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The Long-Neck Women of Thailand Live in a Zoo

I love finding compelling stories when I'm least expecting them — it almost seems like the tale is twice as striking given the company it keeps. Marie Claire has really oomphed up their international coverage lately, and I came across this story of the long-neck women of the Kayan tribe in Thailand.

The piece follows one woman named Zember who's removed her neck coil in protest of "Thailand’s shameful secret: that the long-neck women are Burmese refugees who are being prevented by Thai authorities from taking up asylum overseas. As a lucrative tourist attraction, the women are forced to live in a virtual human zoo."

The 500 or so Kayan women fled the brutal military regime in neighboring Burma 20 years ago to live in Thailand and have been confined in three guarded villages on the northern Thai border ever since. About 40,000 tourists every year pay about $8 each to stare at the women’s distinctive giraffe-like appearance. They're paid a meager salary of 1500 baht ($45) a month selling souvenirs and postcards.


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Zember sums up the harsh reality saying:

Some people of my mother’s generation say they are too old [to leave] now, but no one is happy. We have no freedom and life is very hard. . . The [Western] girls look so free and sexy, and their eyes shine. I stare at them and feel even more determined to fight to get out of here.

The whole piece has more pictures of the women and a place to send letters to the Thai Embassy and the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency. Are you surprised to learn something that seems cultural is really government oppression?

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luckykarma luckykarma 7 years
I read this article in Marie Claire. I wish that there was something I could do, it broke my heart reading the article. The woman in the article said that it does indeed push the collarbone down, it doesn't stretch their necks and it is uncomfortable for them to sleep, it never comes off. She had her sister take it off and just wants to leave but the president of the country won't let them saying that it will hurt their economy. Which I think is ridiculous, considering that other countries are willing to take them.
harmonyfrance harmonyfrance 7 years
My heart breaks looking at that beautiful little girl blowing bubbles.
PinkNC PinkNC 7 years
This whole thing is terrible. And that photo of that tourist taking a picture of that innocent woman ticks me off. She is not a statue...she is a human being in a bad situation that the tourist is not going to do any about either.
vanitypot vanitypot 7 years
I come from the Philippines and we also have our own cultural-government-oppression issues in the northern part of the country. I hope Asian (and other) governments wouldn't get too hyped up about their country's tourism, to the point of compensating the country's well-preserved culture and the protection of the locals. :(
lickety-split lickety-split 7 years
seems like this is somthing that a network like sugar publishing could take on to raise awareness on. how discusting to display people as circus freaks and keep them as prisioners. i am surprised, but feel like i shouldn't be.
lickety-split lickety-split 7 years
seems like this is somthing that a network like sugar publishing could take on to raise awareness on. how discusting to display people as circus freaks and keep them as prisioners.i am surprised, but feel like i shouldn't be.
bluesuze bluesuze 7 years
How sad. These women are treated like animals (or worse). Kudos to Marie Clare.
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 7 years
This type of slavery goes on all over the globe. But the USofA doesn't even learn about it for years and sometimes not for centuries. The Aztecs, Mayas, and other extinct cultures had their own cultural secrets that archeologists are even now discovering. What's unique to this situation is that it's occurring in the 21st Century. But stop and remember that we're fighting a war in an area of tribal chiefs who haven't evolved to the point of understanding that "democracy" is an option. Here these women are realizing that if one of them publicizes what has happened to them maybe they'll get help. But it may not turn out that way, were it not for television and the media. Without television, no one would know and the women could just be . . . killed off and the situation made to go away. And that type of resolution of problems is extremely evident today, both in the USofA and across the globe. Having trouble with classmates, kill them. Having trouble with the driver of the car in front of you, kill 'em. Significant other/wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend not doing as told, kill 'em. Other gang members in your way, kill 'em. Other tribe wanting access to benefits of your tribe, kill 'em. And on and on it goes. Not happy? Kill someone and that should make you happy. WHAT KIND OF LOGIC AND REASON IS THAT??? It's not. Logic and reason do not culminate in violence. Logic and reason culminate in peace. Logic and reason would have these Burmese women as refugees not as slaves. Public pressure can help. So can prayer.
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 7 years
This type of slavery goes on all over the globe. But the USofA doesn't even learn about it for years and sometimes not for centuries. The Aztecs, Mayas, and other extinct cultures had their own cultural secrets that archeologists are even now discovering. What's unique to this situation is that it's occurring in the 21st Century. But stop and remember that we're fighting a war in an area of tribal chiefs who haven't evolved to the point of understanding that "democracy" is an option. Here these women are realizing that if one of them publicizes what has happened to them maybe they'll get help. But it may not turn out that way, were it not for television and the media. Without television, no one would know and the women could just be . . . killed off and the situation made to go away.And that type of resolution of problems is extremely evident today, both in the USofA and across the globe. Having trouble with classmates, kill them. Having trouble with the driver of the car in front of you, kill 'em. Significant other/wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend not doing as told, kill 'em. Other gang members in your way, kill 'em. Other tribe wanting access to benefits of your tribe, kill 'em. And on and on it goes. Not happy? Kill someone and that should make you happy. WHAT KIND OF LOGIC AND REASON IS THAT???It's not. Logic and reason do not culminate in violence. Logic and reason culminate in peace. Logic and reason would have these Burmese women as refugees not as slaves. Public pressure can help. So can prayer.
brittanyk brittanyk 7 years
I feel bad for these women, especially the little girl on the main picture. It's heartbreaking that they're forced to do this, mainly for money, now.
kia kia 7 years
I am not surprised about a government oppressing people like this. I had not heard about this particular case though. Go Marie Claire, I had no idea they were reporting about situations like this.
bailaoragaditana bailaoragaditana 7 years
To be honest... their necks only look distinctive because of the coils. I have enough issues with animal zoos... nevermind the human variety! This is really sad...
hotstuff hotstuff 7 years
I'm not surprised! Didn't the article also state how their necks aren't even long it's just an illusion! So sad. I hope they are freed.
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