On our trips, we come across a lot of misconceptions travellers have about northern Thailand. So we thought we’d set a few straight for you.
1) If the *Karen long necks take off their rings they will die
Many people believe that if the Karen long necks take off their rings they will suffocate and die as their necks won’t be supported anymore. This is not true! They don’t really have longer necks, the rings push the collar bone down, giving the illusion of elongated necks. There are many women who choose to take off their rings later on in life and suffer no ill-effects.
*Karen long necks are the Kayah Lahwi tribe, a subgroup of the Karenni people
2) Karen long necks are forced to wear rings for tourism purposes
Foreign media might have got hold of a few messy cases (around twenty years ago) where the Karen long necks were persuaded and possibly coerced into keeping their rings on to attract tourists, but times have changed since then and this is no longer common practice. We know and have met many Karen long neck women, who have taken off their rings without reprimand, perhaps only from their parents who wish their daughters to continue this age-old tradition
3) Hilltribes and farmers are poor
Walking around a hilltribe or rural village in northern Thailand, one might think that countryside dwellers are poor. I guess it would depend on how you define rich and poor. Whilst some hilltribes may not be rich in money or material terms, they live amongst an abundance of lush nature on land handed down to them through generations. Historically the Thai government let minorities settle in certain areas, but was never purchased and so they do not posses land rights.
The land is fertile, and can be cultivated to grow a rich variety of crops from rice and coffee to pineapples and potatoes. Rural villagers have a strong sense of community, family values are still strong and where crime is relatively low. So the hilltribes are in fact rich in many ways.
4) You can help by donating
Whilst the is a lot of good-will in the world, donating either items or money to organisations or people could have a detrimental effect on the local community. By fostering a culture of charity and donations, it becomes easy for locals to wait for a hand-out rather than to strive to achieve this themselves.
We are not saying that all donations are bad, and it varies case-by-case, but we suggest taking a long-term view of what and who you are donating to, by asking questions such as ‘Is the need for this real?’ ‘What would happen if they do not have this?’ ‘What could they do to achieve this themselves?’ and ‘Can it be sought locally?’ thereby contributing to the local economy, first.
5) Villagers need to learn English
Whilst English is the international language and important for many people’s education and career opportunities, for many hill tribes, it’s not as critical. Their priority lies with learning to speak, read and write Thai first, after their tribal language mother tongue.
6) Rice grows at the bottom
If you grew up in a country that doesn’t grow rice, then you might think that rice grows at the bottom of the plant at the root. In actual fact it grows at the top, like wheat does. When the rice plant is golden and brown, its ready to be harvested, cut and thrashed, that’s when all the grains at the top come off the plant, ready to be processed for consumption
7) Elephant camps are cruel
Many tourists perceive elephant camps to be cruel practice. However if we take a step back, and think a little deeper and consider the history and culture of Thailand we can see that it may not be a clear cut story. Thailand and many Asian countries have a long history of using elephants to work in forests, just like horses and mules were used in Europe. The working conditions for elephants carrying logs through mountains and forests were probably much harsher than today’s existence in elephant camps. Elephants are big animals that need to be controlled properly, and sometimes force has to be used in order to do so. If you see a mahout hitting an elephant with his stick, whilst seemingly painful to a human, remember that an elephant would not feel this in the same as humans do.
We are not condoning elephant abuse here, merely putting across another side of the story
8) Rainy season is a bad time to visit
Many tourists avoid rainy season, but this is actually one of the most beautiful times to visit! In northern Thailand we have a wet season (May –Oct) which is not to be confused with India monsoon like weather. So there’s no torrential downpours every day, but rather day-long drizzle, or afternoon and night downpours.
In any case, the weather should not interfere with your travel, unless you’re planning on doing all day outdoor activities (such as trekking). So we say, come visit and see the nature at its most lush! For more information read our ‘Best time to visit north Thailand’ post.
Do you have any Thailand myths you would like to de-bunk? If so, feel free to post your comments here