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Should You Visit a Long Neck village ? 

The Karen (Kayan) Long Neck villages in Chiang Mai are one of the major tourist attractions in northern Thailand. However many travellers choose not to visit because of the conflicting information online about the ethics of visiting this tribe. Many tourists choose not to visit the Long Neck villages because they do not want to support the exploitation of this tribe, or because the villages are ‘fake’ and have been ‘set up’ for the purposes of tourism.

In this article, we present to you all the information surrounding these issues so that you can make an informed decision yourself as to whether or not to visit the Long Neck tribe. We will cover everything from the background of the Karen (Kayan) Long Neck in Thailand to how you can visit ethically.

Visiting the Karen (Kayan) Long Neck in 2023

Who are the Karen (Kayan) Long Neck?

The Kayan Long Neck tribe are a sub-group of the Red Karen (Karenni people) from Myanmar. They are sometimes called Kayan Lawhi, Padaung or more commonly the ‘Long Neck’ people.

Where are the Long Neck from?

The Kayan Long Neck tribe are a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group, who are originally from Myanmar/Burma, and are not native to Thailand. All of the Kayan Long Neck who live in Thailand have crossed the border as refugees from Myanmar. Most of them have fled persecution to seek safety and refuge in Thailand.

The history of Long Neck Villages in Thailand

In the late 1980’s many of the Kayan tribe fled political persecution and conflict in Myanmar. They crossed over the jungle borders and many arrived in Mae Hong Son province. As such, refugee camps were set up for them and one part of it was designated for the Long Neck people. Over time, this evolved into a tourist site which was able to generate it’s own revenue and pay for the maintenance costs of the village and its refugees.

Long Neck Villages in 2023

The Kayan Long Neck villages in Thailand are therefore not ‘real’ or native villages. However, these villages offer the Long Neck people a livelihood and source of income. When the villagers sell their handicrafts and souvenirs to tourists they are able to earn an income. Inside the villages, it is very peaceful and the Kayan Long Neck do not pressure tourists to buy their handicrafts.

Do the Long Neck women want us to visit ? – Yes !

How exactly do the Long Neck women feel  about tourists coming to visit them ? Over the years of taking tourists around northern Thailand, and developing friendships with the Long Neck villagers, we’ve had the unique chance to ask them how they feel about tourists coming to visit them. We uncovered many truths …. 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 tourists, their quality of life would be much poorer.

It’s important to note that Long Necks are not native to Thailand, they are all refugees here, who have fled persecution from their homeland of Myanmar. With refugee status, their freedom is restricted, employment is largely prohibited, and opportunities bleak. However, many Long Necks are happy for tourists to visit them, because life in Thailand (albeit with restrictions in a Long Neck village), is a much better alternative than returning to Myanmar.  This article  “Forget the Boycott, and Come visit us “ and video  Kayan: Beyond the Rings by Asia Times is a great illustration of this point

So, once we dig a little deeper, and look a little closer, we see that the everyday reality of Long Neck tourism is quite different from face value reports online. So, if you do decide to visit, how can you make sure your visit is ethical ?

Guided tour of Long neck village in Mae Hong Son, by a Long neck villager

Guided tour of Long neck village in Mae Hong Son, by a Long neck villager

Reasons to Visit the Long Neck

Many travelers question whether they should visit the Karen Long Neck and if it is ethical to do so. We believe that travelers should visit the Kayan Long Neck tribe, because visiting them is a way to support their existence here as refugees in Thailand. We know many Long Neck villagers, many of whom have been separated from their families due to the war in Myanmar. When asked about tourism and their circumstances, the resounding answer is that at least they are safe here in Thailand. When faced with the prospect of death and war, it seems that tourism is really the much better alternative. So whilst it may feel strange to you as a tourist to visit this tribe, the Long Neck villagers are probably just happy to be in the safety of the villages here in Thailand.

Kayan Long Neck tourism, also became controversial because people were concerned that the villagers were forced to wear their rings, however many Long Neck villagers have chosen to stop wearing their rings and are allowed to do so. During the quiet seasons and during the global covid pandemic, there were no tourists to the villages and the Kayan Long Neck suffered greatly. As such we believe that you should visit the Kayan Long Neck tribe – your visit supports their status and safety in Thailand.

How to visit the Karen (Kayan) Long Neck ethically

To make sure your visit benefits the villagers directly, you can purchase souvenirs or handicrafts from them. This represents an important source of income for them.

When we visit a Long Neck village on our tours, we enlist the services of a village Long Neck guide.  Your guide will walk you around the village and you will have the opportunity to ask her questions. This is a great way to learn firsthand about the Kayan Long Neck tribe and transforms your visit from being purely observational, into a culturally engaging, and mutually beneficial one.  In return, the Long Neck village guide earns a fee and is able to practice her guiding skills and communicating in English.

Where can you visit Long Neck villages in Thailand ?

There are Karen Long Neck villages in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces in northern Thailand.

Karen Long Neck villages in Chiang Mai

At the time of writing in 2023, there are currently two Kayan Long Neck villages that you can visit in Chiang Mai. The first one is in Mae Rim, and the other one is in Mae Taeng. The entrance ticket is 300THB. They are approximately 30 minutes drive north of Chiang Mai city. NoteBefore covid there was another larger village called ‘Baan Tong Luang’ which is now closed.

Karen Long Neck villages in Chiang Rai

There is a Long Neck village in Nang Lae district in Chiang Rai. This village feels quite commercialised compared to the Long Neck villages in Mae Hong Son. Perhaps because it is a stop-off point on the popular 1 day tours from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.

Karen Long Neck villages in Mae Hong Son

In Mae Hong Son there are two Karen Long Neck villages. There is Huay Pu Keng village which is around 20 minutes drive from Mae Hong Son town. This village feels more authentic than the demonstration villages in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Once you walk past the handicraft stalls and houses at the entrance, you are able to go deeper into the village, walk around and observe village life.

If you travel with us, we will reach the village by taking a long tail boat on the Pai river. It’s a great way to enjoy the nature and scenery on the verges of the Thailand/Myanmar border. We also offer the chance to stay overnight in the village at a Kayan Long Neck homestay (staying with a Kayan Long neck family in their traditional bamboo stilt house).  This is an amazing opportunity to learn first-hand about the Kayan people and their fascinating way of life. For more information about this experience please contact us. Huay Pu Keng is also a community-based tourism village and it has won several green-tourism awards. They offer many community–based-tourism activities such as handicraft workshops and learning to cook with villagers. Tourists pay the villagers directly for these workshops and their services.

The other Long Neck village in Mae Hong Son is ‘Huay Sua Tao’ this is a smaller village which feels a little more commercialised than Huay Pu Keng village. The entrance ticket for this is 250THB/person.

Which village should I visit ?

Every Long Neck Village in Thailand has its own look and feel, based on various factors such as size and location. From our experience, the most authentic experience you’ll get of the Kayan Long Neck tribe is by visiting Baan Huay Pu Keng village in Mae Hong Son. The Long Neck carry out their normal daily lives here, and the village functions like almost any other hill tribe village in Thailand. It has its own kindergarten, church, and daily activities. It’s as close to a ‘natural’ functioning village as you’ll get.

If you have any questions or need information about how to visit the Long neck ethically please contact us

Related Posts: 

Tips for How to Visit a Hill Tribe Village Ethically

Visiting a Hill Tribe Village – Do’s and Don’ts

About the 7 Hill Tribes of Thailand

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