Long neck Karen

Lastly on our jam packed day trip of Chiang Rai and northern Thailand is one of the more controversial elements of the trip. A visit to the Long Necked Karen tribe. These people fled from Burma in the 1980s and 1990s due to the military regime.

This is some thing that on one hand I desperately wanted to see because of the interesting characteristics and distinctive look of the tribe.

However on the other hand I have heard that it is little more than a human zoo with the people basically unable to leave due to their refugee status and money making potential.

We decided, in the end to visit and see for ourselves.

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The light was beginning to fade as we entered the village and the rain was setting in, so the ladies had all retired inside their wooden huts and donned jumpers and sweaters.

However, their distinctive neck ornamentation is still very much in evidence. Here are some of the tribal elders, including the woman with the most rings in the village.

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Women of the Long neck Karen or Padaung tribe begin wearing rings around the age of five.

They are not, as I originally thought, individual rings, but actually one long length of wire that is carefully coiled around the neck.

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Over the years the coil is replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage.

The neck itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle. They also sometimes wear coils on their legs, just below the knees.

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There has been concern about the treatment of these tribes in Northern Thailand due to refusal to allow the registered  refugees to take up offers of resettlement in developing countries.

The tribes have made a lot of money for unscrupulous business men who charge people to visit the villages. I believe the resettlement policy is being relaxed and some people have since  left for other countries.

I did feel uncomfortable visiting the village I have to admit. The women seemed unhappy at having to spin and smile for tourists.

They seemed like bright butterflies trapped in a scenic cage. It may have been the end of a long day for them, or it might have hinted at a deeper unease.

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