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Thailand’s long-neck giraffe women join tourist trail

February 2, 1997

NAI SOI, Thailand (AP) _ The long-necked tribeswomen once dubbed ``giraffe women″ by explorers are now enchanting tourists along Thailand’s rugged northern border.

Women of the Padaung tribe, refugees from ethnic conflict in Burma, have put this remote Thai village on the map for travelers wishing to see their unique brand of body stretching.

The trickle of foreigners who arrive here pay $10 before entering the village to see the women. A portion of the money goes to Thai tour operators.

Starting about age 5, Padaung girls have coils of brass rings wrapped around their necks. More coils are added as they grow up, eventually reaching about 11 pounds and about 25 rings.

The pushed-up chin gives an elegant impression of a tiny head floating on a golden stem. But the neck is actually not made longer _ rather, the weight forces the shoulders to slope down.

After years of wearing the rings, the neck becomes too weak to support the head without them. But the women defend their rings as beautiful and put up with the occasional chafing.

The 30 long-necked women living in this village of 200 people make about $60 per month. Some critics call it a zoo _ but the women are rich by local standards.

With their earnings _ supplemented by the sale of T-shirts and tribal weavings _ they purchase gizmos and makeup unknown in their old homes in rural Burma and ensure their children learn English, the language of the tourist trade.

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