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Thailand's Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe People

Updated on March 30, 2012

The Karen Padaung

Native to the hills of Northern Thailand, and across the border in Burma, the Karen Padaung are famous for the women of the tribe wearing neck rings from a young age, resulting in the stretching of their neck as they grow older. They are more commonly known as "long neck" hill tribe people, and tourist from all over the world travel to Thailand to see them. Most of the approximately 50,000 Karen Padaung people fled Burma due to persecution from the Burmese government in the 1980s.

The government of Thailand granted them refugee status, however they only allowed them to say in certain areas. Since then they have been exploited, with bus loads of tourists ferried in to catch a glimpse of the "long neck freaks". Foreign tourists pay anywhere from 10-20USD for a chance to see the women with the elongated necks. Travel agents in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai all offer to sell tours to the Karen villages. These villages are run like a circus, with the women of the tribe being the main attraction of these "human zoos".

Hill Tribe Culture The Hill Tribe people of Northern Thailand are farmers, they grow their own rice and vegetable, and they raise chickens and pigs that often live underneath their modest wooden houses. In the past they used elephants to help them clear the land for farming, and they have since developed a reputation as skilled mahouts, or elephant trainers. The Hill Tribe people have always been believers in ancestral worship, and in the past they would practice the custom or arranged marriages. Although they have their own beliefs and traditions, many of them have been converted to Christianity by American missionary groups.
They are also well known for their traditional colorful clothing, handmade by the women of the tribe.Traditional hill tribe costume includes a variety of colors, white for unmarried women and reds and blues for those who have husbands. It is common that Asians treasure gold, however the hill tribe people have no use for gold. The Karen people have long been wearing traditional silver jewelry that they make by hand.

Hill Tribe Arts And Crafts
In order to earn money to support their villages, the hill tribe people have fine tuned their skills as craftsmen and women, and for years they have been coming down from the hills and selling their wares to the city folk and the tourists. They sell handmade clothing, bags and handicrafts in the markets, on the streets and in the bars and restaurants of Chiang Mai and Northern Thai cities. Over 50 years ago, Thailand's Royal Family introduced policies to educate and train the hill tribe people in order to discourage them from growing opium. One of the most successful aspects of this was the training of the Karen people in the art of crafting silver jewelry and ornaments. Today hill tribe silver is well known and highly sought after, because of its 99.9% purity and the expert craftsmanship.



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    • profile image

      Abasztx 3 years ago

      hi,just liked to say the photographs are brililant.will let the work have the email address,andthey can all have a look.well done to the photographers,a first class job.can't wait for my album.mum and dad.

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      Boog 3 years ago

      Such an impsvrsiee answer! You've beaten us all with that!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      Very interesting read. I visited Northern Thailand but I don't think it was the Karen people we saw. They were extremely friendly and smiley (like the rest of Thailand!). And most of them had black teeth. Someone told me it was because they were told to clean their teeth with acid.

    • Global-Chica profile image

      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Thanks for the informative hub. I'd like to return to Thailand one day and this time venture north and see the Karen villages. I think they women look very beautiful and find it amazing that they kept the tradition of wearing neck rings. Voted up and awesome!

    • johncimble profile image

      johncimble 5 years ago from Bangkok

      another grat hub! vote up for you!!

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 5 years ago from USA

      In South Africa, there are long neck women too. Two different continents with the same tradition (?)?