While visiting the Long Neck Karen Village in Thailand, I decided to embrace a lesson that was right in front of my eyes.
Keep reading to see why I felt conflicted about visiting and whether you should go too.
It was as if I had entered a time machine. Desiree and I hired a driver for the day. Our first destination was Long Neck Karen. We were set to visit the other bigger Long Neck Village hours away. But our driver convinced us this was the better stop.
On our way there, I remembered as a child watching documentaries about these women. Their necks stretched through a sacred and ancient process. The tradition begins for many of the women at age 11. Their first beautiful brass ring placed upon their necks in the rite of passage. Stacked annually, soon their collection gives the illusion of their necks stretched.
I wished I had the chance to sit down with some of the women of Long Neck Karen. It would have been easy to see them as objects. At first, I grabbed my camera and snapped away. But soon I put it down. This tourist attraction was not a zoo. It was quiet as the women worked and their children were at play. I could only hear the sounds of Desiree and I talking or the occasional giggle from the kids.
I was experiencing a small snapshot of life with them. I could either choose to do it through a lens or in the moment with the women. What brought me back to reality was when I met the poster woman for the village. She asked that I buy something before I take a picture of her. I respected her hustle and d she asked. I purchased a brass bracelet I had been eyeing. We then sat and Desiree grabbed a shot of us together. I laughed as she spoke a few hushed words to me and placed a fake bracelet on my neck.
While there I felt like a bit of a voyeur. I watched as the women dressed in gorgeous coloured outfits got to work. Their nimble fingers either coasted across large looms or crafted brass jewellery. Some were quite disappointed that I didn’t buy from their stands, but there was only so much I could carry home.
I recommend thoroughly walking through the stalls before you decide on anything. Then buy something as you walk back through the loop. Many of the vendors sell the same things and I noticed they were usually priced the same too. I did not negotiate as much as I could have. I felt that the women were providing more than just products, but a peek into their daily lives.
Long Neck Karen was just outside of Chiang Mai. Bring at least 250 Bhat with you if you are a jewellery or woven goods fanatic. I wish I had got my mum a scarf. Next piece of advice: don’t treat the village like a zoo! If you would like to take a picture of the women, please consider purchasing something. I remember the feeling of all eyes on me and pictures taken of me in Shanghai. It’s not fun being on display as a tourist attraction, however, it’s a way of life for many of the residents at Long Neck Karen.
I felt conflicted as I left, but a bit more compassionate too.