Karen Hilltribes

Northern Thailand's provinces Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son are populated by (often displaced or overlooked) ethnic groups that live in the hills. These are the "hill tribes", like the Lisu, Hmong and Karen. The Karen number in about 400,000 in Thailand, and 5-7 million in Burma. (Source: We visited two groups of the Karen, one of which is the Long Neck Karen Hilltribe (or Paduang) group.

Only the women wear the decorative metal rings. Actually, the rings are actually brass spirals. The spirals are removed and replaced with longer ones as the body adjusts to the old ones. I was told that only girls born on Wednesday get to wear the spirals.

This boy was excited by the fact that I was taking his picture of him.

Being at this site made me feel a bit sad. We (a group of about 8 tourists) arrived in a van and were armed with cameras. We entered into a clearing with huts around us. At each hut there were some Karen sitting near the products they sell and waiting for attention from tourists. It felt a bit strange to just show up, jump from hut to hut taking pictures of its residents, possibly buy a small souvenier, and depart 20 minutes thereafter.

We arrived late at the village after the sun had set. So all these pictures were taken at night, making it much more difficult to capture (or even see, for that matter) anything. I wish our stay lasted longer and happened during the day.

The next day we had a chance to visit another village of the Karen Hilltribe. As you can see, these are located in the dense forests of the hills.

This one did not wear spirals, as they were not the Paduang. But their living conditions are not much different and they rely almost exclusively on the income generated by selling goods to tourists. Here is a pair working on sowing materials and tourists inspecting the goods before purchase.

Men and women are both involved in the process of making these materials.

The other role of the men, possibly those younger than the man pictured above, is to work in the fields.

The houses of these Karen Hilltribe were constructed pretty well. I suspect that the church had something to do with this. It was located a few trees away in a more secluded location that required the wandering about on my part to discover. It was a surprise to me, since Thailand's population is by a strong majority Buddhist.

This is, updated 2006-04-05 00:54 EDT

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