KAREN LONG NECK TRIBE – LIFE IN THAILAND

One of the tourist attractions in Northern Thailand is a visit to Karen Long Neck Tribe. It is a village near by the border of Myanmar where the Karen tribe lives. I’ve heard about this tribes on tv documentary, National Geographic Magazine and reviews from tourists who have been in the village. Finding out more of their story how their vulnerability has been exploited both by government agencies and tourism industries it started to feel uncomfortable to visit the place. That makes me think if these people are for tourist attractions? It is unethical to treat them like a human zoo.

However, we signed up for a one day tour in Chiang Mai and part of the tour is a visit to Karen Long Neck Tribe so we have to go as my goal is to see and make a connections with them to create a symbolic relationship by reaching out to find a common ground instead of treating them as spectacles to exploit.

WHO ARE THE KAREN LONG NECK TRIBE?

This tribe originally lives in the mountains of Myanmar near by the Thailand border. Thousands of their members have fled to Myanmar to live in Thailand because of the conflict in their home country. Thailand granted them a temporary stay under ” conflict refugee”status. Some left Burma because of suppression and exploitation. Burmese soldiers would demand to hand over some of their crops or farm animals to the soldiers. Those who refused to do so  would frequently end up in retributions and killing.

The tribe has a custom where some women need to wear a brass coils around their necks  to create the appearance of a long neck but in real life these women do not have an extra long neck. Some wear heavy rings around their forearms and on the lower part of their legs which is different from the rings they wear on their neck.

IMG_2862
This Karen woman wear 25 rings around her neck.

DSCF3123

THE RINGS

An ancient legend claimed that wearing the rings around their neck will protect them from tiger attacked, since the cats attacked victims at the neck and protect their tribe from extinction. However, some women wear rings around their necks respecting their ancestor traditions. The more rings women can wear on her neck, the more beautiful she is.  Short necks are considered unattractive.  

DSCF3117

Women of Karen tribe start to wear brass coil at an early age, anytime between five years old to nine. The weight of a brass coil worn by the Karen tribe differ by age and length of time she has worn it. By the time the girls turned 15 they are able to choose if they will continue to wear rings all throughout their life or will they stop wearing it.

DSCF3110.jpg

However, as the tradition evolved only girls who were born on the Wednesday night during a full moon were adorned with the neck rings. Girl who was born on Wednesday night must wear the neck rings throughout her life. Refusal to wear the neck-rings will cause her to be exiled from the community. 

EXPLOITATION AND  TOURISM ..WHAT KIND OF LIFE THEY HAVE IN THAILAND?

These people are living with a refugee status. Thai government pays more attention to promoting them as tourist attractions. Tour operators make a sizeable income from bringing tourist to the village but the village themselves get very little one.

Tourist operators have been able to exploit the economic marginality and vulnerability  of the tribe to their own advantage.

DSCF3121.jpg

Today girls are encouraged to wear the brass coils around their necks for tourists attractions and  to make money from the tourist village authority.  The more tourists who come to visit them; the better are their chances of earning an income.

DSCF3119
This pretty young lady is sixteen years old but never been into school.  Women are not allowed to go to school only men. She said she learned her english from talking with tourists like us.

DSCF3127

WHERE ARE THE MEN OF KAREN LONG NECK TRIBE?

In Burma, men are known to be hard-working in providing for their family basic needs. They are skilled farmers but life is not the same for men and women in Thailand. The women are the main provider for the family. Besides wearing the brass coils around their neck which brings them a monthly payment from the village tourism authorities, they make a quite substantial earnings from selling scarves and souvenirs. Scarves are the only product which is tribe make themselves. Women focus their occupation towards tourism as the ” tourism” industry offers a better opportunity for cash than agriculture. They need to be their morning and evening to entertain tourists but can still continue to do their weaving in front of their huts.

IMG_0905

IMG_0829

DSCF3105

DSCF3122

DSCF3112

Men of the families are allowed to work in agriculture in their own village. With limited knowledge and technical skill and government imposed restriction on their movement, makes it impossible for men to get paid jobs away from their village. Their traditional agricultural skill is no use as there is very limited land for cultivation in their village where they are allocated to stay.

They are not allowed either to go anywhere. they must remain in the tourist village set up the government. It appears that these people do have some basic rights on the paper, but sadly they much non-existent considering the restrictions that also applies to their status which is a violation of their human rights.

On the other hand children are allowed to go to school but in order to do that they must learn Thai language first which is quite impossible for them to actually go to school.

DSCF3114

The road going to the village is a slippery dirt slope.  The whole structure of the village is planned as a “tourist setting” a kind of living museum. It was very depressing, even among all the bright colors, designs and patterns.

DSCF3111.JPG

IMG_0900.JPG

DSCF3104.jpg

Tourism industry has not delivered a better life to them. There is no infrastructure development, electricity supply, clean water supply, sealed roads, public transportations from the village to town, qualified doctors or nurses in the village health centers. Thailand has not improved the tribe standard of living nor significantly lifted their life chances.

A travel to Karen Long Neck Tribe open my eyes to the reality of their lives and the daily struggles that they face. Unethical, authentic or not as what some people would say, the important value that I learned from this tour is it humbles me and offers a big boost of humanity.

If you chose to visit the village please consider these recommendations:

  • Do not just stop for a photo shoot. Try to extend your stay to learn about the people and  hear their stories.
  • Support the village by purchasing their handcrafts.
  • Give a donation.
  • Do your own research and find a responsible tour company that will promote social responsibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

EXPLORING ANCIENT RUINS OF AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND

Brief History

The Historic City of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a center of global diplomacy and commerce.

The city attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. The city was never rebuilt in the same place and remains known today as an extensive archaeological site.

Once an important center of global diplomacy and commerce, Ayutthaya is now an archaeological ruin, characterised by the remains of tall prang (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries of monumental proportions, which give an idea of the city’s past size and the splendor of its architecture.

Getting Around in the Park

There are many ways to explore the glorious past of Ayutthaya – by foot, rental bicycles or long-tail boats (to enjoy a riverine perspective).

Bicycling around the ruins is the most enjoyable and fun way to spend the day. You can rent a bicycle for around 50 baht per day. The park is easily reachable and manageable on bike. The paths paved and the distance between temples are small.

Boat trips recommended if you want to enjoy the beautiful scenery and Thai lifestyle along the Chao Phraya River.

Another alternative is hire a tuk tuk with driver. The fare will depend on your bargaining skills. Agree on price, duration of the trip and places to stop before setting off.

WAT YAI CHAIMONGKOL, is a magnificent royal monastery, more than a mere place of worship. The beautiful secrets of Wat Yai Chaimongkol acquired a personality of its own. The temple is alive with the smiles of Phra Buddha Chaimongkol, the most sacred Buddha image, and others. Their images not only speak of a time of freedom as well as of the affluence of the Ayutthaya Kingdom but also give a warm welcome to visitors from other lands.

img_1056

img_1057

img_1060

img_1059

img_1058

As we walked inside the temple there we saw the relic of reclining Buddha image. At present, there is no vihara to shelter the image. The village elders said that in the past the vihara roof was made of tin. Consequently, it  struck by lightning twice. After that the local people agreed to leave the image outdoors.

img_1061

WAT PHRA SI SANPHET, “The Temple of the Buddha Si Sanphet” is the largest and most significant temple in the Royal Palace’s compound since it was used as the royal temple and palace for several Ayutthaya kings. The ashes of the three Ayutthaya kings were kept here in the three Ceylonese style pagodas which are a symbolic landmark of Ayutthaya.

img_1067

img_1069

If you walk around the ruins, you will find the head of an ancient Buddha image embraced in the overground roots of a bo tree.

img_1062

WAT MAHA THAT, ” The Temple of the Great Relic” this temple was the centre of Ayutthaya people’s faith. The reason it was completely burnt down by the Burmese invaders during their final assault of the capital.

img_1071

img_1072

img_1065

img_1068

img_1063

Admission and Opening Hours

There is no fee to enter the Ayutthaya Historical Park. The major temples charge an entrance fee of 50 Thai Baht or less each. Most of the monuments are in ruined state, they are sacred places to Buddhists. Be respectful towards images of the Buddha and never climb on one. For active temples, please follow the dress code which means long pants or long skirts, no bare shoulders, remove your shoes before entering a temple building.

IMG_1070.jpg

What To Bring:

  • Bottled Water ( there are many places to buy snacks and drinks but better to carry a bottled water with you, the temperature in Ayutthaya is very hot).
  • Hat
  • Shades
  • Sunscreen

The ruins of Ayutthaya Thailand is a great pieces of history and most of the ruins speak about the strong religious affinity of the people.