Why we Decided NOT to Visit the Long Neck Karen Tribe in Chiang Mai
There are many wonderful things to do in Chiang Mai. While visiting the North of Thailand, we were very tempted to see some of the local tribes and especially the Karen Tribe. The Karen are a tribal group who are originally from Myanmar. They fled to Thailand during the political disturbance of the past. The Karen Tribe now live in small villages in the area of Chiang Mai.
Long Neck Karen Tribe
The most popular Karen tribe around Chiang Mai is the Long Neck Karen Tribe. Women from this small population are known worldwide for wearing rings around their neck to elongate it. In the past, it was a protection from tiger attacks, today it’s considered a symbol of beauty and modern day accessory.
Prior to our travels we decided to make some researches about touristic visits of the Karen Tribes villages. We do not want to support any kind of tourism that is not ethical or harmful in any way. The same goes for spending a day with elephants in Chiang Mai.
We discovered that the Karens, even after years of living in Thailand, are still being refused a Thai citizenship… They have limited access to electricity, roads, health care and schools. Furthermore, Thai authorities forced some Karens to move to villages created with the sole purpose of tourists entertainment. Those people are exploited in exchange of tourists money that mainly goes to the government.
The Reality of Tribe Villages
The entry fee to those privately-owned villages ranges from about 8 to 16 USD. However, the money doesn’t go to Karens directly. They receive an allowance of food and toiletries and profit from handicraft sales. The women wearing neck rings earn an extra salary. Those people live and work in a live-in gift shop. It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century a literal human ZOO is one of the biggest attractions for tourists. Just imagine: people come for the sole purpose of taking picture of a women wearing rings around her neck.
Thai authorities refuse to grant Karens a residential status, profiting big money from those villages each year. Therefore, those tribes are forced to live in those circumstances. Nor them nor their future generations have a chance for better, free life.
Unless visitors make the effort to research and learn by themselves the reality of what they visit, those government controlled villages will not stop. Once money flow decreases, the authorities will have no business keeping Karens in those villages. Thats a step to granting them a citizenship, therefore allowing them to pursue different jobs and having better life’s.
Should you go?
We leave this decision to each of you. Thinking deeply about the issue, we decided that visiting a place just to take pictures of people living there is uncompassionate and simply not a nice thing. Specially that Karens poor life style is forced on them because of the tourism.
However, you CAN visit the tribes in an ethical way and contribute to making their life better. As the refugee status doesn’t allow women to work in any other way, money made out of tourism supports their families.
How to visit responsibly
When planning a tour to Karen Village make sure to do your research and find a responsible tour company that will promote a socially responsible visit. You can even look for private guides (that you would find there directly) who will take you to their own villages.
Make sure your money benefits the village directly instead of third-party companies. You can make a donation to the chief of the village or support the women by purchasing their handicrafts.
Don’t think of this visit only as an opportunity to take pictures. Try to learn about their culture people and life’s and interact with them without a camera first.
Remember: Travel is about learning and opening our minds. It’s about forging relationships and making connections with people from different cultures.
We encourage you to travel wisely. ?❤️