The Karen Hill Tribes close to Chiang Mai supply a glimpse into the lives of those distinctive cultures of refugees. However a go to with the “Kayin” might not be all that it seems to be.
Though my household had seen images of the hill tribes of Thailand, nothing may actually put together us for the truth of visiting the Karen tribes close to the town of Chiang Mai.
Our go to wasn’t the one which we had hoped for. It wasn’t one which “lived as much as our expectactions.” However visiting the karen hill tribes close to Chiang Mai was one thing I’ll always remember. And I don’t remorse visting. As a result of my complete household realized a LOT in a really brief period of time.
Our journey to the hill tribes in Thailand was a part of a day journey by way of the mountains to go to Bua Tong Sticky Waterfall in Lanna Nationwide Park. And our go to to the Karen village close to Chiang Mai was one which was unceremonious, abrupt, complicated, and eye-opening unexpectedly.
Who Are The Karen Hill Tribes in Thailand?
When my household first leared of the Karen individuals of Thaialnd, we have been offered with the identical photos that most individuals hyperlink with this group, slender girls with rows upon rows of brass rings snaking up their necks. This distinctive type of ornament had earned a few of them the moniker the “Lengthy Neck Karen Tribe.”
The Karen Hill Tribe, as most individuals know them, aren’t one tradition in any respect. In actual fact, there are 4 distinctive Karen nations in communities positioned in villages all through Thailand, particularly within the north. These are all ethnic communities that predominantly resided in Myanmar(Burma) earlier than being compelled out by an authoritarian authorities throughout a cultural genocide.
My household had realized a little bit bit in regards to the plight of those refugees whereas we stayed in a floating lodge in Sai Yok Nationwide Park in Kanchanaburi. The lodge was run by a village of Mon individuals, themselves former Burmese refugees who sought shelter in Thailand after being compelled out of their house.
Throughout our time on the Kwai River, we met a person who was working to save lots of the Mon language, as most of the refugees had left their house villages within the mountains looking for alternative in massive cities like Phuket, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.
When he wasn’t working as a information for the lodge, he was inviting Mon kids from all through the nation to his village to study their historic language and alphabet in his makeshift schoolhouse full of donated books.
The Mon are simply one of many hill communities that now reside in Thailand. These teams, generally referred to as “Kariang/Gariang” or “Kayin,” really check with themselves as “Pakanyor.” And every of those communities has their very own language, customs, and vogue. In addition they every have their very own language.
A few of these communities have arrange seperate villages, whereas others band collectively in communal villages that embrace members of every of the hill tribes. That’s the kind of village that my household visited.
Visiting The Karen Tribes Close to Chiang Mai
We rolled as much as the Baan Tong Luang hill tribe village, about an hour from central Chiang Mai at about ten within the morning. My boys have been each nonetheless a little bit sleepy-eyed from our lengthy day of journey from Bangkok yesterday, however have been excited to see one thing new.
As we entered the village, alarm bells started to sound in my “sustainable and accountable” journey mind. The village had the entire hallmarks of a makeshift vacationer entice. There have been slim lanes dotted by thatch huts and lined, virtually exhaustingly with tables promoting the identical repeating trinkets one after one other.
As we wandered amongst the huts, even my two boys have been having a tough time decipher what was genuine and what was real.
Kayin Villages Are Not All That They Seem To Be. And Not All That They Seem Not To Be
Your entire entrance to the Karen village, with its small entrance charge and limitless trinket stalls appeared as removed from a “real” journey expertise as I’d ever encountered. Line upon line of dramatically-dressed “locals,” all with flashing neck jewelry, like proper out of a Nationwide Geographic story.
Your entire expertise appeared As we walked the slim lanes, my nine-year-old son, D caught the glimpse of a small youngster darting between the stilt legs of the huts. A flash of a smile between the 2 and so they have been rapidly chasing one another in a makeshift recreation of conceal and search that quickly noticed different kids from the village be a part of within the enjoyable.
As we stopped at one stall, the place a girl from the long-neck tribe was weaving blankets, a younger woman in brightly coloured garments that D was enjoying with hopped up beside her. By way of our interpreter, I requested the girl weaving whether or not this was her daughter. She smiled and nodded, a proud look spreading throughout her face.
She checked out my boys and mentioned “It’s good to see kids enjoying collectively.” We spoke briefly about her weaving, the place her designs come from, and the way her village got here to incorporate all 4 Karen hill tribes. She instructed us that she was from the Sgaw, or “White Karen” tribe. Her daughter was dressed as a Lengthy Neck Karen as a result of “it brings in extra money.”
A Collaboration For Survival
Baan Tong Luang hill tribe village consists of members of all 4 of the Karen hill tribes close to Chiang Mai, the Sgaw (White Karen), Po (Purple Karen or long-neck Karen), Pa-O and the Kayah. The group got here collectively as a result of they knew they’d make a terrific vacationer attraction.
The completely different tribes work collectively as a group to attract guests in and pay for infrastructure that helps be sure that guests maintain coming again. They earn a living from a small entrance charge that guests pay to entry the village and from the sale of trinkets, handicrafts and merchandise which are made proper there within the village.
The cash that they make is a pittance when in comparison with the cash that tour guides make bringing foreigners to go to the Karen hill tribes. Little or no, if any, of that cash ever goes in direction of the villages that tour corporations revenue upon.
For a lot of hill tribes, a lot of whom have members who’ve by no means been granted Thai citizenship, the sort of tourism is the one means for them to earn a living, as they will’t work legally throughout the nation.
Music Brings Individuals Collectively
As we continued by way of the village, C, my eleven-year-old, observed a girl from the Lengthy Neck Tribe plucking away at a guitar. C performs guitar and was immediately drawn to the girl. We walked over collectively and requested about her instrument.
Her guitar was hand-made from wooden sourced from the forest behind the village. It’s distinctive four-string design was one which she was used to enjoying, and he or she performed a beautiful music for us. C, requested to offer the guitar a strive, and so they labored collectively by way of our interpreter on how the notes work on the instrument. Quickly they have been strumming collectively and having a beautiful time.
As they performed, I observed that she had some distinctive trinkets on the market, together with a magnet of her and her guitar. She mentioned that the magnet was made on the village. It’s robust to say whether or not one thing like that may very well be made on this easy village, however the connection was there, and it’s now hanging up on my fridge.
Made In Home
Whereas lots of the trinkets within the Karen Village close to Chiang Mai had a particular “made in China” scent to them, there are a number of gadgets which are little doubt genuine. There have been girls weaving scarves, blankets, and garments with brightly-colored hues that have been virtually inconceivable to disregard.
Whereas we have been visiting the Mon village in Kanchanaburi, we beloved seeing the intricate use of sunscreen, not solely used to guard towards the suns harsh rays, but additionally as a kind of ornament used on faces and arms.
As we reached the top of the village we noticed a bunch of youngsters who had comparable designs on their faces. One ran as much as D and drew a collection of dots and swirls on his face, guffawing earlier than operating away. My spouse requested one of many girls close to her in regards to the cream. She was instructed that it was a sunscreen made out of native minerals and that it’s all the time been custom and enjoyable to make use of it as a type of self-expression as effectively.
Fairly quickly we have been all sporting our personal mineral sunscreen in splashes throughout our face.
Is Visiting Karen Hill Tribes Moral?
I needed my first expertise with the Karen hill tribes close to Chiang Mai to be a magical, genuine expertise. I didn’t get what I requested for. However I did get an vital lesson in how tourism impacts native communities, particularly those that depend on it to outlive.
I additionally received a beautiful probability to see how kids may be the barrier breaker in cultural immersion. If it wasn’t for my son seeing a baby and immediately connecting with play, I could have by no means realized all that I did from this vacationer attraction. And I could have come away from it with a totally completely different perspective, one that will not have been almost as constructive.
There have been many considerations, particularly in recent times in regards to the ethics of vsiting the Karen hill tribes in Thailand. A lot of this revolves round their lack of tradition and exploitation by tour operators. And it’s very true that a few of these fantastic and distinctive individuals are being exploited.
I in all probability wouldn’t carry my household again to this identical village, as I don’t imagine that it provides essentially the most constructive expertise for both guests or the hill tribes themselves. However it’s doable to go to these Northern Thailand hill tribe villages ethically.
Search for small group excursions that provide village homestays, the place guests spend a number of nights dwelling with one of many hilltribe households. Generally this would possibly imply sleeping on a ground or dwelling with out “western” facilities for a few days. However you’ll be placing extra money again into the native economic system and serving to out individuals in a means that purchasing a two-dollar trinket by no means may.
Have You Visited The Karen Hill Tribes Close to Chiang Mai?
Thailand was a magical vacation spot for household journey. However this nation does have some poor observe information in moral tourism. Amongst these is the continued promotion of elephant rides and the exploitation of some sections of the Thailand hill tribes.
Even in conditions the place moral tourism is difficult, there are nonetheless unimaginable alternatives to study, expertise, and join, and our go to with the Karen hill tribes close to Chiang Mai was a terrific demonstration of that. If you happen to’d wish to study extra about our travels within the nation, take a look at our Thailand household journey weblog for extra.
If you happen to’ve visited the Karen Hill Tribes your self, I’d love to listen to your feedback on the expertise.
If you happen to love household journey as a lot as we do, please be a part of our Household Journey Assist Group on Fb. You’ll be able to join with extra household vacationers similar to you who like to discover the world.
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