How you view Baan Tong Luang is a personal experience it seems. Some people love it, others hate it. I definitely recommend reading a few reviews.
We went after a lot of careful consideration and decided it was something we wanted to experience for ourselves.
So what is Baan Tong Luang?
It’s a fabricated village which is home to seven different tribes that can be found in the surrounding Northern hills of Thailand.
Some refer to it as a human zoo.
That phrase really put me off.
But I did my research, and I encourage you to do the same if it’s somewhere you’re considering.
Perhaps with some knowledge before going you’ll have a greater understanding as to what you’re walking into. Or on the other hand you might feel it’s not for you at all.
One thing you must understand is that the hill tribes in Thailand are not considered Thai nationals.
Most of them migrated from the borders that surround Thailand, such as Burma and Tibet.
Even those that are born in Thailand find it hard to be considered nationals.
By not being considered Thai they aren’t allowed access to hospital care, education, police protection and they aren’t allowed to own any land. Which means they can’t ever own their own property.
Citizenship isn’t impossible though. Especially for the younger generations, and there are establishments that relentlessly fight for them and deal with the complex application process for sole individuals.
But as expected city life changes the cultural foundations of the generations moving up, so many of the hill tribes are starting to lose their identity.
Baan Tong Luang is a project that offers the tribes a way in which they can earn money and have a place to live that is supported by the Thai government. They won’t be forced off the land and they’re able to maintain their lifestyles, while having access to education for their children as part of the foundation the village provides. Those that excel in their studies are sponsored into further education.
The money they earn provides them with medical care, money to support their families and the chance to buy homes back in their original homelands.
The way in which Baan Tong Luang works is that you are able to walk through the settlement, meeting the various tribes in their traditional costume and observing them while they work. In essence it’s a living museum.
And of course there are lots of stalls for you to pick up various knick knacks as a memento. We decided to immerse ourselves into ‘British Thai backpacker life’ by buying necklaces and bracelets as we went around. Nothing expensive but something which we enjoyed doing and amused us greatly. Of course it’s not obligatory to buy anything.
The village also provides a lot of information about the various tribes. I was surprised to learn that the elongation of the neck of the Padaung women is not quite as it seems. The neck itself can’t be stretched and instead the weight of the coils actually compress down onto the collarbone and the ribs of the wearer- so giving the illusion of a long neck but instead it’s the body that’s changing.
How long the village will last I don’t know. Simply because traditions and cultural identity will lose their meaning for the younger children. That’s just human nature.
But for now we found it a wonderful place to experience a life that we would otherwise struggle to get access to.
I think you have to throw yourself in to really get the best out of it. Yes, it may seem strange to take pictures of people, but at the same time you’re communicating with them. Laughing with them. And with children you always have something in common with them.
William loved playing with the kids that lived there and on all the various toy cars and swings we came across.
In fact he didn’t want to leave.