Longneck Tribe

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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Longneck Lady

Visiting the longneck tribes of Northern Thailand and Burma have always been something I’ve wanted to experience.  They were one of the two reasons I came to Chiang Mai (the other being cooking school).  I remember first reading about them in the National Geographic.  Funny, the National Geographic has been the inspiration behind many of the places I’ve wanted to see and is the reason I got into photography. All this inspiration from one birthday gift my parents got me back when I was 12 years old.  For my friends with little kids now, you can’t go wrong with a gift like this! I still have that subscription to this day.

For those not familiar with the Longneck tribe, the women in this tribe have elongated necks supported by multiple brass rings.

"Big-Ear" Tribeswoman
  It’s a form of beauty to the people in this tribe, so much so that from a young age girls get their first set of rings. Note, the name “longneck” is a bit misleading, their necks aren’t actually elongated, each added brass ring pushes down on their collarbones and ribcages, making their necks look longer.

The tribe is located about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, close to the Burmese border.  The people in this tribe are actually refugees from Burma and live in Thailand under special visas.  These visas, unfortunately, only allow them to live as “longnecks” for tourist purposes.  If they were to remove the rings and try and pursue a modern life, they would have to go back to Burma.  For most, going back to Burma is not an option, as the people there have been oppressed for years.

Longneck Lady. This lady has the most rings (27)
  So this is their existence, living in a tourist trap.

I knew that visiting them would be a tourist trap and that they were only there for the tourist sake, but I had to visit and see for myself.  After driving 3 hours with our tour guide, Banana, and driver, Tiger, we got to the “village”.  The village was actually set up with multiple ethnic tribes on “show”, the Longnecks, Big Ears and one other tribe whose name escapes me right now.  As you walk down the village path, all around you are souvenirs for sale and tribeswomen all sitting down, all dressed up for you to take picture.  Before we arrived, Banana had told us to buy some candies for the kids, which I did.  Little did I realize that when I got to the village, it would feel more like a zoo then a village.

Hmong Children
I would give the candy to a little kid in exchange for their picture.  It was a bit sad, most would smile, but just think if all you did was sit around all day for people to come take pictures of you, how would you feel?

While I was there I wondered what it would have been like to truly experience this longneck culture as it existed 50 years ago? I’m sure the experience would have been fascinating, for both them and me. Nevertheless, it is what it is, they make a good living being on display and given they have no other options, I believe they are content.  I was told that all the money made from sale of souvenirs, scarves, etc was all equally split amongst all the tribe community, so that was good to know.

On the return trip to Chiang Mai, we stopped by another minority village.

Playing in the Hmong Village
  This time, this village was not set up for tourists, but was an actually minority village, the Hmong tribe. The Hmong, are found through Northern Thailand, Burma and into Laos.

Now this experience I found more real, at least to me, you got to see how these people lived.  It reminded me a bit about Cambodia, lots of smiling kids and on the flipside, poverty.  But even in all this poverty, these people always seem so happy.  It shows you, you don’t need to have a lot to be happy. 

All in all, today was a good trip, I’m glad I got to experience it.

Cheers,

Ruwan

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Longneck Lady
Longneck Lady
Big-Ear Tribeswoman
"Big-Ear" Tribeswoman
Longneck Lady.  This lady has the …
Longneck Lady. This lady has the…
Hmong Children
Hmong Children
Playing in the Hmong Village
Playing in the Hmong Village
Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes