The hills that surround the Mae Wang valley are home to many hill tribe villages, predominantly of Karen ethnicity, I visit one village relatively often, thanks to Suphan, one of our helpers at the farm, whose family live in Baan Huay Hoy, about an hour up a forest track from our place.
I cannot say enough good things about all the people I have met there, about their dignity, their skills, their kindness and generosity, their simple sense of fun.
Ui Mon and his wife are Suphan’s grandparents, they are in their early seventies and still very healthy and active, there is something in their expression, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but to me it speaks of a quiet pride in a job well done in very hard circumstances. They live with most of their family around them, helping to raise their great grandchildren and having fun while doing it.
In the evening we sit by the fire, drinking, talking and laughing, it’s pitch black with the sounds of the forest all around, I don’t speak Karen but most of the people my age or younger have been to school and can all speak Thai quite well, the village is very spread out and we are on the outskirts, a few families living close to each other along a forest track.
The Karen traditionally live in bamboo huts on stilts, one large room works as kitchen, living room and bedroom, the fireplace in the centre of the room is recessed into the floor on a metal tray covered with rocks, in the winter months the fire will be smouldering along all night with the family sleeping around it, in the morning we get a cup of tea while we wait for breakfast.
Here we are talking of Karen peoples who have been settled in Thailand for a long time, are Thai citizens with access to the same services as Thai people, the story of the Karen in Myanmar and of the Karen refugees living in camps near the Thai/Myanmar border is a tragic one, I do not know enough to talk about it in any depth but here is a link to a post by americanexpatchiangmai, a very well researched blog on many issues about Thailand.
He also has a very good post with general info about the Karen and their history and culture, you can view it here.