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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