Long Necked Karen of Baan Nai Soi
Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
167Trip End Ongoing
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Oh, already by the time I arrived at the Long Neck village I had seen a couple of Long Neck ladies watching a soccer match at a nearby school and another wearing jeans and t-shirt and no brass rings around her neck, although her neck was clearly elongated. I have heard some people say the ladies cannot take the rings off as they are no longer able to hold up their heads. I have heard other reports that this is rubbish. This young lady wasn't wearing her brass rings but did have her neck extended. But later in the village I asked another lady and she said she couldn't take the rings off. ? Maybe it depends on how long your neck is or how long you have had the rings.? I am not 100% sure of the accurate explanation of this part of the women's lives.
You sign into the village just outside its gate and by quickly looking in that book it appears the village gets about 20-30 visitors a day. Just inside the village you buy a ticket from the Karenni themselves for 250 B.
Anyway before describing the village I should explain aboat the Long Necked Karenni. Firstly I must say I om confused about the use of the term Karen or Karenni. The people themselves on their own signage and books seem to use either. Anyway I think the Karenni are a branch of the Karen peoples anyway. I did ask the Long Necks but didn't get a clear answer. They seem a bit un-interested in labels. They usually refer to themselves as Paduang people I think (or Kayan or Lae Kur) and the Thais refer to them as Long Necked Karen (but in Thai).
Either way are from a small tribe that usually lives in a pretty remote part of Burma (in Kayah State). Perhaps about 30 000 exist in the world. In 1987 a group escaping the war in Burma entered Thailand. They simply wanted to move to somewhere safe to re establish their village and farms and continue their lives. Other groups have followed and now there are about 5 Padong villages in Thailand. They weren't ignored as they are a fascinating group who is otherwise very difficult to visit. The tourist industry quickly started visiting these refugees. For many years I have avoided visiting the Long Necks as I heard that they were exploited by the tour companies, that they got little benefit from tourists, that they were treated and felt like a zoo exhibit and that perhaps their young girls couldn't go to school as they were told to look exotic for tourists. Only recently I decided to check this out for myself.
I cannot comment on the behavior of tour companies or about the situation in the other Long Neck villages but in Ban Nai Soi things seemed good. The villagers collected an entry fee and many homes had set up shops to get some money from the tourists.
The first home I came to had a shop being ran by a few girls. I chatted to them for a bit and two of them decided to take me around and show me their village.
I should mention that most of the talking was done in Thai language although there is one or two people in the village that speak fairly good English. But for someone who can't speak Thai and has little interest or ability to communicate thru other means then to some extent you will just be walking through the village looking at the people as in a zoo exhibit. I did see some tourists acting in that way. But up to you.
Anyway, back to the story. Mainly the people I spoke to were very happy and had an OK life. They were happy to receive visitors and didn't mind getting their photos taken, especially if they could have a look. Actually I developed the pictures that night and brought them back the following day and that made people very happy.
The village had its own school with 1 Thai teacher and some of their own teachers and so the kids got an education - at least to a basic level and unlike many other refugee villages, they were able to make some money and had some form of control over their lives.
About the rings - why? I don't know - there are a number of stories and long traditions of why maybe they wear them, but also to some extent the reason seems lost in time. Not all women in the village wear them. It is pretty much up to the individual's personal choice. Many think it is beautiful. Many do not.
Anyway - it was a good visit and I will go back again if I can. They were good people and were happy to be visited.
An article in the Nation newspaper about a week or so after my visit was about 20 Paduong caught on border entering Thailand. It wasn't sure yet but there was concern that these 20 people had been brought by a Phuket business man for human traffiking. So despite what I have written above it should be remembered that these people are poor and vulnerable and could easily be exploited. If you do have the opportunity to meet them you should ensure the people you are meeting aren't being used and the money you are spending is going to the right place. As I said I am happy to visit that village by myself but cannot verify other places or tour companies.