The “Long Neck Women” of Burma: A Cultural Experience

Arrival to the village

Coming off of the main road (Interstate 1) there were 2 signs that pointed us in the direction of the village. It was right in the foothills of lush green mountains even though it was technically dry season.

Karen Village | Chiang Rai, Thailand

As soon as I hopped off the bus my toes were covered in a light layer of dust and even though I could see medium sized straw covered huts all around me, my eyes were immediately drawn in to the way the setting sun was playing through the large palm leaves.

Past a man in a booth were two paths (which I actually didn’t notice until returning to the van). My tour leader led about 5 of us to the first stall of many with a gorgeous older lady whom she referred to as “Mama”. Even though she had many gold like rings around her neck the most stunning part about her were her eyes. They were so genuine and just warm and I instantly felt welcomed.

I was worried I’d walk into a makeshift village with unhappy patrons trying to hustle my soul away but I did t run into any of that.

The stalls with various pods and souvenirs were all neatly organized side by side as this was a major means of income.

Their rights

Many people who visit the Long Neck Tribes don’t even realized that they are not native to Thailand but originated in Tibet and Myanmar or also known as Burma to the North. Various reasons such as political strife pushed these people into Thailand where ironically enough they aren’t allowed to hold jobs due to their lack of citizenship.

Total BULL CRAP, I agree.

I wanted to ask Mama so many questions but her native tongue was Burmese so instead with our tour guide as a medium Thai and English translator I, was was able to learn more about the purpose of the rings…which was equally fascinating.

The rings

What I was told was that the rings were to protect against snake and tiger bites understandably (escpcially since the area was roaming with them 100 years ago) .

She beckoned for me to come over and hold an example of some rings that had been shaped and cut in the back for visitors to try on. And even though I had heard, that the rings were heavy, I thought one hand would suffice…

“Chileeee” I had to adjust QUICK.

The rings were dense and easily 10 to 15 pounds. It was like trying to hold a bowling ball with only 1 holes in it.

Even the smaller replica for us to try on was a bit heavy and was weighty on my collar bone.

Everyone calls her Mama and she was so friendly

Mama and some other ladies allowed us to take photos together. I asked everyone multiple times if they were okay because as excited as I was to be there, there was no reason to forget human decency.

And of course, after living in China for years and having my photo snapped on a daily basis without my permission or consent, it was an automatic response for me to ask first.

I made my way further down through the open huts looking at the small rings and clothes for sale when I came across some knives. Now I’m not a big souvenir buyer, alot in part due to me living out of suitecases and not having anywhere to put them, but I’ve found that I’ve developed a habit of buying handmade knives overseas. Deep down I imagine myself as some sort of afro Laura Croft from Tomb Raider.

I then met a grandma who had large silver gages in her ears and since my tour guide had disappeared, we had no way of communicating with each other. So by means of good old body language, I pointed to her earnings and gave her a thumbs up so she knew how beautiful I thought she was. She put her hands up to her cheeks and blushed, it was the cutest moment. I wanted to buy a bracelet from her but it was too small.

Another woman who knew some English came over and helped adjust an 11 ring bracelet for me.

Yea they had smaller ones but I was in a “bigger is better mood”.

Once my *ahem, custom jewelry was fitted, the lady who helped me was jokingly or not said

“Now when you wear it and flash your arms all the men will come running”

…As if she could see the dust rising from my barren DMs.

Speaking of men or the lack thereof… there were so many babies being cradled in their mother’s arms and toddlers running around but all the people in the village were women.

Strong and authentic women #girlpower.

She blushed when I told her she was beautiful

I can say strong because the rings, especially on the older women were definitely NOT for show. If you looked closely you could see where the coils rubbed against the calves and collar bones and there’s was a bit of discoloring, like you’d see for a bruise.

Time to go

My tour guide had found me and was rounding a few of us up to get back on the van when I noticed the other path that led into an area that seemed like the actual living quarters. I didn’t want to be rude and pry so I couldn’t tell if that’s where the men were hiding out at or if any of the women casually washing clothes had rings around their necks or arms.

As we were heading out, two girls hopped on a motor bike and casually wrapped scarves around their necks to mask their coils and headed out into the sunset.

Sunlight is nature’s version of magic

Though my experience was pleasant, if ever the opportunity presented itself again I would opt for a private tour which I think start at about 6000 baht per person.

Overall, the experience was the highlight of my day and I’m so grateful to have had the short time I did there.

With social media highlighting travelers perfectly posed on boats and elephants, I like to serve as a humble reminder that alot of the joy I get from traveling and the thing that keeps me going honestly, are the people that occupy the places I visit.

Peace & Pad Thai


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