In our recent trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, meeting a long-neck woman was one of the highlights. This exotic tradition of wearing brass rings to lengthen their necks is pretty fascinating, and something I wanted to see in person. But is it ethical going?
These beautiful people are refugees from Burma (Myanmar) and international organizations such as UNHCR has urged tourists to boycott long-neck villages, describing the women as victims trapped in “human zoos.” But it’s more complex than that. Ignoring these women will leave them in a worse situation as tourists are the only income source. And shouldn’t we ask the women themselves?
After doing some research, there was no question as to whether we would choose to go or not — here’s another side of the coin. When visiting a lock-neck village, treat the people with respect, talk with them, and support them by buying their souvenirs.
Baan Tong Luang Eco-agricultural Village is a cultural preservation project aimed for tourists to provide an income for the hill tribes. Eight different hill tribes live here as a collective community in groups separated by rice paddy fields.
Bamboo huts from where the women are selling souvenirs like handicrafts and textiles.
The families are living in typical houses built on stilts.
Checking the camera settings using my wife as a test subject.
Even though we came here to meet the long-neck tribe, we supported other tribes as well by buying their souvenirs, including the big-ear tribe.
My wife bought a handbag purse from a big-ear woman.
A Palong woman, or “Dala-Ang” as they call themselves.
Another Palong woman weaving a traditional textile.
After walking through the village meeting a few different hill tribes, it was time to meet the Karen tribe. I was pretty excited about meeting this long-neck woman with an impressive amount of brass rings.
Another impressive woman who we bought some beautiful textile from. If I’m not counting wrong, she is wearing 24 brass rings — more than anyone else we met. The rings are heavy and push down the muscles around the collarbone giving the impression of a longer neck.
It was pretty cool watching the women weaving the textiles using a traditional loom.
A gorgeous little girl I interrupted while she was eating her lunch. I asked for a quick picture, but she was so polite and put down her plate and let me take a few pictures of her. The girls start wearing brass rings in the age between five and nine.
We chatted with this shy beautiful young woman who came to Thailand ten years ago. She works 08:00 – 16:30 which is the opening hours for tourists.
I don’t know how things work in other long-neck villages, but it was a lovely experience visiting Baan Tong Luang, and it definitely didn’t feel like a “human zoo.” In a world where men make more money than women, it’s quite nice knowing that these women can earn — during high season — as much as ten times more than their husbands.