I was starting to think that the reviews we read online about the old gravel roads leading to this secluded village were wrong as we drove on perfect streets following the Karen Signs for quite a long time. My happiness was short lived when about 2km before arriving to our destination, the pavement ended abruptly, making place for something out of a scooter’s horror story. (At least that’s what my scooter thought).
On a steep incline my bike decides to lie down completely, leaving me with a proper bloody knee (sorry mom) –the exact same spot I fell on a day before and tried to ignore it up until now. So here we were, parking our bikes on a hill (and my lovely Purple Isa entered a teenage emo streak deciding to go to sleep on her other side hoping to break her left ear (ahem: mirror). I should have seen it coming honestly but I guess you can never be too prepared for unforeseen events.
We took our bags and carried on walking (and limping) until we finally reached the village that we so wanted to see and experience: Welcome to the Karen Village!
I’ve seen pictures of the women with golden rings around their necks a long time ago but I never imagined I will ever see them in real life. Our arrival was met with a warm welcome (and a bowl of warm water, tissues and flip flops) – next thing I knew I was sat on a chair being nursed by one of them.
The Karen people are actually Burmese refugees that are not accepted by the Thai government. They have no status in the country, therefore they can’t work, study or have rights like all the other citizens. We contemplated for some time the morality of visiting them as we were concerned it might feel like going to a human zoo. For this reason, we picked the road less traveled, a village about 30min out of Mae Hong Son – Ban Huay Sua Tao, that receives no organized tours as the roads (as mentioned before) are quite tricky.
We were expecting to be charged the entrance fee of 250 baht but got lucky and got to explore the village for free as there were literally no visitors except us and 2 other travelers. Of course, in return for their hospitality, we went ahead and purchased some souvenirs from their shops.
These villages are dependent on tourist money as they virtually don’t have another source of income. It’s important to be respectful of the culture and give something back to help the community. I didn’t feel like I’m in a human zoo, I saw it as a visit to a new village where people have a different culture and I was naturally curious to know more about it. But that’s because we chose a village well off the beaten path, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same if we would’ve chosen a popular village that receives hundreds of visitors a day.
At the end of the day, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience and were left with great memories. If you are considering visiting one of the villages, remember that if you want to have a more authentic experience, you have to stay away from the tour companies and find your way around by yourself. Get off the beaten path (even if you end up with a bloody knee), it will all be worth it in the end!