Thailand: Longneck Women

The longneck women of the Kayan tribe mostly live in the neighboring Myanmar but about 600 of them have moved in the 1980s to the northern Thailand to escape the military regime. The women are famous for wearing massive brass coils or rings on their necks. The rings the put on little girls at the age of five and additional are added with age. They are quite heavy and almost never removed, eventually they deform the collar bone and compress the rib cage resulting in lowered shoulders thus making the neck appear longer. The neck muscles become atrophied and women do need the rings in place to support their heads (with age the coils become almost an integral part of the body). The reasons for the rings are not clear – most theories suggest it’s an element of beauty (more feminine neck), while other explanations include protection from tiger bites or resembling the culturally important dragons. The Kayan tribe villages in Thailand rely on tourist revenue and are actually self-sufficient economically (unlike other Burmese refugees), and the girls and women happily welcome tourists, showing off their weaving skills, selling hand made souvenirs, and posing for pics. Almost all spoke very good English, and one even spoke Spanish and Russian.