Hilltribe village tour around Mae Hong Son

I decided upon a tour of the surrounding hilltribe villages for today, which i booked through Nam Rim tours. The company were recommended in the Lonely Planet, and the guide, Dam, seemed a very funny and knowledgeable guy with a fantastic grasp of the English language. He also knows a lot of the various Karen languages, and as he has a Kayan (longneck) girlfriend and used to work in Myanmar (where the Karen people have migrated from), we (me and a French lady called Francoise) did get a little bit of a more intimate and personal view of their lives.

Nai Soi Village

It costs 250THB to gain entry into the Karen village of Soryolay (or Nai Soi as it’s more commonly known), yet only 10% of that goes to the Karen people themselves and the surrounding refugee camps. So they make their money selling handicrafts, which did give the village a very tourist-orientated feel.

The Kayan (longneck) people wear their rings from the age of around 5 or 6 years old. Some wear them on their limbs as well but most solely on the neck – hence the name ‘longneck’. Contrary to belief, the rings do not stretch their necks; they depress the collarbone and ribcage, which gives the impression of the neck being unnaturally stretched. The rings around the neck can weigh up to 14kg but the normal weight of the ones worn by an adult woman is 5-6kg. The rings are only taken off 9 times in the women’s lives : to change them as the collarbone and ribcage become more depressed.

The rings are worn for 3 reasons :

  1. To make the women look beautiful
  2. To warn off the interest of Thai men
  3. To distinguish them from other hilltribes

Also in the Nai Soi village live Kaya (red Karen) and Kayew (long eared Karen). There is a school in the village where the children learn Karen, Thai, Burmese and English languages. The villagers are a mixture of Buddhist and Christian religions so you will see both temples and churches existing side by side.

A great deal of time on the tour was spent in Nai Soi but we also visited a nearby Shan (Thai Yai) village which is part of the Royal Project for the King and Queen. The Shan cultivate coffee and tea and avocados in place of opium and the women spend their time making embroidery. The King and Queen have instigated the supply of electricity and fresh water to the village so that these projects can be undertaken more successfully.

Hmong Village of Huai Mae Korsom

After lunch and the best cup of coffee i’ve had in Thailand at the Shan village, we visited a local Hmong tribe. Their houses (made of wood or thatch) sit on the ground. Their belief system is Animism (taken from the latin word ‘anima’ meaning ‘breath’ or ‘soul’) and is a belief that a soul or spirit exists in every object, even if it is inanminate. Pologamy is also poermitted in the Hmong tribe, so some men have up top 4 wives.

Mae Aw

Mae Aw is 22km north of Mae Hong Son, on a mountain peak at the Myanmar border. Mae Aw is it’s Chinese name, as it’s a Chinese KMT settlement, but it’s name has recently been changed to Ban Rak Thai (Thai loving village). There’s not a lot to do here other than drink lots of tea (we tried Green, Jasmine & Udong) but the surrounding scenery is stunning.

Tham Pla (Fish Cave)

Tham Pla is a water-filled cavern in the Tham Pla National Park, where hundreds of Soro brook carp thrive. They grow to 1 metre in length and are found only in the provinces of Mae Hong Son, Ranong, Chiang Mai, Rayong, Chanthanaburi and Kanchanaburi. There’s also a shrine centered around a statue of the Hindu rishi called Nara, said to protect the holy fish from danger. Just at the start of the walk up to Than Pla are several (it’s difficult to tell how many as they’re all entwined together) Monkey Ladders, which – until now – i never knew existed other than as a strange and interesting product you could buy from The Pier back in the UK!

Photo is of a Kayan (longneck) women with baby, Nai Soi, Nr Mae Hong Son.

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