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This Week In Travel Podcast & Thai Hilltribe Treks

Visiting a Karen Tribe in northern Thailand

Visiting a Karen Tribe in northern Thailand

Last weekend, I read “A Village, Or A Zoo” in the Washington Post travel section's cover story about the author's experience trekking through the hills of northern Thailand, visiting various ethnic tribes. 

The main draw was the same as it was for me and just about every other backpacker visiting Chiang Mai – the Karen Tribe who use metal rings to push their collarbones down and give the impression of extended necks. 

Such exotic cultural norms seemed right out of the pages of National Geographic, but easier to access – less than $100!

When Gary, Elliot, Jen, and Chris brought the article up for discussion in the third installment from This Week In Travel (at the 30-minute mark), I again took an interest and thought I'd relay my personal experience.

I'd heard backpacker's mention hill tribe treks in northern Thailand almost as much as the Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan, so I made it a point to go on one myself. 

Every other shop in Chiang Mai was offering them, so arranging it was easy.

Upon my group's arrival in the Karen village where we would spend our first night, there was little excitement or interest shown by the Burmese people. 

They continued to go about their normal business creating handicrafts, with the younger women posing for a few photos.  It was thoroughly anticlimactic. 

I don't know what I expected, but it felt hackneyed.

I wrote a 3-part series on my experience trekking in northern Thailand where you can get a feel for the typical adventure, complete with elephant rides, campfire games, and whitewater rafting. 

It is one of the few activities on my trip around the world which I would *not* recommend. 

Instead, at a slightly greater cost, I believe a similar trek in less developed northern Laos would've been more interesting.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Wednesday 23rd of March 2011

It would be interesting to visit the Hmong in Laos who have been systematically abused and under-represented for decades, as well.


Monday 7th of September 2009

Hi Monica, I didn't hold the rings, but they were definitely real. Thanks for stopping by!


Monday 7th of September 2009

Hi Chris - thanks for stopping by!

I was probably a bit harsh on the Thai trek. There were plenty of other travelers that I met who were happy with the experience, though I think it lends itself more to the first time backpacker crowd (for which SE Asia is destination #1).


Monday 7th of September 2009

interesting to hear your personal experiences of a story we mentioned


Tuesday 1st of September 2009

I recently watched a documentary about Burmese people in Thailand. I thought I'd love to go there one day but wonder how possible it'd be for a mom traveling with her son.

I'm not really interested in long hikes by now, maybe after 10 years when my son is a teenager.

Nice picture. The metal rings must be very heavy, right?

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