Visiting the Long Neck villages was
one of the highlights of our road trip. We went to 2 villages,
both close to Mae Hong Son. We reached the first village of Huai
Sua Tao down a long narrow muddy road full of potholes.
We were glad that we had a 4x4 as we
slipped and slid along between workers in the rice fields. As we
neared Huai Sua Tao we passed villagers and
children along the roadside, used to visitors wanting to see
their unique community.
Two manned barriers kept the
displaced people of Ban Nai Soi from the outside world. At
first we thought maybe the barriers kept tourists out until they
paid but then we realized that the barriers actually kept the
war displaced refugees in.
About the Karen Long Neck
Hilltribe - Padaung
The Padaung are a sub-group of Karen
living in eastern Burma on the Thailand border. They number less
than 40,000 people in total. In Thailand, only a few families of
Padaung have settled temporarily as refugees in Mae Hong Son
Province after fleeing persecution in Burma in the mid to
They remain refugees of a political
turmoil where there is still fighting for independence in Burma.
Many people we talked to preferred
their life in exile rather than to face likely death by
returning to Burma.
Villages comprised of simple open
air bamboo woven grass huts, usually with an area in front
set up for selling their wares.
Ring Around the Collar
The Padaung women famously wear
brass rings around their necks. This distorts the growth of
their collarbones by pushing down on the clavicle making
them look as if they have long necks - which they don't. This
row of brass rings do not actually stretch their necks but in
fact squash the vertebrae and collar bones.
A woman generally has about twenty
or more long brass spiral rings around her neck. This neck ring
adornment is started when the girls are 5 or 6 years old.
A lot of Weight!
As they grow older rings are
added. We saw a woman with 24 rings weighing 12 kilos!
Legend says that originally the
girls wore the rings around their necks to protect from tigers.
However the primary reason for wearing the rings is for beauty
and to preserve their culture while they are in exile.
Leg and Arm
The rings on the arms and the legs
are not quite as prominent as those on the neck. However, these
rings are just as important. The rings on the legs are
worn from the ankles to the knees, some with cloth coverings
over the rings.
The rings on the arms are worn on
the forearm from the wrist to the elbow.
The Long Neck women wear colorful
garb, long dresses topped with vibrant scarves & hats
The Coils Never Come Off
Although those with very long necks
look awkward they say that it doesn't affect their abilities or
mobility or bother them because they get used to it over the
years. A woman is buried with the coil on.
Hair cutting looked to be quite a challenge!
Day to day chores continue unencumbered.
Women sleep with their coil on.
The women in the villages weave
items to sell but most brass wear appears to be imported.
Nearly every hut had a stall selling
postcards, jewelry, pictures and replica dolls. The atmosphere
in the Long Neck Village seemed pleasantly relaxed and the
"shopping pressure" relatively low. They rely solely on the
income from tourists to maintain their village.
A little girl we encountered was the
most amazing sales person. She could even converse in a little
Spanish and French, as well as English which she had learned from
the tourists. She put some coils around my neck so I could feel what
it was like....very heavy!!!
Most of Padaung are animists, but about 10 percent are Buddhists.
Now, the number of Christians is increasing because of the Roman
Catholic mission. The annual festival for the fertility and
prosperity of the whole community is usually held at the beginning
of the rainy season. Sacrifices are made to the spirits for good
health and bountiful harvests. Rice is the Padaung main crop.
Pictured here are some totems likely used in these ceremonies.
After our visit to Huai
Sua Tao -we set out for the Karen village of Nam Phiang Din.
After several attempts of find the correct road, we crossed many
weirs and streams, slippery with slimy moss, through various
villages and finally reaching a small path leading to the Long Neck
Village. Another 500 baht and we were faced with more rows of stalls
with the women selling the usual fare. We found the women friendly
and very happy to talk or be photographed but we still felt like we
were in a theme park or zoo.
Nam Phiang Din
The tiny village consisted of tin roofed shacks and woven bamboo
walls. People in the village just went about their daily lives as we
The "kitchen" was an open aired room with not more than a firepit
and cook pot.
The Karon village, like the Padaung,
depended on the sale of trinkets to support the village. Items
for sale differed little from the ones in the other long-neck
village and the atmosphere was still definitely commercial.