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Lanterns, Neck Coils and Betel Nut

by becca on December 16, 2009

In an attempt to escape the main tourist drag of Northern Thailand, we headed eight hours west of Chiang Mai to the town of Mae Hong Son. 1,864 curves later we arrived to find that our attempt had failed (still plenty of tourists, I don’t know what we were expecting) and the quick bite we had to eat along the way left us with sore stomaches for the next 24 hours. But despite the food poisoning and the crowds, we really enjoyed our stay. The small provincial capital was scenic, relaxed and enough off the tourist track that we weren’t offered a tuk-tuk a single time.

Our nights were spent wandering around the town, perusing the night market and lighting paper lanterns. And our days (when not holed up in our room sick) were spent on motorbikes zooming up, down and around the mountains. We visited a village of Kayan (or Padaung) refugees commonly referred to as “long neck people,” who have fled from Myanmar and now make their living by showing off their brass neck coils as they sell handicrafts. I have to admit this was a strange experience, paying an entry fee to a village to see people that are displaced from their homes, but because of interested tourists, the Kayan villages are self-sustaining communities. A woman we talked with said she had been wearing brass coils since she was five-years-old and she also wears coils on her legs, just below her knees. The neck pieces are quite heavy, and one of the women showed us a book detailing the anatomical effects of wearing the coils: pulling vertebrae up into the neck and pushing down the rib cage and collar bone.

The bus rides to and from Mae Hong Son were noteworthy as well, with spectacular views on what may be the windiest road in Thailand. On the return trip, we were squeezed into pint-sized seats to make room for hill tribe women with betel nut stained mouths and their endless stacks of cloth bags full of fruits and vegetables.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bens Travel Blog 12.16.09 at 8:07 am

Great photos! Really Interesting

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