The Karen People
Originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, the Karen Tribe is known to have a very unique custom which marked as the tribe’s identity. As young as 5 years old, girls start to wear brass rings around their necks, arms and shin. As they get older, the coil gets replaced to a heavier and more rings are added making their necks look longer. Actually, the necks don’t stretch, but the clavicle is pushed down due to the heavy rings worn. Once the coil is on, it is seldom removed because of its lengthy procedure. Sometimes it is taken off for medical reasons. It was believed that the tribe wear the rings as cultural identity associated with beauty. Some younger women have started to take off the rings when they decided to continue their education or protest against the exploitation of their culture.
Most Karen people in Thailand came as refugees and are not allowed to work outside the camp, however, they are self-sufficient since many tourists would come to see them. A fee of 500 – 600 baht is collected at the entrance for the village maintenance. Aside from the entrance fee that aids them financially, they sell souvenir items as well. The women of the tribe are skilled in weaving and wood carving while men work in the farm.
How to Visit the Village
If you don’t want to experience the tedious group tour to Chiang Rai, the Baan Ting Kuang Village is the easiest option to visit 5 of the unique tribes in Chiang Mai. You can take a taxi or tuk-tuk. Though the village is more commercialized and not as authentic as the other villages in Northern Thailand, the opportunity of meeting and learning about the different tribes is fascinating.
Meeting the Akha and Karen People
After lunch, we were on our way to the village. The tour guide collected 500 baht as entrance fee from each of the tour participants. We were first introduced to the Akha people. The Akha people is one of the indigenous hill tribe of Thailand. They are also immigrants from from Southeast Asia and China.
Before they migrated to Thailand they were dependent on agriculture for a living. They raise farm animals, fish, grow vegetables and rice. Now since they have limited access to Thailand’s agricultural benefits, they are mostly seen as vendors selling local souvenirs to tourists.
I met a woman who was wearing 27 brass rings on her neck, as per the tourist guide, she is wearing the most rings in all the Karen women in Northern Thailand.
The tribes are good English speakers so it’s not difficult to communicate with them and some can speak more than 1 foreign language.
Most tourists snap photos of them, buy a few of their souvenir items and leave, missing the essence of the tribe which is the people composing it. I had a great time talking to a young Karen woman and her daughter. The little girl can even speak Spanish and was better than me. I bought some souvenir items from them, a ring for 100 baht and a bracelet for the same price.