The Kayan people of Northern Thailand’s so called ‘long-neck’ villages want the world to see the truth behind negative media headlines.
The media has had a lot to say about the ethics of visiting the so called ‘long-neck’ Kayan villages of Northern Thailand, but should we not let the Kayan people decide whether they want people to visit them or not?
Years ago, the Kayan people fled Burma and headed to Thailand due to civil war. They lived in refugee camps until the Thai government settled many of them in their own self-styled Kayan villages around Northern Thailand.
Mu Tae moved to one of these villages called Huay Pu Keng 25 years ago, here she and the rest of the Kayan people are free to live their traditional way of life and adhere to their many age-old traditions.
The Kayan people had always been the object of fascination for travelers as the woman are known to wear brass neck rings which give the appearance of an elongated neck.
Over the following years, Huay Pu Keng attracted many tourists primarily for this reason and the village economy began to thrive. This in turn helped the refugees to live a more comfortable life as they made a good living hosting and selling their crafts to visitors from all over the world.
However, the Kayan people still faced some problems, they were unable to get Thai citizenship which could effect their education and ability to travel freely.
The media began publishing inflammatory articles claiming that Huay Pu Keng was nothing but a human zoo and insinuating that the Kayan people were forced to live there for the sake of tourism.
This led to many tourists boycotting the villages and encouraging others not to visit, without understanding the true extent of the issue or ever speaking to Kayan people.
Consequently, the Kayan people’s main source of income drastically decreased, leaving these refugees in a worse situation.
As Mu Tae explains, the people of Huay Pu Keng would like people to come and visit them.
But not only do they want tourists to visit, but they want to share their Kayan culture with visitors in a meaningful way; a cross-cultural exchange with a sincere experience of life in Huay Pu Keng.
It’s important to not objectify these people, especially the women who wear the neck rings, but simply ignoring them is not the answer to this.
In this ‘ethical boycott’ nobody wins.