They seem to be a fixture of every package tour or day trip when you visit Thailand. Among the most 'popular " of the hill tribes are the LISU , commonly referred to as the tribe of " Longnecked " women. Several villages of these people, part of the Karen refugees from Burma, are found in Northern Thailand, especially around Mae Hong Son. These tribe lives in extreme humble means mostly wooden huts with grass rooftops. They are fascinating people, friendly and always smiling. I do not know if these smiles were faux but I do know it was the highlight of my Thailand experience.
The women of the Lisu tribe wear brass coils around their neck. Their necks are no different from yours or mine even though it appears to be longer. Contrary to what was once believed, the coils do not stretch out the necks, but rather they push the shouders and rib cage downward. These coils are put on their necks at a very young age. If removed their neck muscles are so weak they are unable to lift their own heads. Girls start wearing small coils around the age of six, and the size is increased as they grow older. The coils on the adults typically weigh about 5 kilos ( or roughly 11 pounds ).
Whether or not you decide to visit these people is up to you. On one hand, tourism is one of the few ways that these people can earn a living. As refugees, they are not allowed to seek regular work in Thailand. Most of these women seem to be proud of their heritage and feel no embarrassment about showing it off for the tourists.
Their traditional dress is the most colorful when compared to other tribes. Their clothes are handmade and hand woven. The women wear brightly colored costumes, consisting of blue or green parti - colored knee lenght tunic with a wide black belt and blue or green pants. Sleeves , shoulder and cuffs are heavily embroidered with narrow horizontal bands of blue and red . They also wear large amounts of hand-crafted silver ornaments.
The entrance fee to the hill tribe is 500 Baht. Then you have to hike up the hill to where the LISU women live. Inside the village the people have shops and sell different items like soap, crafts, postcards etc. and their main source of income is weaving scarves.
I must admit I felt like I was strolling onto a page of National Geographic magazine. When in the presence of the people they spoke of longing to go back to their homeland and here they are 14 years later still without citizenship or a place to call their own.