Visitors should take some time and visit the wonderful people of the Karen tribe in Chiang Mai. They live near the border of Burma, and the time taken to reach their village would be about 4 hours or so from town. Do NOT liken seeing these indigeneous people as seeing the animals in the zoo. They have a rich culture, and as they do speak a spattering of the English language, you can also ask them about their lifestyle.
Traditionally the women who could afford it would start wearing brass coils on their necks, arms and legs from the time they're 5 years old. The coils would be polished daily so that'd they'd have a high sheen. They'll upgrade their coils whenever they can afford it. The average weight of a coil on an adult woman's neck is about 3 - 5 kg!!! You can buy nice hand-woven cloth at the village. It'll help improve their way of life.
The Akha village is situated right next to the Karen's. Women of the Akha tribe chew betel nut leaves which will leave an unsightly reddish-blackish stain on their teeth. The Akhas are known for thier toolwork and you can buy wood carvings and silverware at their village.
We were interested, as most people are, to see the famed "giraffe neck women" tribe near Chiang Mai. We did a "hilltribe tour", which was extremely long and bumpy, with very little actual "guiding" along the way. The tour guide had very good English, but slept a good way to the destination - a long trip which would have been improved significantly with some commentary.
When we got there, it was really little short of a circus -we kind of walked our way through a "display" of people standing in front of market stalls which could have been almost anywhere in the country. The pushy, tourist savvy Akha women came first - and what was left of you stumbled down to the big earring people, and finally to the long necked girls. These were a forlorn little bunch, sitting inside little market stalls, selling all the things you can buy anywhere. The only "novelty" was them. We felt quite uncomfortable for them, and there was a sense of exploitation - probably of them and us!
There was nothing natural about the environment - such as seeing how a natural hilltribe would live - some of the girls sat on the porch of little houses, and television could be seen in the background. Some of the little kids were fun to watch, and were quite mischievous! The little one at the corrugated door is actually imprisoning a little friend in the toilet! She was lively and cheeky - the other girls were very docile, and looked totally miserable.
One of the saving graces for this tour was that we stopped at a Hmong village on the way home - where there was no people circus display - but they were having a festival, and were dressed traditionally, and having what amounted to a fair.
After our half day activities at the Chiang Dao elephant camp and lunch, we were bought to this Karen Paduang Longneck & Big Ear village which was about 15 min ride further up Chiang Dao elephant camp.
We were told by our tour guide that we were allowed to take as many photos as we like but in return we should respect their culture as they were... Basically i think this village was built by some proprietors and they find some longneck and big ear hilltribe peoples to live in it. Then in return, they are require to sell the merchandise which bring profit to themselves and also the proprietors. Althought the some part of the village looked like a market place selling the merchandises, but i can still see the rest of the village where built for them to live in.
Our tour guide help us to chat with a young longneck girl who was part of the merchandise seller. She said she was bought to this village a few years ago from somewhere else. She claimed she has a few bro & sis and sadly she can't even remember their face, nor her parents anymore. It was quite a sad story to hear. Most of the longneck people are like refugees with no residenship... they might be born in Thailand, but the government doesn't recognise them, and they have nowhere else to go... The only place they can go is within the village set up by the proprietors... without the ID, they might be caught by the authorities and face the risk of being sent back to Myanmar which they don't really belong to...
We travelled all the way from Mai Sai to Pa Dong to visit the Karen Long Neck Women. Our tour guide said that this is a real Long Neck Women Village. There were 2 other tribes residing in the same area.
The brass ring on the neck is not individual accumulated rings on the neck but a brass spiral coil that goes around the neck. The coil on the neck can be taken out and the life of the women will not be die immediately once they remove the coil.
Two ladies have their coil remove and examined and x-ray by doctors and they did not die and has proven the myth wrong.
The brass coil are indeed very heavy. I had them on for a min and will not choose to wear it for the rest of my life.
One of the highlights of my trip to Northern Thailand was definitely visiting this hill tribe village. We found this place on the recommendation of our guide, and it turned out to be far less commercialized and artificial than the other "villages" we visited, where we were bombarded by tribe members shamelessly hawking touristy knickknacks.
In contrast, the Union of Hill Tribes offered a much more authentic experience. We were the only tourists there, and the Karen (long neck) women were very warm and friendly.... They even invited us into one of their huts to chat for a little bit about their life (using our Thai guide as an interpreter of course). Afterwards, they just went on with life as usual: gathering water, tending the crops, and mending the thatched roofs of their huts.
In addition to the Karen, there were several other tribes at this village, each with their own distinct (and often colorful) attire.
While there is a certain aspect of commercialization here (after all, they have a website), our guide told us the people of this village don't let the tourists dramatically influence their way of life. As they can't reap the benefits of a normal Thai citizen, the additional income generally goes towards subsistence measures; not wide screen TVs or pick-up trucks.
Bottom-line: We had a very moving experience visiting the people of this village. I would highly recommend spending an afternoon here.... you probably won't be able to find a more authentic view of hill tribe life without trekking deep into the jungle.
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.
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.
On a day trip we did the usual tourist thing of visiting a hill tribe village. Of course the long neck women and girls were there putting on a weaving display for us.
I found it a little bit sad to see these people on display to the world, but then I guess it's become a way of life for them. I believe the men have been assimilated into the local area and have some sort of work to occupy themselves during the day.
One little girl was able to speak a little bit of English and told me that the rings around her neck made her very hot. I was HOT without the rings!!
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.
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!
Mae Hong Son, Thailand's northern border city, hiding itself in between the towering mountains with densely forested slopes, stretching to the Burmese border. Mae hong son is known for its charm of scenery and culture. The people of Mae Hong Son consists of the Shans who live in the city and the hilltribe people who live in remote villages on mountain tops where elements of lifestyle have changed little in hundreds of years. The city is covered with the mist all year long. Mae Hong son gains its nickname of "the City of Three Mists" from the fact that it has dewy mist in the winter, forest fire mist in the summer and rainy mist in the rainy season.
Then continue to "long-neck" or "giraffe tribe”. But the women who wear these brass rings on their neck belong to a sub-group of the Karen known as the Padaung. There are other sub-groups who do not and never have practiced this custom. A further myth is that these rings act to elongate the wearer's neck. Any chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon will tell you that this would lead to paralysis or death. In fact the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!
They look exotic regardless of their Puma sweatshirts and Diesel flip flops.
Ask before you take pictures.
Bring gum or crayons for the kids - they will smile on your pictures.
Save your money and buy your souvenirs here. Help the locals a little.
Story goes.... a long time ago when they were still many tigers alive, they ate people.
Men were given guns and woman were given neck rings so the tiger doesn't have such an easy time biting their head off.