Gradually, the image of Southeast Asia reminds us more and more of the familiar Western world. Major metropolises such as Bangkok, Hong Kong and Shanghai are increasingly difficult to distinguish from New York, Chicago and London. Modern Thailand, so widely popular among tourists, has changed significantly in recent decades. Already and on this island of freedom, the notorious globalization has reached with confident steps.
However, “true Asia” still exists, hiding in the modest villages of northern Thailand. It is not easy to get to it: most ethnic settlements are cut off from the outside world by dense jungles and troubled mountain rivers. Often, only a conductor who knows the terrain can show the correct path. Through the tropics you have to walk, climb on elephants or jeep, if possible.
The purpose of an exotic journey is to see firsthand the existence of hill tribes. In the north of the country live immigrants from the Tibetan uplands, southern China and Myanmar, who settled in Thai territory after protracted conflicts with the military junta. Modern inhabitants of the country consider “mountain people” savages, while the latter have firmly settled on the border with Myanmar, lead a habitual way of life, being engaged in traditional crafts and agriculture.
The dominant ethnic group of peoples is Karen, which, in turn, is divided into small subgroups: Padaungi, Hmongi, Lisu, Lakha, Pao, Kaya, Hebe ... According to the 2008 estimate, the total number of Karen people reached 7.4 million people. Children of nature live like their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago in cozy, palm-leafed houses on stilts. They wear bright clothes of their own making, stretch their earlobes, regularly offer sacrifices to spirits and celebrate the bamboo's growing season.
The longer the better
Thanks to traditional customs, the padaungs became popular among tourists. It is the women of this tribe who pull their necks with metal hoops. The older the owner of an unusual jewelry, the longer and more beautiful her neck.
As soon as the girl is five years old, local women twist a spiral of copper or brass wire about 1 centimeter thick around the neck of the child. Every 5–10 years, the “necklace” is usually changed by increasing the number of rings. Such a simple fun leads to the effect of pulling the neck.
However, the villagers claim that in fact the neck does not stretch, and the shoulder area over the years goes down under the weight of the five-kilo helix. It is believed that if a woman decides to remove the rings, then at first she needs to support the neck with a special fixer, since the head can drop sharply down and suffocation will occur. It was in such an inhuman way that the husbands of unfaithful wives were punished in former times.
Today, some adult women have such a high neck, and the rings are so tight to the body that you constantly have to keep your head slightly raised. There were cases when turning your head became harder and harder. And in a hot tropical climate, this should be especially difficult.
Nevertheless, villagers believe that a long neck is a sign of health and beauty. When I asked whether they had discomfort when wearing rings or during sleep (and they also sleep with rings), the girl of the tribe in tolerable English replied that she did not feel any discomfort and did not pay attention to this, it would seem, uncomfortable decoration.
Nobody really knows why padaungs began to wear life-long spirals. The residents themselves say that the rings are very beautiful and the girl looks “pretty” in them. In addition, the iron collar has long protected the woman from the tiger bite. There is a version that men invented this custom in order to limit the beloved wife so that she would not run to another in a neighboring settlement.
There are many explanations, but the interesting fact is that the original tradition still persists. Often, padaungs coexist with red Karen, whose distinctive feature is widely stretched earlobes with metal cones.
Welcome to civilization!
With the development of the Internet and travel journalism, the padaungs quickly became the main Thai tourist attraction. Thousands of tourists who want to take pictures with unusual women are drawn to the village every year. Nai Soi near Mae Hong Sonnawhere for the right to flash flash will have to lay out 250 baht.
The villagers themselves do not object to such increased popularity of their modest persons, because it is the sale of hand-made souvenirs and clothing that is their main source of income.
Often, inside the settlement, the streets are specially arranged in such a way as to show off well-dressed residents in a favorable light, sitting under palm canopies along a dusty walkway. Young girls sell souvenirs, scarves, bags, traditional jewelery, older women do daily activities: someone works at a loom, someone weaves beads, someone repairs a wooden guitar or feeds chickens.
If you are lucky, then curious tourists will be able to see the national dances and listen to local songs in the Kayan language - the Karen branch of the Tibeto-Burmese language group. There are almost no men in the village - they hunt during the day or work in the nearby villages.
Small bamboo houses with thin walls are located closely in a row, in the backyard - farm and livestock. Inside the hut, everything is simple: a wooden floor with a mat and a mattress on which 3-4 people sleep, a small window and a small home-made nightstand for things. Here is the whole modest life of a typical mountain settlement.
Every year tourism brings Thailand huge financial profits. In this regard, Thais are interested in making the country more attractive to travelers.
So, today, to gawk at the representatives of the northern part of the country, it is not necessary to go far to the mountains. The ethnic settlement of the Padaungs and the Red Karen, called the “Longneck village”, originated in the south, not far from Pattaya, in the direction of Rayong. Of course, people migrated to the south not because of the opportunity to splash in the South China Sea, but with the aim of starting a business near such popular cities as Bangkok and Pattaya. After all, tourists do not always have enough stamina and time to reach the northern areas of Mae Hong Sonna.
Perhaps these national settlements - the last stronghold of authentic Asia, mysterious, wild, unpredictable. Here you can still be surprised at unusual things, enjoy the exotic, leisurely and simple-heartedness of the locals, far from megacities, the Internet and other attributes of modern life.