LONG NECK VILLAGES, Northern THAILAND

May 22

Huai Sua Tao

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.

Guarded Gates

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 late 1900's.

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!

Beautiful Women

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
Rings Too

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
Karon Village
The tiny village consisted of tin roofed shacks and woven bamboo walls. People in the village just went about their daily lives as we walked by. 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.



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