Mae Hong Son – Long Neck Tribe, One of the most famous attractions of Mae Hong Son province is a visit to the village of the long neck tribe. The authentic experience is the complete opposite of cheap, poor tourist shows (as you often find on the way to Chiang Rai).
There are 3Long Neck Tribe villages around Mae Hong Son city. I’ve consulted my good friend Ethan, who is married to a local lady, a teacher at a school of mountain tribes, and we decided to visit one of these tribes. Our experience, along with pictures and a clip of course, is brought to you in this review.
Both tourists and locals call these tribes “long necked”, and some refer to them all by the name “Karen”, so I should probably explain briefly about the tribes’ origins.
A short look back:
The Long Neck Tribe are a subgroup of the Karenni people, who originally came from Kayan State in Burma, right across the border with Mae Hong Son, where they are known as Padaung (Burmese).
From the year of 1957, the Karenni fought against the Burma regime, as they struggled for self-definition. In 2012, an agreement was finally achieved, but the long years of war created a severe refugees problem; many of the Kayans crossed the border to Thailand (Mae Hong Son area), and resided in refugee camps or villages that are accessible to tourists. Some of them were scattered around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, possibly for touristic purposes.
After signing the agreement in 2012, the Kayans were allowed to return to their homeland. However, as they came from a poor, undeveloped region, with worse living conditions than in Thailand, they chose to stay in Thailand, despite the lack of formal status, ID, or any rights for that matter.
So during your visit to their villages (Long Neck Tribe) do not forget – first and foremost we are talking about underprivileged human beings, who became refugees very close to their homeland. Please respect them and open your hearts – and purses, if you can – to assist them.
The Villages around Mae Hong Son
West of Mae Hong Son there are 3 old-time villages, that are relatively easy to access: Huay Sua Tao , Baan Sob Soi and Huay Pu Keng. The latter can be accessed exclusively by sailing for half an hour on Pai river. We chose to visit Huay Pu Keng, the oldest village, which is called Ban Nam Pieng Din from time to time – after a nearby village right on the border (which we visited as well).
Huay Pu Keng can only be accessed by boat, as I’ve said, but we have found another way which serves us during the tours as we head back from our visit, and saves us the cruise back. I will get to it shortly.
At any event, the cruise begins at a pier in Ban Huay Dua, close to the city of Mae Hong Son. Personally, we came with a car, were accompanied by locals and communicated in the Thai language so we got along fine, and I suppose that every local hotel provides tour packs to one village or another.
The cruise takes some 30 minutes and it is held in the beautiful river setting. Each boat anchors on the beach, and a short walk will get you to the village. In the entrance you’ll find a few boutiques/stalls selling scarves, fabrics, handicrafts, food and drinks.
The village itself has a “main road” with humble shops on both sides, offering various handicrafts. You can also see the local village girls during their work, as they handle their weaving looms. The village isn’t small and you can see the structures where the villagers reside from both sides of the “main route”.
Some Behavior Codes
Unfortunately, some visitors perceive the experience as visiting a “human zoo” and I am very displeased with that. Personally, I see nothing negative about visiting these villages, but quite the opposite; after all, these are the villagers’ only sources of income. However, be sure to maintain a few basic rules: treat them with respect and be polite, do not throw waste or enter their homes uninvited, and of course – refrain from any physical touch – hugs, embraces etc. are completely unacceptable!
The local villagers will be happy to take pictures with you and even interact – as much as they can, seeing the language limitations. Be nice and donate or purchase one of their products – they have no other means to gain money.
To sum it up:
The village (Long Neck Tribe) was completely authentic and the visit was fascinating. The villagers are humble and hospitable, and they were happy to talk to us – which was very pleasant indeed. But it is important to follow the behavior codes I have detailed above.
The visit to the village takes an hour or so, and if you add the time it takes to sail there and everything related to the visit – we are talking about some 3 hours. We’ve found a great way to head back, following the advice we received from friendly locals, so read on and find out.
Apparently, there’s a road that gets you right in front of the village, beyond a narrow river, some 20-30 meters wide. All you have to do is make sure that a car awaits you on the other side of the river, right in front of the village; after crossing the river in no time (in a boat) you head straight to the car and resume your tour. Of course, this solution is applied to our tours, so there is absolutely no need of sailing back in yet another 30 minute cruise.
* Enlarge the photo and you can see the cars waiting at the other side
My opinion: visiting Huay Pu Keng (Long Neck Tribe) village was a great experience and I highly recommend it
♥ The visit to the above village is included of course in our tour plans to northern Thailand; naturally, we also apply the short way back we have found, so that you won’t have to waste your time sailing back in a boat – a car will be waiting for you right in front of the village, so you can save time and resume your wonderful tour.
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