Behind the Scenes of the CNN Documentary “Journey to the Lisu Tribe”

In early October 2014, CNN requested Khiri Travel’s “behind the scene” services to help them produce a documentary called On The Road. The program explores the local culture, arts and heritage of countries around the world, seeking to portray them in a new, unique light. In Chiang Mai Branch Manager Philip van Driesten took the production team on tour to film Journey to the Lisu Tribe.


Chiang Mai is full of hill tribe villages but I wanted to find a Lisu tribe that is really authentic. After many calls and meetings, we found the perfect location for the CNN crew. A tiny village located not far from Pang Maa Pha, a 35-minute drive from Pai on the way to Mae Hong Son. Everything looked good on paper but, to be really confident, I wanted to check this place out on beforehand in person.

I decided to get in the car and drive to the Lisu village with my son. I had been there about 20 years ago but I was expecting everything to be changed. The guides said this village likes their remote location even though they have no mobile phone signal and no electricity connection except for a battery charged by solar panel. Pretty amazing for 2014. We were able to make an appointment with the village headman, Khun Nararit Matchawaranon.


On the way we stopped at the home of some Lisu people to ask directions. They looked surprised and asked what we (foreigners) wanted to do there. After a short conversation, they agreed we could follow their truck—after they finished loading a 200 kg pig into the back! I had to ask if our 2WD vehicle could make the trip but they told us in Thai English “No pompem.”


There were beautiful views along the narrow dirt road but I had to concentrate on driving. The truck I was following, despite carrying the huge pig, was driving very fast. My son was really enjoying this adventure. We finally found Khun Nararit after we got directions a few more times. All the Lisu villagers, from young to old, were wearing their colorful costume or traditional dress. It was awesome to see that this still exists!

Back in Chiang Mai, I told CNN we were ready to go. I found a Lisu guide, Alee, who would accompany us on the journey and tell stories about his life and traditions. Our team was Khun Alee, a Khiri guide, the CNN cameramen, producers and Correspondent Paula Newton and me.


Our journey with the CNN crew went well and we arrived around 14.30 at the village where the crew immediately started filming. I had arranged for Paula Newman and the Lisu guide Alee to drive the last part of the narrow dirt road in an ATV, but it started to rain and the road changed into a running river. It became very stressful because our film time was flowing away down the road and it was starting to get dark. There was still the interview with Khun Nararit and interactions with some villagers to be filmed.

For me it was quite an experience to be involved in a job like this. In the end, the CNN producer told me everything was good and they had gotten great material to finalize the documentary. When I heard his approval, it was like a dream come true. After all the stress, we had a good result and I had quite a story to share. As has CNN, which you can see in this video Journey to the Lisu Tribe.

(The video starts after the 30 seconds advertisement.)
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