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Sun 30 Apr 2017
Visiting the Long-Necked Hilltribe
Written by Panrit "Gor" Daoruang   
Wednesday, 07 February 2007 00:54

Have you ever been in a car for a long time when you have gone somewhere far? I am sure most people have done it before and I don’t think anyone likes it. For me, I don‘t just dislike it, I would say that I “hate” it. But now, after I went on a trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand, I would say that I prefer to be in a car all day on a straight road than being in a car for five or six hours on a windy road.

During the summer holidays in 2002, I went on a photo trip with Richard to other provinces as usual. We always do that when we have long holidays. We are hoping to go to all 76 provinces in Thailand to take pictures of tourist attractions for one of my websites (www.thailandguidebook.com). This time we headed for Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. But when we were in Chiang Mai, we realized that it was a big province and that it wasn‘t easy to get around and see everything. So, we decided to only go to Mae Hong Son. It was a really good trip, really fun. I think it was the number one road trip adventure I have ever had in my life.

We set off from the guesthouse in Chiang Mai early, hoping to get to Mae Hong Son before lunch time. I wanted to be able to take a break before taking pictures. It was only 250 kilometres away from Chiang Mai so we thought it wouldn’t take long to get there but we were wrong. We forgot that we were in the north and that there are lots of mountains and hills. The road to Mae Hong Son is very windy and hilly. In fact, there are 1,894 bends in the road. So, we couldn’t drive fast. The fastest we could do was only 80 kms/hour. I think we were lucky because we didn’t meet many trucks and cars. Along the way the views were very beautiful and we stopped many times to take pictures.

We didn’t arrive in Mae Hong Son until late afternoon so I only had time to take a few pictures of a couple of temples there. Even though I wasn’t the one who drove there all the way, I felt very weary. As the sun was setting we went to look for a guesthouse and we found one by the lake which looked nice. I looked at Lonely Planet to get an idea of the price. The guidebook said 250 baht for a room with two beds, air-conditioning and bathroom. It is quite cheap so we went to park the car and went to check-in. We were shocked after we heard that the price had been changed to 600 baht. We thought it was expensive but we were too tired to bother. I went to get my suitcase in the back of the car and went straight to the room. I took a shower then went to bed straight away.

We left the guesthouse the next morning at about 7.30 a.m. and went to find the way to go to the village of the Karen people or the long necked hilltribe. I looked at the city map that the tourist office gave me. There are three villages that we could visit: one is small, one is big and one that you can only go by boat. We decided to go to the biggest one and it is also the famous one called Nai Soi village. From the map, It looked easy to go there but really it wasn’t like that. There wasn’t any signs by the side of the main road to tell us which lane to go down too, so I had to keep asking for the way. Then when we found the way after I saw a small sign in the ditch that said “Long Necked Hill Tribe. Turn left here”.

These are some pictures of a hilltribe's village in Mae Hong Son province in the north of Thailand. They are "Karen Hilltribe" or as everyone knows them, "Long-necked Hilltribe".

We kept following the signs until there wasn’t any more signs so we just drove around trying to find the way ourselves. We were in a small village when we saw a lady running to us. She asked us where we were going. I told her. Then she said she would take us there because the way isn’t good and better not to risk damaging the car. We went on her pick-up truck to go there. Lucky we met her so we didn’t have to lose more time finding the way. The road to the hilltribe village was really bad. We had to cross a small ford in a river as well.

Visiting this hilltribe village is the main local attraction for people who come to Mae Hong Son. It's not that easy to go to their village by yourself but don't worry, you can join a tour. It's expensive for foreigner because you have to pay 250 baht to go in the village alone. I went to this place in April 2002.

At first, I thought she was just being kind to us but really she was just trying to make some commission for taking us there. When we arrived there, Richard went to pay the fee by the entrance. I couldn’t believe it cost 250 baht for foreigners but FREE for Thai people. Why did they do that for? Can’t it be the same or a little different? Even though tourists don’t pay tax I still think that it shouldn’t be this expensive. I felt sorry for Richard as he is a teacher and pays the same taxes as other teachers at my school. He told me not to complain as he knew that at least some of the money went to the hill tribe people.

We went in and walked around. I was really excited because I had been wanting to see a real famous long necked hill tribe for a long time. But after I had walked around for a while, I started to have second thoughts. How would I feel if some people walked down my road to take pictures of my mum doing the washing or me cleaning my motorcycle? They are human too, not some animals in the zoo. I did hear that a few years ago they had started to stop wearing the ring around their necks. But they started to wear it again because they realized that they could get money from the tourists who came to take their pictures. Also they could sell some souvenirs to get money. So, I think the main reason they are still wearing it now is because of us. I read somewhere that in the past they wore the ring on their neck to protect it from tigers but now they wear it to attract tourists.

While I was looking at the souvenirs, a long necked girl came out and showed me more souvenirs. She was cute with beautiful, long black hair. She looked about my age and could easily have been a student at my school if she didn’t have the ring on her neck. I bought some postcards there and then asked her some questions about the ring. She told me it is one long ring like a spring and it is made from brass. Her one weighed about five kilograms and some people she knows had brass rings weighing as much as twenty kilograms!!! I asked her if her neck really got longer and she said that the ring pushes her collarbone down which makes it look longer. God!!! It would hurt for sure. I could see that she was making every movement very slowly. Before I left I asked her how many tourists came to the village a day. She told me she was not sure but there weren’t more than 50 a day. After we had finished talking, we said goodbye and I went back to meet the lady who took us here.

   
   

We went back to the village where we had left our car. We got off the pick up truck. Richard asked me should we give her some money but I said don’t because she was just being kind and anyway she got some commission. Then we walked back to our car. When we arrived at the car, I saw that the lady was walking to us so I thought I had forgotten something in the pick up truck. But she didn’t walk to me, she walked up to Richard and asked for 200 baht. Richard gave it to her. After that, we didn’t think she was a nice lady after all. We drove back to the guesthouse and when we arrived there, I went straight to bed without taking a shower or even washing my face. I was really tired. I lied down on the bed like a dead body.