The Padong people (also known as the Longneck people or the Giraffe women) are now thought to only number about 7000. Of these, about 300 have fled to Thailand and live along the Thai/Myanmar border in three villages in |Mae Hon Song province. The village of Nai Soi is the largest Padong settlement and also the most distant from Mae Hon Song town. The women who live here are exceedingly hospitable and friendly.
The Padong face many of the hardships which other hill tribe peoples face in Thailand. They are not recognized as Thai citizens. As such, they do not have access to medical care, education, or other rights granted to citizens. Further, they are not permitted to be employed within Thailand.
Few men can be spotted about the village, as they are generally out labouring in the rice fields. Besides substenance farming, the Padong women are able to supplement the family income by weaving and making crafts. The people who come to visit the Padong villages provide a much needed source of income.
There are many myths surrounding the Padong custom of elongating the neck. The truth is that they do no even have elongated necks! The heavy brass coils which they fit around their necks press down on the rib cage and cause the ribs to grown downwards. Furthermore, the weight of the coils pushes the necks and shoulder muscles deep into the shoulders. This creates the illusion of a longer neck, when in fact it is the upper body which has been shaped into the appearance of a longer neck. I lifted some of the neck coils, and they are indeed heavy, weighing anywhere from 5 to 20 kilos!
The most persistent myth about the Longneck women is that their necks will collapse without the support of the brass rings. This is simply not true! Research, medical x-rays and extended interviews with the Padong in their native language have confirmed this. The women certainly do feel drafty and uncomfortable without their coils, which is to be expected considering they have worn them since the age of 5! But they can remove the coils and will and often do remove them for cleaning. This does not cause their necks to collapse!
Besides neck coils, the Padong also wear coils around their legs and arms. These coils may be made of brass, cane or lacquer.