Look at All The Weird People!!

Longneck Padong Girl

no, i dont mean her..

Big Ear Woman and a Scarf

no i dont mean her either. pull back a bit…

Poking the Big Ear Lady

Yes! I mean those weird people: All the tourists poking and prodding at the poor lady with the big rings in her ears, shoving cameras in her face, and making her life nothing more than a big tourist attraction. I didnt get any better pictures of this annoying tourist behavior, because unlike the big-ear lady, tourists dont just stand there patiently for you to photograph them.

So yeah, my next stop was Chiang Mai, which is known as the place in Thailand to go see traditional village life, and visit some of the colorful ethnic minorities scattered throughout the northern mountains. I’m not really a big fan of ethnotourism—I think these tours of “traditional” villages are often exploitative and demeaning, and only serve to encourage people to accentuate their outlandishness by dressing their kids up in bright costumes and teaching them to beg and sell trinkets. These tourist villages are never really authentic… I much prefer to go to a random towns and see how people actually live, how people are affected by encroaching modernity, or are embracing it.

On the other hand, these tourist villages do allow these tribes to maintain some of their traditional practices and not be totally assimilated into thai society. A lot of the tribes came to Thailand to escape persecution in china or myanmar, and they are generally left alone in Thailand as long as they provide a nice tourist attraction. So faced with a choice between an oppressive government bent on destroying their unique culture, and being a walking photo op for western tourists, I can see why the tribes opt for the tourist villages. So I have mixed feelings, but they make me a bit uncomfortable.

But anyway, I had a couple days in Chiang Mai, so I figured I’d do a tour despite my misgivings. A lot of people do hikes between the villages, but I didnt want to spend multiple days doing it so I just took a day trip. I bet the hikes would be much nicer since the scenery in the area is gorgeous.

Longneck Karen Village

My tour was okay, if a bit cheesy and packaged. We went to five hilltribe villages, including the long-necked ladies (padong, I think), and the big-eared ladies (my guide just called them the “big ears tribe”). All the other tribes seemed kinda similar… you’d think they’d try to compete for the tourists by elongating some other parts of their body… lips or noses or something.

I tried to tell one of the Big-Ear ladies that she’d be considered very hip in San Francisco—ear extenders are a big thing these days—but she didnt really get it. She was more interested in selling me scarves.

The villages were very picturesque and pastoral with some random touches of modernity that belie how the whole thing is just a big tourist show, like satellite TV:

Thailand Hilltribe House

We also went to some other places like a cave, and an orchid farm:

Taylor at a Thai Orchid Farm

and a place that makes paper from elephant dung:

Playing with Elephant Poop

(guess what everybody’s getting for Christmas!)

So it was an alright tour I guess, all in all. And for now I got my fix of being an annoying tourist and exploiting minority peoples:

Taylor Feeling Like an Exploitative Ass

Chiang Mai

The city of Chiang Mai itself was very nice. Small-feeling even though its a pretty big city. Very pleasant and relaxed. I think it was definitely my favorite city in Thailand so far. There are a ton of cool old Wats:

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

outside of one of them I bought a cage of little tiny birdies from these ladies:

Ladies Selling Me Birds

and then set them free for good luck:

Releasing the Birds!

That’s what I look like when I’m nervous that I’m about to get a facefull of bird.

The food in Chiang Mai was also excellent.. Northern Thai food is generally made with chili and is HOT. Really really hot. I like hot foods, but this took a while to get through (and a couple big beers):

Northern Thai Meal

That’s green chili, a chicken curry soup thingie, some fried pork things and the cone on the left is filled with rice. It was very good. Yum.

So in summary: thumbs up for Chiang Mai, and mixed reviews for my hilltribe tour.

See all my chiang mai photos below:

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  1. Mom
    Oct 31st, 2007at9:06 pm

    So you have learned from Jessica to love the food.! Buy some scarves from the locals if they are pretty.

  2. Nov 1st, 2007at5:46 am

    Maaaaaaybe I bought some scarves. Though I’m not very good at knowing which are the pretty ones.
    Or even judging which are made of silk and which are elephant poop.

  3. Nov 2nd, 2007at10:01 am

    My second-favorite character in your blog is your beard. It makes me think about how the necklace lady was probably like, “Haha, check out this guy’s beard, right? Can I get a copy of that picture on my incongruously modern computer?”

    Also, in the orchid picture, the beard makes it look ominous and Lynchian, like that episode of Twin Peaks where that agoraphobic guy who used to know Laura Palmer raises orchids and creeps around and generally acts creepy. I think the effect is partly from beard, partly from hothouse coloring.

    Also, “facefull of bird” would be all the more complicated with a beard. Also also, I typoed “facefull of beard.”

    That’s all the beard-related comments I have at the moment, but keep those sweet beard-shots comin’!


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