Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Checking Out Chiang Mai: The Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Our Secret Garden hosts hire a driver for us on short notice and we spend part of a day exploring some of the touristic highlights of Chiang Mai.

One of our stops is the Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village, home of the Padaung "Long Necks" and other Karen Long Neck Hill Tribes , fairly recent refugees from Burma, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

The Karen have a very sad history which includes government persecution in Myanmar. We're not the only tourists visiting this village to have the uncomfortable feeling that we were visiting a zoo for humans. On the other hand, the inhabitants are probably living a better life than they would be otherwise, apparently with no easy access to Thai citizenship.

With this in mind, we start our trudge around the village.

The stroll through this hilly village is hot, and even a stop in a rice paddy doesn't cool us off.

The inhabitants are all selling various trinkets, but they're quite friendly (like everybody else we encountered in Thailand) even when we buy nothing.

In the midst of our visit, we enjoy our first elephant sighting...

followed almost immediately by our first elephant dung sighting.

As to the "long neck" custom itself, explanations vary. The favored explanation is that the purpose of the rings is to protect the women from tiger attacks. The men have tattoos to ward off the attacks, a much less intrusive procedure.

As explained here and elsewhere, there are other sub-groups [including residents of the eco-village] who do not and never have practiced this custom. A further myth is that these rings act to elongate the wearer's neck. Any chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon will tell you that this would lead to paralysis or death. In fact the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!

We can't help but wince at the sight of little girls in their trainer rings.

We all heft a set of rings laid out for that purpose and are surprised at how heavy they are. Thinking of those little girls, Grandma Kathy isn't feeling not nearly as happy as she looks while engaging in the obligatory tourist pose.

We continue to wander and encounter friendly smiles.

We also peek into some fairly basic living quarters...

admire the tropical setting...

and check out some of the garden-style agriculture.

As that song from the musical, Oklahoma, has it, the corn is indeed "as high as a elephant's eye."

After one last peek at a cute little baby, thankfully ringless...

We conclude our visit and head off to our second orchid farm of the trip.

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