This was one of my favorite photos from my trip through Thailand. It is of a young girl from the Akha hill tribe near Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand. The Akha is the largest, but also the poorest, of the hill tribes. The people originated in China and are still found in parts of China as well as Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

Girl near Chiang Mai

Akha girl near Chiang Mai. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

I spotted this young girl with a group of about five or six others who were playing near the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep — a breathtaking religious shrine atop Doi Suthep Mountain outside Chiang Mai. The little girls were dancing, giggling and playing silly hand games as children the world over might do — except for this one little girl. She had been standing off to the side just moments earlier and I captured her smiling at a group of Western teenagers. I then heard her sigh and look down when I captured this photo.

The Akha people speak their own language and have no written language. There is a culture clash today between the agriculture-based Akha peoples who live in thatched roof huts and until recently hunted only with bows and the encroaching “modern” world. I cannot even imagine what her world will be like when this little girl grows up.

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