The Karen Hill Tribe in Northern Thailand
The Karen Hill Tribe is also known to Northern Thai people as the Bwa G’Naw or the Kariang or Yang tribes. It is among the largest of the hill tribes in all of Southeast Asia. Historically, the Karen lived in the hills bordering Thailand on the Myanmar side.
The population is not known currently because no census has been carried out in almost 100 years. The tribe spreads itself throughout parts of Myanmar, and the Karen tribe in Thailand is about half the total hill population in the entire country.
The Karen tribe is notable for its women with long, elegant necks. They also wear brass rings around the neck, forearms and shins of the body. The women are known for carving wood to weaving and making silver jewellery.
Men in the tribe are often field workers or farmers. They still practice the “slash and burn” farming that other hill tribes practice in heavily forested areas. The difference with them is that they live in low-elevated villages which are constructed permanently. They are also known for creating sustainable terraced rice farms which are thought of by most Thai people as being environmentally advanced.
Very often, these tribal people are still treated like outsiders despite their traditional Thai cultural practices and attention to environmental responsibilities. They are sometimes thought of as criminals because many of them happen to live in protected forest areas.
The Karen people also makes itself home in the poorest province of the Northern Thailand region. There is a trust called the Karen Hilltribes Trust which looks after the people there and fosters a vision that helps them become ever more sustainable in the lands that they live on and off of. People are welcome to make donations or to volunteer to help this tribe preserve its way of life and its quality of living.
It is perfectly fine to visit the Karen hill tribe villages. However, the best way to see them is while on an organised tour. Some people travel to Thailand thinking that it is disrespectful to visit the Karen tribe, but the reality is that visitors are welcome in many villages.