I didn’t really want to go to be honest. The whole thing makes me rather uncomfortable. But our taxi driver kept going on about it, said it was on the way to the insect zoo, which the male members of the family were lobbying heavily for. So we agreed.
It’s a project that was originally set up by the King, many years ago. A multifaceted programme to reduce hill tribe dependence on opium farming by providing other forms of employment. All around Chiang Mai are villages which you can visit, belonging to different tribes. You pay a relatively hefty entrance fee, for the opportunity to buy handicrafts and gawp.
One of the most popular villages, both for it’s proximity to the city and for it’s gawping potential is the Karen long necked tribe village. They consider a long neck to be a sign of beauty and achieve it with the gradual addition of brass rings.
I fully support the ideals of the project, moving people away from subsistence farming and the growing of illegal drugs can only be a good thing. And I have no objection to paying to visit the village, as long as the money goes to the people who need it, which it seems to.
A few of the things on sale are beautiful, and obviously lovingly handmade, though most of it seemed to be cheap tat from China. But if that’s how they can make a decent living, then so be it.
I can even get over my discomfort at the idea that I’ve travelled all the way to gawp at them just because they look different. It’s not like we barged our way into their village, they invited us. We are all entitled to chose what we wear and what we do to our bodies and I’m all for preserving a traditional way of life if the person concerned is happy with it.
But here’s my problem. They earn a living precisely because they look different. We pay to gawp. Would they still look different if we didn’t pay? Because if they are putting rings on their daughters’ necks so that people like us will pay to see it, then I’m sorry I went.