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Meet the Karen Long-Neck Tribe

I walked down the trail into the world of the Karen (Ka-ren) Long- Neck Tribe, away from Thailand's luxury resorts and gourmet restaurants.

The Karen Long-Neck tribe: Females wear these rings from the age of five or six and never take them off.  Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.
The Karen Long-Neck tribe: Females wear these rings from the age of five or six and never take them off. Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.
Photos by Sandy Zimmerman

The modern world disappeared as I saw the beginning of the bamboo houses raised on stilts. These stilts provided a space underneath the house for livestock, storage and lounging away from the sun.

What an opportunity to interact with the Karen along with four other tribes and experience their traditional, ancient way of life!

The Karen Tribe is said to have migrated to South East Asia around 1128 B. C. (1) The attractive Karen women really stand out with all of the brass rings around their necks. They belong to the Karen's sub-group called Padaung. Only the Padaung females wear these rings from the age of five or six and never take them off.

According to their myths, it is said the rings protect them from the bite of a tiger while others think the rings are a sign of beauty and wealth. The brass rings appear to elongate the women's necks but medical evidence has shown that the rings actually push the color bone and upper ribs down.

I stood at one of the bamboo houses looking at the handicrafts when a young woman motioned to see the photos I had just taken of her. She only spoke her tribe's dialect and was amused as we sat looking at her images in the camera.

When she walked a few steps down to the kitchen I pointed asking permission to join her. It was exciting to be able to see the inside of her home close-up. The kitchen was bare except for a few pieces of bamboo on the ground. She set fire to the bamboo, kneeled and heated a pot of water in order to wash some clothes. After finishing, the woman leaned out of the small window to hang them up to dry.

Then we walked into her bedroom. I was surprised to see a small television set, her window to the modern world. The medium sized bedroom had only one bamboo pole bed with curtains hanging on each side. I had to walk carefully because there were holes between the bamboo poles and the flattened pieces of interlaced bamboo swatches making up the flooring.

After the tour, it was hard to believe, the Hill Tribe Village at Baan Lor Cha was only one hour from modern downtown Chiang Rai. There are other Hill Tribe Villages in remote jungle locations of Thailand's national park.

The Karen Tribe migrated to northern Thailand from Myanmar (Burma) in the 17th century and are the largest of all of the Hill Tribes in Thailand now numbering 400,000.

Mistreated by their own country, the Karen Tribe fled to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and around the Golden Triangle living in their traditional-style all of these years. (1) Museum of Karen History and Culture. www.karen.org www.pda.or.th/chiangrai/ban_lorcha.htm