Should I visit a Long Neck village? We are often asked this question, for some travellers the decision to visit the Long Neck is not an easy one, and many are quick to decide against visiting, because they do not want to visit a human zoo, or because they have read that the girls are forced to wear the rings for tourism. However the everyday reality for Long necks can be very different from any speculative reports online. But how can we find out what the reality really is for them? We came to the conclusion, that the only way to really know, is to find out for yourself, and ideally, to talk to a Long neck woman, in person, to find out how they feel about tourists coming to visit them. So, over the years of taking tourists around northern Thailand, we did just that. And through this, we struck up some great friendships with some Long neck women, and got to know them on a personal level. Through this, we discovered that they are not forced to wear the rings for tourists, and that they are able to choose of their own free will. In fact, we know many young ladies who have decided not to wear the rings anymore. For those that choose to continue wearing the rings, it seems they do so, because they feel a sense of identity through these rings, which is inextricably linked to their culture, their heritage, their family and ultimately who they are. We also discovered that many are happy for tourists to visit, because this provides a vital source of income for them, without which, their quality of life would be much poorer.
The other important facet to this issue, is that all Long necks are not native to Thailand and are refugees here, who have fled persecution from their homeland of Myanmar. With refugee status, their freedom is restricted, work is largely prohibited, and opportunities bleak. However, many Long necks are happy for tourists to visit them, because life in Thailand, in a Long Neck village is a much better alternative than returning to Myanmar.
So, once we dig a little deeper, and look a little closer, we see that basing a decision on whether to visit the Long neck women, on any moral values or standings that we hold coming from a western country, would be a decision based from one side of the coin only. So, if you do decide to visit, how can you make sure your visit is as responsible, fair and ethical as possible?
Use a Village Guide
When we visit the Long Neck village in Mae Hong Son, we use a village Long neck guide. This transforms the visit from one that is purely voyeuristic, into a culturally engaging, interactive, and personal one. The Long neck guide earns a fee from our company and gets to practice her English, whilst the tourist learns first-hand what life is really like for a Long neck villager. We feel this is a fair and cultural exchange. Check out this video of our friend ‘Mapran’ a Long neck lady, taking us around her village in Mae hong Son – Long neck village guided tour
Buy some souvenirs
When you enter a Long neck village, you will be required to buy a ticket, the fee from this goes towards the maintenance of the village and upkeep of Kayan refugees in Thailand. Once you are inside you will see their little stalls set up outside their houses, selling a variety of handicrafts and souvenirs. Many of the souvenirs are made in factories, but they also supplement this with their own handmade goods, such as hand woven scarves and hand carved wooden ornaments. Purchasing any of these goods directly from them, is a great way to support them.
Tell your friends about it
After you have visited, tell your friends and family about your experience. Are they thinking of visiting Thailand and the Long neck villages too? Would they face the same dilemma? Hearing about first hand accounts, will always help to set a story straight 🙂
Which Long neck village should I visit ?
We recommend ‘Baan Bpuu Keng’ village in Mae Hong Son, and if you travel with us, we will arrive there by long tail boat on the Pai river, it’s a great way to enjoy nature and scenery on the verges of the Thailand/Myanmar border. We have also just started a homestay at this village, which is an amazing opportunity to learn more about the Kayan people and their fascinating way of life. This is a relatively new addition to our itineraries, so for more info about this opportunity please contact us
In Chiang Mai, we recommend Baan Tong Luang village. There are a variety of hilltribes here (Long neck, Big Ear, Karen, Akha, Hmong, Palong) and it offers a great glimpse into what traditional hilltribe and village life was once like. It’s an interesting and educational experience. The Baan Tong Luang village entrance fee is 500bt.