The Karen
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The Karen

Hillside diviners

Hillside diviners

From ancient mythology to unique body modifications, there’s much to learn from the Karen people. Take in the architecture and atmosphere of the city of Chiang Mai on this trip showcasing a different side of Thailand.


  • Region is Southern Asia

  • Climate here is Tropical



The tribe are traditionally agricultural people who practise hill farming. In Kayah State the majority of the Karen are farmers with a staple diet of rice.


The Karen can be found in the hills of northern Thailand and in the cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Many live in stilt houses of which they build of teak or bamboo. The space underneath the houses is used for animals (buffalo, pigs, chickens). The Karens have few possessions and usually sleep on mats on the floor.


Social Structure

Selecting marriage partners used to be the responsibility of parents. Today young people choose their own partner, but marriage is only allowed between those of the same generation.


Their traditional religion is called Kan Khwan, which has been practiced since the people migrated from Mongolia during the Bronze Age.


Traditional practices include divination to predict the future before making any important decision. The most common form of which is consulting the chicken bones.

Historically, at the age of five the young girls started wearing the brass coil, as they grow new coils were added. Over the years, the coil was replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. The coil, once on, was seldom removed, as the coiling and uncoiling is a lengthy procedure. Today women wear these necklaces rarely.


Padaung or Padaung Karen, also known as Kayan, the language spoken by the Karen people.


Carvings, jewelry and production of coils and brass neck rings. The Karen in Thailand have kept up the
tradition of weaving their own clothes and the scarves which they sell for a living; however they no longer grow and dye the cotton.


A three-day festival called Kay Htein Bo commemorates the belief that the creator god gave form to the world by planting a small post in the ground.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

The brass coils, or neck rings as they are sometimes referred to, were once seen as a form of beauty. Today however, only a very small group of women wear it due to concerns over health.

Photo credit: Morning mountains at north Thailand

Photo credit: Karen Woman Smoking a Pipe

Photo credit: Four Karen Generations

Photo credit: Woman Karen Tribe

Photo credit: Female karen hill tribe is cooking

Other photos credit: Samart Srisoda