The Long Neck Girl and the Tiger

I spent last week in total solitude, except for the rare visit from the tiny old man who takes care of my dogs when we’re not there. There’s a big difference in being lonely and being alone.

I have a small place where I go to finish a manuscript or prepare a book for publishing. It’s by itself and surrounded by rice fields, cows and beautiful birds of every size and description. I often walk with the dogs during the day to take a break from writing and editing and I always have my bamboo walking stick to chase away other dogs, snakes and giant lizards. Through the growing season rice changes to every color of green until it turns golden when ripe. It’s very pleasing to the eyes. As I walk my mind wanders to the wonders that surround me.

My wife, daughter and I went to the far north in Thailand on one of the visits my daughter makes to see us. I had told her about the Long Neck women from the hilltribes and she wanted to meet them.

Northern Thailand is mountainous and covered in massive Teak trees and fields of beauty. On one of our stops there were sunflowers that are grown for seeds and oil. It was true beauty to see rai (a rai is about 2 acres) after rai of giant flowering sunbeams.

We stopped in Chaing Mai, a large city along the Ping River, nestled in a valley bordered by giant mountains. Chaing Mai is a beautiful city and well worth the visit.

The next day we took to the mountains and went through 1864 curves to Mea Hong Son. I know that’s how many curves there are because I have a tee shirt to prove it. Each winding turn along the way was filled with birds, trees, rivers flowing through valleys and steep mountains. It’s also dangerous because Thai still drive crazy no matter the terrain. I spent over six hour on the edge of my seat trying to avoid making us all hood ornaments so by the time we arrive in the sleepy town I was exhausted. I recharged quickly as I looked around. We were completely surrounded by lush green mountains and the people were so friendly. In Mea Hong Son we slept in small bungalows to the quite sounds of the mountains.

I love north Thailand. They speak a different dialect but also speak traditional Thai with an accent. These were my kind of people. Their slow drawl was easy for me to understand and they overlooked my tonal mistakes. I love them.

It was so cold at night, me and all the Thai’s were bundled up with whatever we could find. My daughter looked at me like I was crazy. It was 58 degrees—something I never thought possible in Thailand.

I got direction to a Karen hilltribe village—not one that all the tourist go to but a ‘real’ village. For once the directions were quite good and we arrived far back in the mountains at a quaint village. There were tourists there but not in great numbers so we walked the few narrow streets and visited with the people selling their wares. I had seen a few pictures of the Long Neck women and thought there would be a couple on display and everyone else would be ‘normal’. I was wrong. Now not every woman had those brass rings but many did. Me being me- I jumped right in to talk to them. Julee hung back in case spears started flying or in the case of the Karen, crossbow bolts, but everyone was so nice. I talked to one young girl who spoke English, German, French, Thai and of course Karen. She and other women had traveled all over Europe for cultural events.

I spoke Thai because I just couldn’t get over so many people understanding me. She had a child of about 6 months who was a delight. She let me look at her neck thingy and even brought one out for me to hold. To my surprise it was a solid piece of brass that hinged in the back and very heavy. She showed different lengths which were changed out to increase the length of one’s neck.

I was shocked to find out that after increasing the length so much the older women couldn’t take theirs off because their necks wouldn’t support their head.

The young lady had a cloth stuffed inside the fixture because of the cold. I ask why they wore them. She said it was a sign of beauty, part of their culture and for the tourist money from taking pictures and buying trinkets. I had read that originally these brass pieces had been used to protect the young girls and women from tigers. Tigers go for the neck when they attack prey. She said it was true but there hadn’t been any tigers around for a long, long time. I must say this young woman and others I met that day were some very delightful people.

If ever you get a chance to visit Thailand and go to the north you really should make the trip to Mea Hong Son. You could spent a long time in north Thailand and not see all it has to offer, but the people are the true wonders there.

I hope you enjoyed this little encounter with some of the reasons I am a writer in Thailand. I will write more of my visits to the north.