The Karen are a tribal group who have historically lived in the hills on the Myanmar (formerly Burma) side of the Thai border. Best recognized for their elongated necks, the Karen women wear heavy brass rings around their necks, forearms, and shins. While the Karen men are mainly field workers and farmers, the women have a rich history of crafting from wood carving to weaving. Overall the Long Neck Tribes live a rugged, tedious, and simple lifestyle, but the fruits of their labor are colorful and very lively.
Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe in ThailandThere are still around 40,000 Karen members today, but thousands have had to flee Burma over the decades due to political unrest. Fleeing to Thailand was a very safe choice for many, but the ones that came are largely illegal immigrants and do not have options for gaining Thai citizenship. While things are much better for the Karen that have fled from Burma, the lack of opportunity for the Long Necks has confined the groups to small pockets separate from most of modern Thailand. On one hand it is beautiful they have been able to keep their traditions alive and on the other it is a struggle to balance the new world with the old. A visit to a Karen tribal village as a tourist isn’t without its own ethical questions (which we’ll touch on below), but in the end we are very glad we made our visit as it was an experience straight out of National Geographic Magazine.
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