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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

THE LONGNECK LOOP

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

The next time you are frustrated waiting in traffic, or relaxing in the comforts of your 3000 sq. ft. home, know that in Thailand, only a short distance outside of Chiang Mai, there’s a Padaung Village. Having escaped from the Kaya State in Burma in the last century, they are political refugees. This tribe belongs to the Karenni sub-group of the Karen People, who have been fighting for their independence in Burma, Thailand’s northwest neighbor. The Thai Government is permitting them to settle here, though they are restricted as to what they can produce and are not allowed to travel from this settlement area.

They are called the “Longneck Tribe”.

We learned of their existence and hired a driver to take us to their Village. This community is so remote, it was necessary for Chen to ask directions a couple of times in order to find them. A few kilometers outside Ban Mae Na, Near Mae Rim, up a narrow winding concrete road we finally turned off onto a dirt path and stopped. The sight of elephants told us we were near a village.

Built into the side of steep terrain, there were beautiful vistas stretching out before us, and the Mae Ping river gushed below.

This village was a collection of small thatch huts built on stilts made of bamboo and teak, with an inside kitchen.

A typical Hilltribe Village.

Not typical were the people living here.

There seemed to be two tribes living together. They were called Kayor and Padaung. The Kayor had coins from a previous civilization or government worn around their necks as jewelry and a completely different style of adornment and clothing from the Padaung.

Hollow silver colored rings 5 cm in diameter pierced their ears. They, too, had brass rings around their necks but not tightly woven like the Padaung.

Upon reaching the village, we were greeted with warm smiles.

We lifted samples of these solid brass rings and were shocked at their weight. Each girl wears 5 to 22 Kilos (11-45 lbs.) of brass, depending on the number of rings around her neck.

This distorts the growth of their collarbones and makes them look as if they have "long necks," which, in fact, they do not. The rows of brass rings do not stretch their necks but, rather, the weight squashes the vertebrae and collar bones. A woman generally has twenty or more rings around her neck. This neck ring adornment is started when the girls are 5 or 6 years old, and is a long standing tradition of their tribe.

Why would the ladies do this? We heard many versions in explanation. One is that the men consider them to be sexy and so therefore, it is in their culture to do this - and another is that their own women will look so strange, the neighboring tribesmen will leave them alone and not pursue them.

Other accounts say that the heavy and shiny brass rings keep the spirits from killing the women who wear them. Or that the jungle tigers, upon seeing the glittering rings, will not eat them. The tigers cannot carry them away by their necks, since the brass rings prevent them from doing so.

 

A tribal folklore variation say that these people are the descendents from the wind and a ferocious dragon. The rings are a tribute to the dragon. An additional translation is that other tribes have tried to make business in Thailand, but didn’t have the brass rings on their necks. These brass rings bring the Padaungs “good luck” and they hope to make better business by wearing them, even though weaving is their livelihood.

We considered that the “good luck” of the brass rings actually meant that because the women looked so unique, more people would come to view them, thus making better business. This is what one of the women told us - the good luck story, and that the rings are a reflection of their culture. Whatever the reason, this is what they do, it is in their history and tradition to do this.

We were invited into one of their huts. Concerned that the split bamboo floor would not hold our weight, we went in one at a time. The fact they were not Thai was obvious because Thais "generally" do not cook in their homes.

 The view from their "living room" was fabulous.

For any member of these tribes to work in Thailand, they must speak Thai. With our driver translating, it was acknowledged that this photo modeling was the best opportunity that they have for making a living under the current social condition in Myanmar and Thailand. If they were not here, they would be spending endless hours in the rice fields in Burma, which is arduous work. In this way, they only needed to pose for photos and live their lives. It seemed to be an excellent option for them.

Readily smiling, their warmth and humanity were close to the surface. There was no feeling of eyes being veiled to hide something about themselves from us. No sense of shame or of having been abused by Western visitors. There is no difference between this and ethno-tourism or tribal trekking where you can go and take photos of indigenous tribes.  At least here, the money you pay to visit them supports their livelihood.

All of us noticed that they were engaging and present. There was no manner of disgust or idea that we were taking advantage of them by snapping their photos. They considered this to be business. They were working, supporting their families by allowing us to see into their cultures.

 

We have been to many hill tribe locations to understand that doctor’s care, or dentists as we would know them are nowhere to be seen. We can tell just by looking, that the immune systems of these hilltribe people must be very strong to have survived what would take most of us down in the first week of living among them. This is especially true during this recent rainy season.

The weavings they sold were simple, but the unequaled item they offered was to see them in their traditional brass rings.

Gentle and peaceful, the Karen have a village chief who rules over their community. He is considered the spiritual as well as the administrative leader, and he wields great influence. Practicing monogamy, most families are nuclear and they represent the most important basic unit in their society.

The Padaung's legs were also in rings, with silver bracelets running up their arms.

Are the Longnecks a tourist trap ?

Depending on the mentality with which you travel, learning about people in different cultures is never a trap. Upon leaving the Padaung village we had regrets of not being able to stay longer getting to know them better as people. We had heard so much about their exploitation and that concerned us, so this visit was exploratory. It was successful enough to plan a return visit.

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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