There are many so called “Hill Tribes” in Thailand. Mostly refugees from Myanmar, Tibet and even Mongolia. Because they never really got the “Thai status” they live in secluded and isolated areas, often guarded by the authorities and not permitted to “mingle”.
They often wear typical traditional dress and some of them have very special characteristics.
Does that sound like something we would be interested in? Yes it does!
So, we loaded ourselves in a small long-tail-boat with a massive diesel-engine and sped down a river in the direction of Myanmar. 20 minutes of riding rapids and evading rocks and boulders (it felt like a 20 minute roller-coaster ride) we arrived at a small settlement were a mixture of so called “Long-necks” and “Big-ears” live.
Long necks, short legs and big ears.
The “Long-necks” are amazing to see. They have been wearing heavy copper rings around their necks since childhood and the weight has pressed their shoulders down, giving the appearance of immense long necks.
They wear the same rings on their legs, below the knee, and this makes their legs seem very short. (or maybe they just are short-legged?).
It is not sure why they do this, they don´t even know where this tradition comes from, but one possible explanation is to protect against tiger-attacks. Women often have to walk long distances in the jungle to get water etc, and in the old days these areas were riddled with tigers and panthers that enjoy a nice fresh and juicy piece of a woman.
Since most large predators catch their prey by biting it in the legs and then kill it by biting it in the neck, the copper rings form a pretty solid tiger-bite protection.
An other theory is that this is done to make the women unattractive and thus prevent kidnapping of the women by other tribes.
The second explanation fits the “Big ear” women better since they have enormous holes, filled with metal rings, in their ears. This makes their ears huge and thus a pretty easy target for a hungry tiger.
They now fill their lives with weaving and making small handicrafts to sell to tourists like us. The old days, when explorers would gain the trust and friendship of indigenous tribes by giving them shiny trinkets are over. It is now the indigenous people that sell shiny trinkets to us, would-be explorers.