Photo: Some have lived here for generations.

Huay Sua Tao and visiting the Kayan people

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The nearby Kayan village of Huay Sua Tao is a popular highlight on many peoples’ Mae Hong Son itineraries so we’ll try and kill two birds with one stone here and describe a visit to this easily accessible village with a broader commentary on both the ethnic group and our take on the ethics of visiting their villages.

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The people of the Kayan ethnic group come under many names: most frequently and crudely, “Long-Neck Karen” by local Thais and visitors who don’t know any better; “Femmes Giraffes”, by the ever tactful French and just “Long-Necks” in certain tourist blurb. They are actually a sub-group of the Red Karen or Karenni ethnic group and originate from Burma’s Kayah State just across the border from Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, where they are also known as the Padaung. The Karenni National Progressive Party, (KNPP) along with its military wing the Karenni Army, has struggled against the Burmese government (and army) for self-determination since 1957. Although a tentative peace agreement was concluded with the government in 2012, those 55 years of armed struggle have created a huge refugee problem.

A Kayan woman poses for a photo. Photo taken in or around Huay Sua Tao and visiting the Kayan people, Mae Hong Son, Thailand by Mark Ord.

A Kayan woman poses for a photo. Photo: Mark Ord

Red Karen now inhabit wide swathes of hills across Mae Hong Son, into western and northern Chiang Mai and even parts of Lamphun and Lampang provinces. Some have been living in these regions for generations, while others are recent arrivals from the strife. The Kayan sub-group were parcel to these events and many also found themselves as refugees in Thailand.

Thai authorities in former times at best tolerated them and at worst sent them back over the border. The kingdom already had a large indigenous Karen population and huge Karen refugee camps further south in Mae Sot and Umphang districts, where the Karen National Union, representing a different branch of the Karen family, has also struggled for autonomy from the Burmese since as far ... Travelfish members only (Around 800 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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How to get there
For Sua Tao
Take the road south out of town towards the Pai River but instead of turning left to the boat jetty continue to the bridge. Continue on this lane for 12 kilometres or so and you’ll find the village.

For Huay Phu Keng
Boats leave from Tha Huay Dua costing around 600 baht for the return trip plus waiting time.

Huay Sua Tao and visiting the Kayan people
North and south of Mae Hong Son town
Mo–Su: 08:00–17:00
Admission: 250 baht

Location map for Huay Sua Tao and visiting the Kayan people

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Mae Hong Son.
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