The Long Necks

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by DavidFL, Feb 12, 2015.

  1. The Kayan long neck hill tribe villages are a major tourist / multimillion dollar attraction in North Thailand with villages all over the place in different areas of the North, plus elsewhere around the country.

    For some it’s all a bit odd & there is a wealth of misleading info & stories circulating about them.

    I was first out with the long necks in MHS in the late 80s.

    Nai Soi was the refugee camp where they were.



    more to come....of course.
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  2. In 1983 the first few Kayan long neck women settled close to Thailand in a Karenni army camp Huai Pu Long on the Burmese side of the border.

    Safe in the Karenni army camp, clever Thai tour operators in MHS cut a deal with the Karenni army & started running tours across the border, going by boat down the Pai river, to see the long neck women.

    Then from 1988 on more frequent fighting inside Burma saw more refugee camps set up on the Burmese side of the border.

    In 1989 6 long neck families, along with another 1,500- 2,000 Karenni refugees moved in Nam Phiang Din / Huay Pu Kaeng on the Thai side to be safe.

    Eventually heavy fighting between the Burmese & Karenni army caused thousands of refugees to pour into Thailand & the Nai Soi refugee camp was set up in 96.
    At various times it has been called Ban Tractor, Ban Kwai, or Site 1.
    At its peak Nai Soi - Site 1 - has had 20,000 plus refugees in the camp.
    The camp was divided into twenty sections. There are 10 distinct ethnic groups with animists, Buddhists, Catholics, Adventists & Baptists. There are no Muslims, who are traditionally the business class.
    The camp is run by a committee, & 94% of the people in 85 were Karenni.

    In the camp the Kayan long necks became a money spinner & tour operators started cutting deals to take tourists in to the see fabulous long neck women.

    More to come...
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  3. #3 DavidFL, Feb 23, 2015
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
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  4. With the Kayan long necks sitting in the refugee camp at Nai Soi, local business people soon realized they were sitting on a goldmine.

    In 1985 the governor of MHS negotiated a deal with the Karenni leaders to let tourists in to see the Kayan long necks.

    Money was split 3 ways I understand
    1. Tour Operator
    2. MHS government officials
    3. The Karenni – who used the money to buy weapons & ammunition to continue the fight against the Burmese.

    Other private investors outside MHS thought it was a cool idea & much easier for them to have their local long neck village. Easy to sell a one day trip to a long neck village in your local area, than a 1 or 2 nights package to MHS.
    The first one set up was just north of Tha Ton, but K Toi the owner (whom I’ve known for 30 years) ran afoul of NGOs & human rights people claiming the long necks had been kidnapped. Toi denied it, claimed he had paid to hire the villagers who had work permits to farm his land. He lost the case, was fined & the villagers went back to MHS.

    But the cat was out of the bag. Long Neck villagers started popping up elsewhere in the North.
    Long neck villages for tourists appeared in these places
    1. Ton Luang, Mae Ram, Mae Rim. Owned by the Mae Sa Elephant camp.
    2. "Tiger Kingdon" Mae Rim
    3. Mae Tamann on the Mae Taeng river.
    4. Ban Mai in Mae Ai district north of Chiang Mai.
    5. Yapaa on R1089 north of Tha Ton.
    6. Tha Khao Pluak north of Chiang Rai
    7. Nai Soi – Site 1 - MHS
    8. Huay Sua Tao MHS
    9. Huay Pu Kaeng on the Pai river MHS, but closed in 2008, not enough tourists
    10. & probably a few more I don’t know about in the North.

    None of this long neck tourism is new though. In 1936 a UK Circus company Bertram Mills had a long neck family from Burma on show in the UK as circus freaks.

    Some long neck Kayans fresh in Thailand after fleeing a terrible war torn life in Myanmar saw the money people were making from long neck Kayan tourism & went back to Myanmar to recruit relatives & friends!

    More to come....

  5. There was a Kayan long neck village set up west of Khun Yuam in 1993 (but it only lasted a few months because of too much malaria?)



    I think Joe & I were some of the first farang guys to go check it out.


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  6. Some Great Photos and Fantastic Information. Thanks. Joe doesn't look any different now!!!
  7. Interesting stuff David.

    Thanks for the information, it must have been an amazing experience to see all of this so many years a ago.

  8. Thank you David for adding these updates, as well as vintage information, to GT-Rider’s “people” stories. This is one of my favorite ethnic group in Thailand, maybe a selfish perspective because they are very photogenic, but also because they are a gentle community, well representing the kind Karen folks. Behind the tip of the iceberg, and the ethnologic interest of these Kayan ladies' custom, I never forget the plight of their compatriots, no tourist attractions, but parked all along the Thai-Burmese border and awaiting a return to their home states.

    I am looking forward to more David’s pictures and information and can already feel an enticement for another visit to Mae Hong Son. It is a pity that the enjoyable Music Night, with Kayan woman playing music has been cancelled, for obscure reasons, … maybe there can be a revival one day.
  9. The history of the rings is a bit of a mystery still
    Please yourself which one you want to believe. The definitive answer is still undecided, depending on who / which researcher you speak to.

    image:[email protected]/9452300795/

  10. The first 3 Kayan Long Neck women turned up on the Burma side & were named, Mu Louma, Mu Thoo, and Mon Nee.

    They had travelled so far from Loi kaw, under the protection of a Padaung man named Moli that it was thought they had been kidnapped.

    Settled in the Kareni army camp, they were soon photographed by a French photographer, who was actually covering the war in Myanmar, had published photographs of "les femmes girafes" in European magazines.

    Word was out & exotic tours to see the long necks by boat down the Pai river into Burma boomed.

    Each tourist had to pay a Thai "departure tax" at a small customs post on the river, and then another $20 to the Karenni rebel administration. Most of that payment was then kicked back to the Thai authorities by the Karenni. The tour groups would usually stop at a Karenni village for a short talk by an English-speaking Karenni officer about the political and military situation of Kayah State, and then would proceed upriver to the Padaung settlement.

    Mae Hong Son officials soon realized they were sitting on an ethnic goldmine. The annual Mae Hong Son Winter Fair came up & they demanded that the Karennis bring the women to be exhibited.

    After the fair it was back to business, & the boat tours raged.

    Officials then came from Chiang Mai, requesting that the Kayan long necks be paraded in Chiang Mai.
    The Karennis refused believing that their long neck treasure would not be returned. They received threats, but ignored them. Not long after the Karenni army camp base was attacked & temporarily occupied by the Burmese army. The Karennis believed that secret information about their camp was given by the Thais to the Burmese because of their refusal to hand over the long neck ladies.

    In 1987, the Karenni camp was again overrun by Burmese troops. During the raid the Karennis became suspicious of Moli, the original Long neck procurer's actions, and he was executed as a spy. Eventually the Karennis regained control of their camp, but the civilians stayed in a refugee village on the Thai side.

    Not long after, with the long necks safely back on the Thai side, the Mae Hong Son resort was advertising Long Neck Tours in Thailand.

    In February 1989 after heavy fighting between the Burmese army & the Karenni army, the MHS assistant governor, Somprath Saowapaiboon, threatened to send back all the refuges, except the long necks.

    The long neck ladies declined & opted to go back to Burma with the rest of their fellow refugees.
    However in 1989 the Burmese again attacked the Karenni, including an attack from the rear on Thai soil.
    The Thais shelled the Burmese who retreated but held the Karenni army camp.
    The result being all the refugees came back to Thailand again. The long necks were back!

    More to come..
  11. You can only imagine what these longnecks are thinking as they walk the streets of London back in 1935

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  12. Thanks for that pic REx. What a beauty.
    I will have to get on & reload these missing images too. :oops:
  13. In Feb 2008, 20 members of Burma’s Kayan ethnic group living in Thailand were offered resettlement in Finland and New Zealand. But they were denied exit visas by the Thai government, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok.
    The story was that the local MHS officials did not want to jeopardize their income from tourism by losing the long necks. In fact Thongchai Wongrianthong, the governor of MHS claimed that the long-necked people living in the region were happy where they were. He said they lived “like other refugees, under the protection of Thai laws,” according to a report in Thailand’s English language daily The Bangkok Post.
    Eventually after several years some of these Kayans were allowed to leave & settle in New Zealand.
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  14. I visited the village and Im really interested to read more of the history and your early visits thank you for this update

    safe riding

  15. #16 DavidFL, Nov 27, 2015
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
    Why wear the rings?

    There are a few different stories why
    [*]To protect against tiger attacks. Once upon a time evil spirits were said to be angry with mankind and they sent tigers to eat all women. To protect them, their ancestors recommended that all Kayan females must protect their necks by wearing brass coils.
    [*]To identify themselves. Once upon a time many Kayan females were kidnapped by the Burmans. When the Kayans asked for the return of their women, they were asked which ones were their women? They could not identify their women, & so they were not released. From then on Kayan females wore the brass coils to identify themselves as Kayan.
    [*]To be unattractive. Once upon there was continual ethnic fighting & the kidnapping of women. It was decided that Kayan women should wear the rings to make themselves unattractive for capture.
    [*]To show wealth. Once upon a time the Kayans were rich in gold and silver. When engaged in war the Kayan took the gold and tied it on to their necks. The brass neck-rings today are a symbol of the old times when the Kayan were a wealthy grouping.
    [*]To show beauty. Short necks are considered unattractive. To be beautiful with a long neck, a Kayan girl would start to wear the brass coils from 5-9 years old.
    [/list type=decimal]

    So what is the real definitive answer - well the jury is still out.

    Attached Files:

  16. So what are the rings & how are they put on?

    The coil is a solid brass rod & has no hollow space inside. The length & thickness of the coil determines its price & it varies from 1,000 – 8,000 baht. The coils are brought in brought from Burma & fitted by a professional, as it requires considerable skill to fit it properly the first time. It must be not be too tight or too loose & the fitting cost used to be 500 baht.

    To make the coil, the brass rod was warmed over a charcoal oven to soften it and then immersed for a short moment in lime water before being spiraled around the wearer’s neck.

    A young girl’s rings should weigh about 2.5 kgs & consist of 9 loops. The original coil will be replaced after several years with a newer longer one & during a woman’s lifetime she may have up to 9 changes of rings. The last change being at about 45 years of age & the weight of the coils 13-15 kgs with 32 loops.


    Attached Files:

  17. A national geographic vdo
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  18. An interesting article here

    Thailand's 'long neck villages' aren't just controversial tourist attractions — they're homes and workplaces for refugees


    Even if you’ve never heard of Huai Sua Tao village, you may know about some of its residents. Nestled in the mountains of northwest Thailand, this village is home to about a dozen “long neck women," known for wearing coiled brass rings to elongate their necks. In this remote province of Thailand, called Mae Hong Son, they are arguably the single biggest tourist attraction.

    The women and their families are not citizens of Thailand, but refugees from Myanmar escaping poverty and conflict in their homeland, where they are members of a marginalized ethnic minority group: the Kayah. The neck rings are a tradition back home. In Thailand, they're a cultural curiosity that tourists will pay to see.

    Tourists drive from as far as Bangkok, about 12 hours away, to stroll up and down the one dusty street in the village that has been built to showcase the Kayah’s way of life. The so-called Long Neck Village was constructed 27 years ago on a plot of land downhill from an actual Thai village, where some of the Kayah families move when they've saved enough money to construct a new house.

    As visitors trickle into the village, the women quickly snap from watching pop songs on their smartphones to weaving traditional garments or strumming a ragged wooden guitar. But mostly they’re standing to attention behind the stalls that line the rocky path, hoping someone will buy the handicrafts and souvenirs on display.

    The tourists, most of whom are Thai, saunter past and take pictures or selfies with them — some buy one of the dozens of products for sale at each stall. Thai visitors can enter for free but foreigners pay 250 baht (about $7.50) to get into the village, which apparently goes to paying the women’s 1,500 baht base monthly salary. One visitor on a recent afternoon had driven his five elderly sisters all the way from Bangkok to see the women.


    The whole spectacle has drawn criticism from outside observers who say it’s a human zoo exploiting migrants who have few other options to make a living.

    “It's absolutely a human zoo," UNHCR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey told the BBC in 2008, amid allegations that Thai authorities were specifically preventing Kayah women from resettling to third countries because of their value as tourist attractions. "One solution is for tourists to stop going," she added.

    Ma Ja, one of the long neck women whose family came to Thailand when she was 11, hopes that people do not heed McKinsey’s call. For her, these tourists are not just the sole source of income, but a uniquely lucrative one that allows the women to earn — during peak tourist season — upward of 10 times what their husbands do.

    “In the beginning, I did not understand why they have to let tourists come in and visit us,” Ma Ja says. “Later I understand the reasons, it’s because we have a different culture which people from the outside want to know about. On the plus side, by having tourists coming in, it creates jobs for us and we have income in our families from selling souvenirs to them. Selling souvenirs has become our source of income because we do not have any other recourse. If there are no tourists coming in, we would not know what to do.”


    One male resident of Huai Sua Tao, who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation if he ever returns to Myanmar, said that life in Thailand is much better than back home. He recalls how he and his family spent several days trekking through the jungle to reach Thailand, where at least “soldiers don’t bother us,” he says.​

    Ma Pang, a 34-year-old mother of two, says, “I didn't go to school … when I arrived I started selling souvenirs. I wore the rings since I was 9 years old because it is part of our culture. To me, being here, I felt happy; although I didn’t get to go to school, I get to help my mother make a living.”

    Though it’s more secure, life in Thailand remains hard for the migrants in Huai Sua Tao. The village is poorly developed, with a trickle of electricity just powerful enough to charge phones or power an old TV in the cramped wooden homes. That’s part of the experience tourists are buying.

    “Tourists will not be keen on coming for a visit if the village is developed,” says Boonrat Santisuk, who works at the entrance to the village collecting the admission fee.

    She says that after the women have spent enough time there and saved money, they can afford to build a house in the more developed part of the village just up the hill, where regular Thai villagers live outside the tourist area.


    Beyond here opportunities to live and work in Thailand are severely limited for undocumented migrants like the Kayah, and costs of living can be significantly higher, so moving much farther than up the hill isn’t easy. The women and their families are mostly free to travel and work within Mae Hong Son, but in order to even go to another province they need to apply for permission, and special work permits must be obtained for those seeking employment.

    “There are an estimated 3 million migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand, of whom only half have secured work permits through the formal migration process,” explains Duncan McArthur, director of the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, a prominent local NGO providing aid to Myanmar refugees. “Registered migrant workers have the right to work but movement is restricted to their designated province, unless specifically authorized. Undocumented migrant workers and refugees who live outside of camps are officially considered as illegal immigrants and subject to deportation.”

    Recent government legislation cracking down on businesses who hire undocumented workers has made it increasingly difficult for refugees trying to live outside of camps. Thousands have moved across the border back to Myanmar.​

    For the women of Huai Sua Tao, and their counterparts in other long neck villages, this means even fewer options — but they are in a unique position because their culture is a valuable commodity.

    Long neck villages have also popped up around Chiang Mai and Pattaya, a notorious sex-tourism capital located hundreds of miles south of Mae Hong Son. The three long neck villages in Pattaya are new, having opened up this year, primarily catering to Chinese tourists, according to Boonrat Santisuk. Chiang Mai province, though not as lucrative as Pattaya, has the advantage of being next to Mae Hong Son and more closely resembling Kayah's lives back in Myanmar.

    “In Pattaya, the salary is the highest, and the second highest is in Chiang Mai; here is the lowest,” says Ma Pang, who said she was waiting for a permit to go work in Pattaya for a couple of months. She is hardly the first woman to leave in search of better money, especially during rainy season, when tourism is low in remote areas like Mae Hong Son.

    But her husband, 4-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son would stay behind. Ma Pang says that without a Thai national ID card, her children would not be able to go to school in Pattaya, whereas they can attend a local Thai school in Huai Sua Tao.

    “At first I want to stay longer [in Pattaya], but then with my small child, I feel bad when he gets sick and his dad doesn’t know how to take care of him,” she says.

    Ma Ja says that between her family, the lack of long-term job security in Pattaya and the familiarity of life in Huai Sua Tao, she does not plan on going anywhere. And although she stresses that the majority of women, including her, appreciate living in Huia Sua Tao and want tourists to visit them there, she cannot help but long for something different.

    “I didn’t have a choice; if I were to be educated I would be doing something else … not just being taken pictures of. I feel like life has more to offer, not just this,” she says.

    Source: Thailand's 'long neck villages' aren't just controversial tourist attractions — they're homes and workplaces for refugees
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  19. A VDO Clip on the same theme of ethics of the long neck tourism - the long neck view.
  20. thanks David the Kayah have been exploited for years by Thai and Burmese its so sad they are lovely people

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