My father was a big traveller. His travels were limited to maps and books. I don’t remember very much of where he would like to go and what to see. Probably the answer would have been anything – just to explore. What I do remember are the pictures on the covers of his travel books. One had a picture of a “Long Neck” tribe. I remember my shock and his explanation about it.
When we were in Thailand in Chang Mai I suddenly saw advertisements for trips to see Longneck tribes. I immediately did some research and discovered that it’s currently more of a spectator show than a real thing.
Did I really want to go and see a commercialised village where Karen ladies are dressed to sell overpriced souvenirs or not? But nostalgia for the romance of my childhood armchair travel haunted me.
When we were in Pai, we decided to hike to Mae Yen waterfalls. It was uncomfortable for the girls especially to walk through the high jungle grass. So after some time, we gave up our ambition to get to the top, and started on the way back. We weren’t alone. I was proud of my little explorers who had made it farther than several others much older than them.
On the way back we were invited to visit a kind of a commune. It was a place where people were arriving for a day and would stay a month or longer. Everyone slept in hammocks. People were cooking food together and my girls immediately started their favourite pastime of trying to catch some lizards. It all looked at felt like a throwback to sixties culture, other than mobile phones and fancy cameras. We spent an hour or more there, sitting, chatting and just enjoying the place. It was one of the few moments when if someone was asking me a question about me, it felt as if they really wanted to know the answer. And I found myself wondering whether my girls might join such a commune one day to find themselves or, like me, will they find themselves first on the pressure-to-achieve treadmill.
Long Neck Tribe
From there we went back and on the way, I saw a small signpost to the Long Neck tribal village. I went there. There was a nominal fee (just for me) to enter the village (i think 100 baths).
There were only three houses. All with a display of local crafts (I hope they were local and not from China) A few young girls with rings on their necks were feeding chickens and when they saw us they ran back to their houses. My girls went to play with some chickens – totally unmoved by “long necks” – we had had a discussion a week before about the culture of putting rings on necks. And I was staring mesmerised at the scene straight out of the books I remembered from my childhood.
In time Tania and Zoe lost their interest in the chickens and happily sat and played with the longneck girls, who were perhaps ten years older than them.
During our whole visit to that village, we were the only foreigners in there, so it didn’t feel commercialized at all. There was a new building with a hostel sign, so maybe next time when you will be there you could stay. I would.
When we left I was close to tears. Happy nostalgic tears from thirty-year-old memories of browsing through my father’s books. Then everything that I saw in them was on the other side of the world – as unattainable as if it had been a storybook. And now I was here, I saw it and it made me so happy.