Doi Pui Hmong Village, On Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Doi Pui Hmong Village, On Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai, Thailand

After the long neck Karen tribe, the Hmong (also known as ‘Meo’) are the most numerous of the hill tribes in Northern Thailand.
There are roughly 60,000 Hmong people residing in 246 settlements around Thailand.
The Hmong people also live in Vietnam and in Laos.

In Chiang Mai, the Hmong tribe live high on Doi Suthep mountain, in a small village that spreads out over the steep slopes of the mountain.
They cultivate lush terraces with flowering gardens, and a big waterfall provides them with fresh drinking water.

The women of the tribe look prettier than the flowers they grow.
They wear colorful dresses that they weave in intricate designs with beautiful tribal patterns, and wear beautiful matching hats.
They adorn themselves with handmade silver jewelry that constitutes their entire wealth.

In the summertime when it is too hot to wear a hat, the women sweep their hair up into a big bun, and wear a black-and-white checkered cloth band at the hairline.

There are three types of Hmong tribes in Thailand:
The White Hmong, the Gua M’ba Hmong (literally, Armband Hmong, a subgroup of the White Hmong), and the Blue Hmong (also known as the Black Meo, Flowery Meo or Striped Meo.)

We visited a Blue Hmong village.
The Blue Hmong are renowned for their decorative indigo Batik textiles that are often adorned with patchwork, cross-stitching and applique.

The Hmong tend to live at higher altitudes.
Of all the tribes, the Hmong were the most heavily engaged in opium growing, but since this was outlawed in 1958, they mainly grow rice, corn and other crops now.

The hemp plant grew abundantly in these hills, and over the years, they learnt how to make fabric from the plant.
Most of their traditional clothes are made from hemp. They decorate the hemp using batik methods and embroidery, a skill that requires time and a steady hand, and the Hmong are highly skilled and famous for it.

The Blue Hmong women wear pleated skirts made of dyed hemp with blue and white batik patterns.
The women’s jackets are made of black cloth decorated with elaborate embroidery.

The men wear hemp clothes dyed black, with colorful embroidery on the jackets and at the bottom of the pants.
The men’s pants are made in a Chinese style with very wide legs, that from a distance look like long skirts.

To get to the village, we took an open back red truck taxi from Wat Doi Suthep temple.
It took only fifteen minutes, but we could feel how much colder it was getting as we climbed the narrow mountain road.
We left Chiang Mai wearing only t-shirts, and both of us were shivering when we got dropped at the Hmong village.

As we made our way up the market street, we looked keenly for something warm to wear.
We settled on two beautiful silk scarves, which although not made in the village, provided us with enough warmth.

Above the market, we could see the simple houses and the fact that the recent rainy season had created some mudslides.
The Hmong houses are built directly on the ground, compared to other hill tribes such as the Karen, whose houses are built on stilts.

Traditionally, the Hmong believed in household spirits and that good and evil spirits have the power to interfere and influence their lives.
In every village there is still a Shaman to exorcise evil spirits and to treat sick people.
Today, many of the Hmong have converted to Buddhism or Christianity, but they still practice their old traditions as well.

The Hmong village in Chiang Mai, known as ‘Doi Pui,’ is visited by many tourists who come to worship at the Wat Doi Suthep temple
As a result, the village is quite touristy and there’s little to see in the way of real village life.

Although the village mostly consists of souvenir stalls on the main street, and places to dress up in traditional clothing and take photos in the flower gardens, we must not forget that tourism is an important source of income for the villagers, and that coming to visit the village and buying souvenirs from them, ensures their financial security.

At the top of the village there is a small one room museum made of wood, that shows a few artifacts and information about the different hill tribe groups.
The beautiful manicured flower garden is a delight to walk through.

A man carrying a box which he claimed was “Black market semi precious stones and diamonds,” came over to sell us his treasure.
When we expressed our doubts that the stones were real, he took a piece of glass and cut it with a green stone that he claimed was a real Sapphire.
Then he took out a lighter and burnt the stone to show us that it would not melt.
Many well-made synthetic diamonds seem authentic and can pass a scratch test, so we thanked him and walked away.

A few days ago, we visited the Hmong textile market, located in Warrorot market in Chiang Mai.
After eating a lovely lunch in a small Italian restaurant with a chef that made every pasta dough to order, we walked around the Hmong market.
The market has beautiful Hmong textiles, and many other ethnic fabrics done in both new and traditional patterns.

They sell everything from rolls of Hmong batik, hand-stitched quilts, wall hangings and bags, to clothing and accessories.
Many of these fabrics are produced by Hmong women in Thailand, and some were obviously machine made, imported from China.
If you are a textile lover like myself, you will have a fabulous day walking through this market.

Many years ago when I started my career as an artist, I was looking for subjects to paint to practice my skills and techniques.
From a National Geographic magazine, I cut out a photo of the long neck women and spent many hours in my studio, painting these tribal women in oils.

Naturally, I was delighted to learn more about this tribe.
Below is a description of the hill tribes that I saw at the small museum in the Hmong village:

“The Padaung are the well-known hill tribe of the people with long necks. Also called the giraffe-necked women, they are a sub-group of the Karen tribe, living in the Kayah state of Eastern Burma bordering Northern Thailand.

Their population numbered about 30,000 in 1978.
They call themselves “Lae Kur” or “Kayan”.
Their language, called Kenmic, originated in the Tibeto-Burman language family.

In Thailand, only a few Padaung families have settled temporarily as refugees, in the Muang District of Mae Hong Son Province.

The greatest attraction of Padaung culture is the extraodinary jewellery still worn by most of the women.
They usually wear a row of brass rings that do not actually stretch their necks, but in fact squash down their vertebrae and collarbones.

It is said that a woman generally has about twenty or more rings around her neck.
In addition, over the collar they wear beads and necklaces made of silver chains and coins.

According to their traditions, a special ceremony is performed for a girl at age five, when she puts on the first five rings and again at age ten, when she adds five more rings. The other rings are added in later years.

They wear the rings not only for decoration and beauty, but also because of their beliefs.
Padaung myth states that a long time ago, the spirits were angered with the people and sent a plague of tigers to eat the women.

For fear of the women being eaten by the tigers, the ancestors suggested that all of them wear the brass rings to protect their dainty necks.

The Padaung cultivate both dry rice and wet rice.
Wet rice is grown in rice paddies which are full of water, while dry rice is grown in the soil, like barley and wheat.

Rice is their main crop, and they grow it using both slash-and-burn cultivation and buffalo ploughing.
Most of the Padaung are animists, but about ten percent of them are Buddhists.

In recent years, the number of Christians has increased, because Roman Catholic missionaries have been living in the area for more than a hundred years.

An annual festival for fertility and prosperity is usually held at the beginning of the rainy season.
Sacrifices are made to please the spirits and ask for good health and a bountiful harvest.

Intensive research took place to discover the health effects of wearing many brass rings that seemed to elongate the women’s necks.

Examples of X-ray photos were taken from women age 43 who had worn the brass rings for 38 years.

The photos were examined by orthopedic surgeons in Belgium.
The conclusion was that the vertebrae of the neck were not actually lengthened, which would have caused paralysis.
Instead, the neck looks longer than usual because the ribs were pushed down and the muscles were pushed in, creating the appearance of a long neck.

When a long neck woman removes her spirals, the muscles slowly move back to their usual positions and the length of the neck disappears after a while.”

We returned from the village, back to Wat Doi Suthep.
It was nearly sunset and all the private and shared open truck taxis were gone.
We had to wait until a few other tourists finished their walks in the village, and then we all took the shared taxi back to the temple.
At the temple we switched to another shared taxi that took us back to Chiang Mai.

From Doi Suthep with love,

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