tai-speaking peoples. Below is a description of each house style.

Click on the picture for a 360-degree panorama tour inside each house.


Lahu houses are built on stilts with a notched log serving as steps up to the front porch. Lahu houses have only one door, that which opens on to the porch from the main room. Lahus have separate bedrooms at the back of the house. Some Lahu Na (Black Lahu) build their houses in the Chinese style, similar to Lisu houses.

As an entire extended family may live under one roof, Hmong houses can be very large. Hmong houses are built directly on the ground in the Chinese style, which helps keep the house warmer at the high altitudes which Hmongs prefer.
Chinese and Tibeto-Burman cultures converge in the Lisu people, thus it is not surprising that Lisus houses come in more than one variety. Pictured here is the Chinese style of house, similar to that of the Mien and Hmong. Some Lisus also live in houses raised on stilts or Chinese-style houses built from a mixture of mud and water buffalo dung.
Very similar to those of the Hmong, Mien houses bespeak the Chinese influence that is so strong in Mien culture. A Mien house with many daughters can become crowded, because at puberty each daughter is given her own sleeping chamber.
Like an oversized fedora, the roof of an Akha house hangs low on all sides to keep out the wind and the rain. Akha houses are built on stilts, often with one side resting on the slope of the hill. All Akha houses have both a covered and uncovered porch.

Now that hilltribe villages in Thailand are no longer allowed to move at will and access to modern materials has increased, it is becoming quite difficult to find a purely traditional hilltribe house. Most villagers live in a variation on their traditional style of house with more expensive and long-lasting materials like concrete and roofing tile becoming the norm.