Long Neck Women, Chiang Mai
These women look so beautiful in their traditional costumes and they have special accessories to further enhance their uniqueness and beauty. It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to have my photograph taken with them. ^_^
A trip to the hill tribes villages is a must if you are looking to see something unique. The long-necked woman are members of a tribe in which brass coils are attached to their neck after they turn 5 years old. The male members of the tribe do not have to wear these coils and what we were told was that the longer the neck the more beautiful you become.
I'm not suggesting you go do this but I'm only mentioning it here because it was a "thing I did". We went to a so called long neck village and encountered some very friendly and kind women. The enviroment they were in was pretty disappointing. I've written more in detail about this "long neck" village in my Tourist Trap section.
This is a tribe where the women wear 24-27 very heavy rings from the time they are children. No one seems clear on why they do this but they have been doing it for centuries.
I had very conflicted feelings here. On the one hand, they are recent refugees from Burma who were accepted by the Thai government for the tourist money they bring in, which also supports them. And they say they are happy and used to the rings. But I felt very funny taking their pictures, like they were in a freak show. And I read later that some say they would quit doing this, which doesn't extend their necks but forces their rib cages and collar bones down, if tourists would stop coming. I respect either view but I think if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have gone.
One of the most popular day trips seems to be a visit to the Karen tribe, better known as the long-neck people.
We stopped to ride an elephant on our way to the tribe and enjoyed the scenary as we drove toward the Burma border (with occasional gasps of terror as we experienced Thai driving habits). The roads are well maintained and the terrain shifted from rolling hills to rice paddies and back again.
I was prepared for an experience that would not be "authentic" in the sense of really getting to visit a tribe that hasn't yet adopted a modern lifestyle. I wasn't really prepared, though, for the rather troubling visit to a tribe who survives based on tourism.
After following a very rough path up a hillside for about a mile, we got to the village, where the Thai government has relocated three tribes. This small village was very clean, very quiet and very hot. We paid a $10 USD fee to enter the village, which enabled us to walk around and take photographs. And, of course, have the opportunity to buy crafts made by the villagers.
The overall atmosphere was disturbing - sort of like Disney without rides or glitz. The local men and boys were off working, so we saw only women, posing with their handicrafts. Few smiles, few words. Simply women doing their jobs - posing for the tourists' cameras and trying to sell their wares. Our guide warned us that many of the crafts being sold were actually made in Chaing Mai and brought here to be sold for a premium as "authentic" crafts.
While a bit troubling, people are people and it felt good to see a mother smile with pride when her baby laughed and we oohed and ahhed. And fun when one of the women tried to sell me a pair of wooden flipflops. Using pantomime we both had a good laugh and agreed that they were unique but that the rubber flipflops we were both wearing were much more comfortable!
These girls wear a long metal bar wrapped around their necks, thereby lengthing their necks. This is why they are called "long-necks".
The girls decide at a very young age whether they want to have it or not, but, once they do get it, they cannot go back, they must wear it for life.
We didn't see any men at the village, it seemed as though it was mostly for the benefit of us tourists.
It is amazing how these women and young girls can carry out their daily acitivities while having these coils around their neck. The coils weigh a hefty 4 kg which is about 12 pounds!
This is how the village looked as we arrived.
The bus stopped at the side of the road, then we walked into the forest for about 10 minutes.