Outside Chiang Mai there are several villages with the famous Long Neck Karen tribes. We visited the Long neck Village in Mae Hong Son province near Chiang Mai. The Karen is a tribal group who lived in the hills on Myanmar side of the Thai border. Known all over the world for the long necks, the women of the tribe wear brass rings around their necks, forearms and lower legs. The women of the tribe is known for very high quality craftsmanship from wood carving to weaving. Lots of the Karen members have fled to Thailand due to the political problems in their home country. By fact, most of the Karen tribe members living in Thailand are illegal immigrants, but as they are living in separate isolated villages, they are minding their own business and not interfering with the local thai people. There are several subgroups within the Karen, and the best known is the Kayan Lahwi, or Padaung, This is the part of the Red Karan people of Myanmar, wearing the brass rings around the necks.
But why do they do this to themselves? Actually it is all about tradition, some of the women do this to them selves to make money on the tradition, there are also some who just do it because it is their heritage. In the very early days the brass rings, was worn to protect agains tiger attacks and because some of the tribe-leaders liked it. The part of the tradition with the lengthen of the neck is more and more becoming history, as it is not healthy for the body, and a lot of the younger women are breaking this par of the tradition and are only wearing a few rings.
So how is it to visit one of these villages? I our humble honest opinion it reminds you a bit of visiting a zoo, but with humans instead. And somehow, even though you are here to look at the people, you get a bit embarrassed and feels like you are staring. And just like in the zoo, you first have to pass all the other animals, before you arrive at the main attraction. So there are 4 or 5 different other tribes living in the village, that you can also visit and see. The other tribes seem very eager to sell their handcrafted goods to the visitors, so we strolled pretty quick through these areas. The Kayan women and children are hanging out at the verandahs where they produce the different goods, and are posing for the tourists posing through the village. Of course, these people are very use to the tourists taking lots of photos, but somehow it is a little strange. The children are very positive and smiling, so it is easy to get some good shots.
There is a lot of different stories online about the Kayan people and the villages in northern Thailand, of course some of these are made to attract tourists and make some money on the tradition. Some of this might be right, and other villages might be genuine.
Would we recommend to visit one of these places? Well – if you are going on a one day trip in Chiang Mai, it could be one of your stops one the way, but not something you should fight to see no matter what. Keep an eye on the blog, as we are going to make a “one-day-drive-in-chiang-mai” post soon with the most recommendable attractions of northern Thailand.