Karen “long neck” Hill Tribe

I went on a multi day  trip to the Karen Hill Tribe Village in northern Thailand.

It was very fun  and tiring.  The fun part was riding the elephants and playing with the kids.  The tireing part was the 6 hour hike….let me explain

First up was hiking.  It was very hot and was through fields and woods in the hills of Thailand.  Our guide showed us all different kinds of plants, trees and fruit.  IMG_1878 (1)  this is a loofah sponge plant.  It grows with a leaf around it and you have to peel it off.  It also has seeds inside that I banged out.  Loofah sponges are used for your skin when you take a shower and they do make sponges out of the loofa plant. These were all over and we collected some.

IMG_1879We past a couple of cotton plants.  Reminds me of the song that my school sings in music class. “and we jump down, turn around, pick a bail of cotton.” very cool and I never knew cotton grew on trees or plants too.

IMG_2882 This is a bee hive. You may not notice but there are a tons of bees crawling on the hive.  This was probably the most interesting things I saw on the trek and you can click on the picture to make it bigger. (my dad couldn’t go close to the bee hive because he is allergic to bees).

IMG_2941 IMG_2881We passed lots of farm land on the trek.  They mostly grow lettuce and rice.

IMG_2875 Me walking through all the banana trees. The hike was 6 hours long!!!!!!!!!!! the hardest hike I ever did and it involved a lot of up hills and steep down hills. We stopped for lunch and had  a quick swim in a river.

IMG_2900Me sliding down a rock slide into the coldest water I have ever been in.  FREEZING cold.

IMG_2920IMG_1888 (1)we past through some small villages with only a couple of families living in each one. I learned that many of the villages in this area are all related with each other.  One village has cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles ect…

IMG_2905We past a lot of other things on our hike and I got to see coffee beans and lots of different fruit trees.  It was very educational and out tour guide told us a lot.  Some trees had single leaves that were 6 feet long. no joke! I also saw big tarantula’s.  Did you know they shed their skin just like a snake does. And the shedded skin looks like another tarantula. There were other bugs in the forest that shed their skin too and the guide pointed them out to us.


After a very long hike we finally reached the Karen Hill Tribe village.  Unlike all the “tours” that only come in for a couple of hours by bus…., snap a few pictures, buy a souvineer and leave- we actually came here for a multi day trip and slept in the village that all the long necks live in! In a bamboo hut and everything.

IMG_1978 (1) IMG_1975 (1)This woman cooked our meals of rice and vegetables for us.

In case you don’t know ( which you probably don’t) the “long necks” are a tribe that live in the northern parts of Thailand. They are called “long necks” because the women in these tribes where rings or “brass coils” around their neck.  It is an ancient  tradition and they also wear rings on their arms and legs. Some say the rings were first used for “beauty” and others say it was to protect them from tigers.  Only the women wear them. The Karen Hill Tribe is only about 30 families in this area.  There are other village hill tribes but they all live separately from each other.

FUN FACTS:  The long neck people have been arriving in Thailand for the last 100 years.  Most are from Burma (Myanmar).  Many people consider  the Karen Hill tribe illegal immigrants, however, the Government of Thailand lets them stay in Northern Thailand because they attract tourists and bring in money (taxes) to this area. At any point  they can be told to leave Thailand and go back to Burma (Myanmar)!!!!

The Long Necks are not the only tribes in the hills.  There are also Lisu, Lahu, Meo and Akhan and others.  Each has their own language and there is no written language and most of the kids do not go to school.

The longest neck in the world is 15 inches by one of the Karen Hill Tribe women. Most people THINK it  is the neck that grows but it is actually the shoulders getting pushed down and the chin pushed up, which makes the neck appear longer.

The rings are a symbol of wealth, position and beauty. 

Research shows there are about 10 different Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand. What makes them different is the clothes they wear and their language.

Life in the hill tribes is very simple. Men work in the fields, farming or as Elephant Mahouts (handlers) or sometimes in the city if they can arrange a job there. Women stay home, take care of the house and kids and weave and cook. They live in bamboo huts, one room , they cook outside.  Nowadays, a lot of kids are choosing to NOT wear the neck rings.  Some women only continue to wear the neck rings because of the tourists who want to take photo’s and then the right thing is to purchase something they sell.  Some say that the Karen Hill Tribe is like a “human zoo” when large groups come and just take photo’s of them.  My family did not see this as we were there for overnight and no other tourists were there at this time except my family and 2 other people who were exploring this area also. They were on our hike too. Hello Emily!!! Sawyer and I were the only kids staying over and that is why the kids in the village loved playing with us. They don’t see too many foreign kids coming to their village. THe parents were interested in “us” and funny thing happened on the way to the village….a villager took a picture of Sawyer and I eating lunch.  We let him.  IMG_1953 (1)

These are only the basic facts.  I researched and did a repot on this and it is a very interesting topic.  (I want to write more facts but my mom is telling me to shorten it up).

IMG_1972 (1) I like playing with the kids from the village. They ALWAYS wanted to play with me and Sawyer.  We had to use a lot of hand signals  to communicate with each other.

IMG_1945 (2) IMG_1952 (1) IMG_1923 (1) we all played together and there was kids of all ages. We played tag, ball games, soccer(they did not have a ball and used rolled up paper) and jump rope. (as a jump rope they used tied up rubber bands)

IMG_3137here is the long neck women and one man playing a game of checkers. They drew the grid on a board and used bottle caps as the pieces. I even joined in…

IMG_3143  I  guess checkers is literally known ALL over the world! Even in the hill tribes of Thailand.  They also knew rock, paper, sizzers.

IMG_2971 Some houses of the village.  There were only about 20 bamboo  huts and the whole family slept in one room and cooked and ate outside.

More pictures of the women with the rings…but please be aware that we NEVER were obtrusive taking photo’s. Everyday life was going on and they said it was OK.  They were more interested in watching their kids playing with us anyway.

IMG_2944 IMG_2987 They sat on there porch all day. There were community showers  and toilets that they all (and us) shared. They were located in one building.

Thoughts on the Karen village: It must be hot, annoying and heavy to walk around in those neck rings.  I was very lucky to see the village because maybe in 30 or 40 years, there will be no Hill Tribe village.  The government may tell them to finally leave!!!  I saw a lot of kids not wearing the neck rings.  So I guess the population is declining.  For all I know the hill tribe may one day become extinct!

The kids  that live in the hill tribes have lives that are SO much different from my life and the life of anyone else reading this.   I realized that they only stay about a few miles within their own village most of the time.   All they know is their own village and famliy because that is the only language they speek.  Imagine your whole life being 20 families!  I came all the way around the world to see how they live, but they will never see or especially experience how I live. Totally different worlds. I could tell the kids were sad to see us go.  I went and said goodbye.IMG_2982



Part of the Hill Tribe is the living they make from giving Elephant rides and time spent with the Elephants.   I got to bathe some elephants.  it was SOOOOOOOOOO much fun and a great experience too. The men in the village were the Elephant Mahouts.

FUN FACT: A mahout is an elephant rider, trainer, or keeper. Usually, a mahout starts as a boy in the ‘family profession’ when he is assigned an elephant early in its life.

IMG_3116giving the elephants a bath was so cool.  I’m sure you know but elephants are HUMONGUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the ones I bathed are Asian elephants and they are about 8 feet.  The African ones are even bigger!

FUN FACT: elephants eat 20 hours out of the day and sleep for 4.

Elephants can live as long as a human so 100 years.

Healthy adult Elephants have no preditors.  But, lions are known to attack babies.

Elephants are herbivores and eat grass, plants, branches, tree bark, berrys, mangos, coconuts,  and leaves. They drink water by using by using their trunks and can drink about 200 liters of water a day!!!!! they can survive 4 days without water.

The Karen hill tribe has about 10 elephants chained up next to there village We woke up and the Elephants are literally 100 feet away.  You may think it is sad that they are chained but that is the ONLY way possible you can keep elephants.  If you let them roam free they will destroy all the farm land and rip up the bamboo huts like we rip paper.  I think they would be able to destroy a lot of things because they are so strong and massive.

We bathed the elephants in the river next to the village and used tree bark sponges.  The skin of the elephants was very hard! I could see how a preditor wouln’t be able to kill the elephant because the skin is very thick and wrinkly. You really had to scrub the elephant hard.IMG_3072IMG_3110IMG_3107

I was on the elephants back scrubbing it and the elephant STOOD UP and started walking out of the water. IMG_3082

it was the coolest thing ever! being on an elephant is really high up and you don’t relies till you acully ride one! The elephant walked up a little hill and Sawyer and I held on as best as possible, but it was hard!  An elephant trainer had to CLIMB up the elephants trunk and onto its head, and steer us back in the water! It was so much fun to bathe AND RIDE the elephants.  They are cool animals and are now my 3rd favorite animal. I love the elephants.

more picturesIMG_3084

FUN FACT: There are no more wild elephant tribes in Asia.  They are all owned by people now.

Visiting and staying in the Hill Tribe was fun, especially playing with the kids.   My favorite part was riding the elephants.  They are so BIG its crazy. I will never forget my time at this Village.

I can be reached at rileymeckley@yahoo.com       feel free to email me