The Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Mien, Lisu and Akha are the six main minority 'hill tribe' groups that live in the remote mountainous regions of northern Thailand. These varied ethnic groups are native to Burma, Tibet and China. Their migration to Thailand started in the nineteenth century due to repression, civil war and economic hardship at home.
The Karen minority are indigenous to Burma and a small sub-group of the Karen, known as the Padaung tribe, has lived close to Chiang Mai for over twenty years. The females in this group are also known as the 'long-neck women' as a result of brass rings worn around their necks from childhood. The reason for this practice is a mystery. Perhaps the rings provided protection from tiger attacks or perhaps they are simply a unique style of jewelery.
One of the high lights of our short off-season visit to Chiang Mai was a visit to the Baan Tong Luang village, home to both Karen and Padaung 'hill-tribes'. This village is a self-sufficient agricultural community open to visitors. Many of the women weave and sell traditional silk and cotton fabrics. A small fee is charged to visit the village, however, the long neck women pose happily for the intruding cameras without asking for money which is a common practice in many other hill tribe villages.
It was a joy to photograph the long-neck women!
A Karen lady weaving underneath her traditional wooden house.
A simple white Karen headdress stylishly topped off with a few leaves from the garden!
A Padaung lady with stretched ear lobes to accommodate large silver tube earrings.
Portraits of beautiful long-neck Padaung woman.
A striking long-neck woman wearing brass coils that must weigh over 5 kilograms. The length of the neck is increased mainly due to the depression of the shoulders due to the weight of the coils. Coils are carefully removed and cleaned about every five years.
The prettiest girl in the village - an eight year old Padaung girl wearing both neck and leg coils.
The face of an angel!
Our Thai guide thought that Kathleen and the Padaung girl must be related.
Kathleen was definitely related to one of these long-neck women!
Learning to shoot wooden arrows from a traditional Karen hunting bow - one out of five arrows hit the bullseye - we wouldn't go hungry in the jungle!