The Padaung people of Burma, more commonly known as the ‘Long-Neck Karen’, live in Kayah State in northeastern Burma and though the provincial capital Loikaw is now officially open for tourism it’s still very difficult to get to so your most likely contact with them would be at one of their lakeside souvenir stalls at Inle. The pros and cons of meeting the Padaung could fill a lengthy post but for now suffice to say all the women we’ve met at Inle Lake are there of their own accord, can come and go freely and welcome the extra revenue gained through the tourist trade. (Which is more than you can say for the Paduang refugees stuck in Northern Thailand.)
Pros and cons aside just turning up and sticking large camera lenses in their faces is just plain rude and to get more natural photos anyway it’s far better to have some kind of interaction with them beforehand. Some of the girls speak some English or you can communicate through a local guide and these hill-tribe girls are generally more than happy to chat and explain a bit about their culture as well as to pose for photos.
Don’t worry, if the Padaung see something they consider unusual they’ll have their smartphones out straight away as I noticed recently when turning up with a group of tourists one day – one of whom had a pierced tongue and lip. The Padaung women were fascinated and asked to take photos themselves with the funniest moment of this excellent interaction being when an elderly Paduang matriarch with several kilos of brass around her neck looked at the pierced lip and said: “Oh my, that must be really uncomfortable”!!!
Our ‘Meeting the Padaung’ photos were taken on our 2-week Discover Burma (Myanmar) tour.