Make your way up (or down, depending on your location) and head towards the Thai/Burmese border. Lots of interesting sites and experiences are to be had there. The hilly terrain is also home to a variety of colorful, interesting and definitely friendly hilltribes. One of the groups are the Karen. Let’s find out more about these people.
The Karen are by far the largest ethnic group in Myanmar, making up about seven percent of the country’s entire population. About 400,000 live on the Thai side of the border. Their settlements scatter across in an area bordering the eastern region and the Irrawaddy delta of Myanmar and in north and northwestern Thailand. Unlike some hilltribes, the Karen are not nomads. Instead they live in permanent settlements, some of which are centuries old.
If you have come across a mahout in either Thailand or Myanmar, there’s a very good chance that he is of Karen origin. Why? Because they are well known as elephant trainers throughout the years, using these giant beasts to clear the land for crop planting. If you made the connection earlier, you may have noticed that the area the Karen live is part of the Golden Triangle. That’s where the opium trade used to happen. But that’s also where the connections between the Karen and the area end. The people do not and have not grown or used the drug.
They are also well known for their textiles and weaving skills. Pretty much all the colorful garments you see them wearing are hand made from the women. The men are highly skilled at producing musical instruments as well as being great basket weavers.
So, what do they believe in? The Karen were originally Animists and ancestor worshippers, but have now incorporated various religions into their original beliefs. The majority are Buddhists, but don’t be surprised if you meet Christians Karens. About 25 percent follow this faith.
Just like with many hilltribes in the area, the Karen have lived a life unchanged throughout the centuries. Many of the traditions, clothing, languages and beliefs have remained, despite today’s rapid modernization.
So, what to do when you step into their village? Just relax. They are very welcoming and are very honored by your presence. They love to share stories about their lives, ancestors and their village. They in turn also enjoy listening to what you have to say. So, step into their village and be yourself. Their warm and friendly nature will take care of things for you. Learn more about them with a homestay in our Tham Lod Trek tour. A memorable adventure awaits you.
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