Impressions of hill tribes at northern Thailand

Visiting the long neck hill tribe was one of my key agenda while visiting Chiang Mai.

Thailand long neck Karen

The long neck hill tribe is probably the most recognizable tribes in the world due to the distinctive brass wear on their neck and limbs. Children (volunteer) start putting on the brass necklace since a tender age of 5 years old.

Instead of the common believe that the hoops elongate their necks, the length of their neck actually is similar in length but the shoulder being pushed down.

Many of the hill tribe people travelled from Burma in the last 100 years to the Thai-Burma border to escape the political turmoil in their homeland. Now, most of them are making handicraft and stay in tourist accessible villages to make a living.

It is sad if you make an analogy of this kind of ‘showcase village’ as human zoo, but at least it provides alternative mean for the tribal folks to make a living.

Most of the hill tribes are treated as refugee and without the Thailand citizenship (or passport). So far I have not met any long neck Padung (Karen) lady on the aeroplane. There are few other sub-groups of hill tribes also keeping their traditions. The lady below is Akha tribe.


The next lady belongs to the Palong tribe, notice they don’t wear the brass necklace.


There were many versions of why the long neck tribes wear the brass rings:

1) to protect their vulnerable neck from fatal bite of a tiger (but you wonder why the man hunter does not wear one)

2) long neck represent beauty (like the Lotus Feet in ancient China). Some may think Giraffe or Ostrich long neck is attractive, but that is personal taste

3) their grandma and mother wore the brass rings, and just follow without question

4) any other reason you can think of …

anyway, I truly respect them who do so to keep the traditional alive and proud of the origin. I wish the future generation still have a chance to meet the legendary long neck tribe.


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