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The Long Neck Tribe: Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the unique experiences Matt & I had during our Chiang Mai trip was a visit to the long neck tribe. Check our travel adventures at Eleventy traveler blog.

We went to the long neck village that’s near the Tiger Kingdom and we stayed for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

What to expect inside the village

The entrance fee to the long neck village was expensive (200 baht per person , based on my recollection). Once you enter you are welcomed by long stretch of stalls where the long neck women and/or their children sell their handicrafts, scarves and bags for you to buy.  Some of them weave the cloths by hand, so tourists can see that the scarves they buy are authentic to the village.  You can also see some of the nipa houses where they live in the village. There were some children playing on the streets and the men where nowhere to be found. We assumed they were working but our guide told us the men here are quite lazy. Because they have the government support and most of the work are done by women, men generally don’ t do anything. What a sad thing.

About the long neck tribe

The people from the long neck tribe are refugees from Burma who were accepted and supported by the Thai government for the tourist money they bring in. They are not allowed to go outside of the refugee camp. They are meant to live and work there, only in that small village, for the rest of their lives. It’s quite a sad state. A way to actually help these people is to buy souvenirs directly from them.

The handicrafts bought here can also be found in other markets in Chiang Mai. The real attraction is the women and their long necks. On our visit, we noticed how peaceful they looked. They sat on their stalls quietly, smile to the tourists and engage you in a small talk with their basic English when you show interest to buy.

Why the long neck?

The women wear brass copper metals coiled up at their necks that eventually elongates them. They wear the brass metal coils because based on a legend ages ago, it was believed that tigers would come to the village and attack the people. The way to protect the women is to put these brass copper rings around their neck. Since then it has become a tradition and the women would wear these rings as early as 5 years of age. I tried putting this coil in my neck and just when i lifted it with my hand, it was very heavy. The brass coil put on my neck felt something like around 5 kilos. Imagine wearing that all day, everyday for the rest of your life! No wonder your neck will grow longer. The heavy brass coil is so heavy , wearing it everyday will probably push your rib cages and collar bones down, thus, elongating your neck.

Nowadays the women wear them more as accessory. It is believed that the longer their neck, the more beautiful they are.  The women wear long and heavy brass rings around their neck all day all throughout the year, with a few exceptions. On some occasions they remove it when they are pregnant and when they are sick. When i asked one of the long neck women how she feels about it, she responded, smiling “it’s okay.” She’s used to wearing it for a long time.

Should you go?

I had a bit of mixed feeling about the place. On the one hand, we thought it was quite unique and interesting but on the other hand, I felt sad for the long neck people not being allowed to go outside the village and mix with the Thais. It’s a sad way of life.  But there’s a silver lining:  our guide tells us they are probably better off being in this dedicated area rather than being forced to go back to Burma. In this way, they can be protected, taken care of, and they can continue their culture in a safe place.

Some tips when you go

If you decide to go, buy some handicrafts from them so you can actually help support the tribe. Also, speak with them and try to interact to better understand their way of life. This should probably help them feel a bit better when tourists take photo of them, so they don’t feel like they’re in some kind of a freak show.  Please respect the people and ask kindly before you take the photo. They are used to it and will smile back at you.

Have you been to the long neck tribe? Tell us about your experience! Leave us a comment below.