Padong or Long Necks Karen.
The Padong, also known as the Long Necks Karen, exhibit physiological traits stemming from Southern Mongoloids. However, their distinctive culture and social characteristics distinguish them as a subgroup of the Karen people. Residing in a plateau region with slopes descending towards the Salween River in Myanmar’s Kayah state, near the Thai border, their population totals approximately 30,000 individuals. The Padong people lead tranquil lives focused on hard work, mirroring the lifestyle of the Karen in Thailand. Their primary occupation involves cultivating rice in stepped rice fields and rotational rice fields. Additionally, they cultivate crops like cotton, tobacco, vegetables, and fruits. Padong houses typically comprise teak wood and bamboo structures with elephant grass roofs, elevated from the ground with access provided by ladders. Interiors are equipped with essentials such as stoves, mattresses, cooking utensils, and valuable possessions, while pets are often kept beneath the house. While most Padong adhere to Catholicism, a portion still incorporates elements of Buddhism, ghosts, and ancestral spirits into their beliefs.
A distinctive and notable Padong tradition involves adorning a single, coiled brass ring around the neck, a practice commencing during ages 5–9. Originally, only Padong women born on Wednesdays and full moon days wore these rings, and exclusivity to the Padong tribe was essential. However, the tradition later extended to all Padong women, regardless of their birth day. Over time, brass replaced gold in the crafting of these rings. The rings, solid and two centimetres in diameter, are bent skillfully around the neck, akin to coiling a spring. Prior to wearing, the brass is soaked in lemonade to soften it. Wearing these rings holds multiple meanings. Apart from showcasing beauty, class status, and position, they also emphasize the importance of marriage within the tribe. The Padong women’s distinct attire sets them apart from other hill tribes in Myanmar. Different tribes adopt unique dress codes, and some even tattoo their bodies to prevent attraction from outsiders. Two ancient stories offer explanations for the practice of wearing rings: one recounts using rings to protect Padong women from a threatening tiger, while the other attributes the practice to their lineage from a dragon and a swan, aiming to maintain a dignified and elegant appearance suited for their mythical ancestry.
The Padong in Mae Hong Son, Thailand
The Padong people, who settled in Mae Hong Son, Thailand, were displaced by war and arrived in the region between the years 1895 and 1896. They established their villages near the Thai-Myanmar border in Pha Bong Subdistrict, Mueang Mae Hong Son District, specifically Huai Pu Kaeng Village and Huai Suea Thao Village. These villages preserve their unique way of life, traditions, and culture as a means to attract tourists and generate their primary source of income.
To reach Huai Pu Kaeng Village, tourists have two options:
By Car: Begin in Mae Hong Son town, drive along Highway No. 108 for approximately 10 kilometers, then turn onto Highway No. 3018 and continue for about 20 kilometers until reaching Huai Pu Kaeng Village. The village is situated on the opposite side of the Pai River, requiring a boat crossing. Villagers provide a ferry service for tourists. From Huai Pu Kaeng Village, visitors can drive along Highway No. 3018 to visit the Thai-Myanmar border at Ban Nam Pieng Din Village.
By Long-Tail Boat: Start from Mae Hong Son town, drive along Highway No. 108, then turn onto Highways 128, 1250, and Rural Highway No. 4025 until reaching Huai Dua Village, where a jetty is located. Tourists embark on a 30-minute cruise along the Pai River to reach Huai Pu Kaeng Village. Similar to the car route, visitors can also take a boat from Huai Pu Kaeng Village to reach the Thai-Myanmar border at Nam Pieng Din Village.
For a trip to Huai Suea Tao Village, follow these steps:
Start from Mae Hong Son town, drive along Highway No. 108, then turn onto Highways 128, 1250, and Rural Highway No. 4012. The road will lead through the forest and across a small stream to eventually arrive at Huai Suea Tao Village. The total distance is approximately 20 kilometers, and the journey takes about 30 minutes. These routes offer tourists the opportunity to experience the unique culture and way of life of the Padong people, making their visit both informative and memorable.