Longnecks That I Wouldnt Mind Choking

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Really the main thing that attracted me to this remote corner of Thailand was the opportunity to see the Karen longneck tribe in person. Everyone has seen them, Discovery channel, National Geographic, they make a great story. I wanted to experience it firsthand so after breakfast, I rode about 14KM to the nearest Karen village South of town. I can practically spit in Burma I am so close, and the Shan culture is apparent everywhere here.

I knew that I was in trouble when I realized the best road in town was the one leading out to this “remote” village. With the exception of having to cross shallow streams with the bike at least 10 times (I hope it was mountain water and not a “poo river” as my English friend called the open sewers here) the road was perfectly black topped. I finally reached the dusty village and the temperature here had already climbed into the 90s. It was 95F yesterday, April is a VERY hot and dry month just before the monsoon season starts in May.

There was a ticket window. Now I REALLY knew that I was in trouble.

I promised myself that I would not worry about budget when it came to activities and experiences. Food, transportation, and accommodation are the things that I skimp on. I stupidly put the 250 Baht down they were asking to enter the village and received my ticket.

I walked into the dirt street village, and sure enough, there were a lot of longneck Karen women. They were wearing their traditional garments and some had the makeup on as well. Every two meters in front of every house was a table selling junk. Same crap you can get at every night market, etc. It was literally one big market that I had paid 250Baht to enter. I spoke to several of them, trying to get their story and culture. They spoke the best English that I have heard in this region! Obviously, they learned from the tourists, because this “village” was a tourist attraction. Nothing more. I even have to question whether they still wear the rings on their necks for tradition or if they do it to keep the steady stream of income pouring into their little village.

One older woman, I really wanted her picture because she had the longest neck in town, tried to sell me pictures of herself at her table. It says on my ticket that you can take photographs of anyone. When I nicely asked if I could take her picture, she stepped inside the house so I would have to buy one!

Unphased, I moved on and found a younger woman holding her baby. We spoke for a while. They usually put the rings on at age 5 and they dont take them off. I asked if it was painful and she said “yes”. I asked why and suddenly her perfect English failed and she clicked back into zombie merchant mode and started selling me things. Since I did take pictures of her and her baby, I bought a nice piece of cloth they make there. I know that Thailand is one of the most touristy stops you can make in SE Asia, but every time I think I may get a small glimpse of their culture, I find myself pulling out a near-empty wallet. Maybe I am better off in Cambodia or Myanmar next time?

All in all, I paid $6 and took 3 pictures. I don’t need a calculator to realize that I totally got screwed. I walked back to my bike, tail between my legs, and left the market…village…whatever.

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