I just met some of the most beautiful women on earth. Sure not in your ‘modern’ sense of beautiful, but the ladies of the Long Neck Karen Tribe are far more attractive to me than anyone I see all photoshopped up in Cosmo. I’m fascinated by people. I’ve always enjoyed reading National Geographic since I was a little girl, and I distinctly remember a story covering the Long Neck Tribe so many years ago. I would have never dreamed I’d get to meet them in real life.
Yes, there are men in the tribe as well, they’re mostly field-workers, and are rarely seen by tourists (and do NOT wear the brass rings). The Long Neck ladies start wearing heavy brass rings around their necks (and ankles) from a very young age, most likely around 3-5 years old. They have the freedom to choose when they want to add more rings, and when they do, they’ll usually add one or two at a time. The more rings a woman wears, the more valuable and attractive she becomes. The most rings a lady carried that we had the opportunity to meet, was 32.
The brass rings (which are actually a big coil wrapped around the neck multiple times to ‘appear’ like rings) don’t actually elongate the neck like most people believe. Due to the weight of the brass and wearing that weight for decades, it causes their shoulders to stoop and drop. If a woman is particularly small with a tiny frame, it’ll appear she has more rings and a longer neck, when in fact her shoulders have just fallen more than a more sturdier woman. They wear the rings 24/7 and only take off the coil if they’re wanting to add even more to their collection.
The Long Neck tribe is originally from Burma but several have taken refuge in Thailand (around the hills of Chiang Rai) to get away from the military violence found in their home country. This is the part that I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. The Thai government granted the tribe refuge only if they lived in certain villages, allowing it to become a central hub for tourism. The children can choose to go to school or work in the village (making crafts to sell to tourists), and there are a surprising amount of young girls and boys that decided not to go to school. One little girl in particular (pictured above by herself) lives and works in the village with her sister while her mother lives back in Burma. It makes me wonder if they have any choice at all, especially since she can make money in the village wearing her rings and selling crafts.
Walking into the village I felt very strange going from hut to hut learning about the women and taking pictures. I had that sinking feeling as I watched the other tourists go crazy taking pictures of everything without even engaging in conversation or buying anything from the Long Neck women’s booths. If there could be anything that would resemble a human zoo, this was it. I felt so bad for the ladies, I literally bought a scarf or some form of jewelry from each person I took a picture of. These ladies only make $45 dollars a month from the government for their efforts, I’m hoping that they get to keep their craft money.
On our way home Derik and I had a long discussion on how we felt about visiting the tribe. The conclusion we have is: The tribe came to Thailand to be free from oppression. They don’t have a life of freedom like I wish they did, but it is better than where they came from. I dislike people coming to gawk at them, especially if they don’t make the effort to get to know these wonderful ladies. Their English isn’t the greatest, but they do enjoy conversation, I loved seeing their faces light up when they realized someone was actually interested in them not just what they looked like. If you go visit, please be sure to support them by buying their beautiful hand-woven scarves, and remember they’re people too (worthy of respect and love)…not just a tourist attraction.
Would you go visit the Long Neck Tribe?