Thai prison tattoos – the indelible mark of time spent behind bars

Thai prison tattoos – the indelible mark of time spent behind bars

Original article from The Nation January 31st 2016 – Prison tattoos in Thailand

THE MAN GROANED from the painful point of a needle as a tattoo artist pierced his arm, making way for the black ink to run under his skin.

Instead of sitting in a luxury tattoo shop on Khao San Road, he was behind a three-metre-high wall of Bangkok’s Thon Buri Remand Prison, the overcrowded home to about 6,000 inmates.

Like many prisoners he will be released after paying for his crime, but he will also be marked forever as a jail inmate.

Tattoos have become the label of a jailbird – a symbol for many who’ve spent time behind bars. For inmates who’d lived in jail for many years, it was easy to recognise where the tattoo had been made, inside or outside of prison.

When the individual got out to try to make a new life, the inked arm was a permanent marker telling the world this man was a “bad guy”, barring him in future from many an opportunity. The pressure would force him and many of his fellow jailbirds back into a prison life cycle.

Receiving a long sentence from the court would give a prisoner plenty of leisure time to ponder the wisdom of these tattooing sessions.

Ae (assumed name) was among 6,000 detainees in the Thon Buri jail. His whole body was covered by tattoos, which left only a clear space on his face. It took about eight years of needle work to achieve that painful beauty.

He had been jailed three times for sexual abuse of an underaged child, and possessing and selling drugs. His first time in jail began when he was 20 years old with a mind fearful about the world behind a wall. He was afraid of being different from the other prisoners, but then he found tattooing, which was so popular among his companions behind bars.

“I took it on my arms first, and then chest and legs followed. My cell friends thought the tattoo was cool and they admired it.”

Tattoos and jailbirds were like a heaven-made couple who came together in a hell-like place. Like other partnerships in the world, it all starts with sweet joy but is followed by bitter suffering. People with tattoos often cannot get a decent job, especially those who got them in jail. Ae said when money was needed, drugs came along like a priest finding a lost soul.

“It was my first time as a drug dealer, so I was not very good at it and I was back in jail again and again. Therefore, I’ve used my tattoo as life’s vengeance – but I’ve also had to pay a lot to cover my whole body with painful ink,” he admitted.

“I was personally fascinated by tattooing, especially in jail where getting a tattoo came at little cost. I planned to use my passion for tattoo art to make a new life. I might open my own tattoo shop later because tattooing is the only thing I’ve learned during my eight years in jail,” he said.

It was also true for Bee (assumed name). Bee was another prisoner in Thon Buri jail. He said that people with whole bodies covered in tattoos were seen as constant lawbreakers, and outsiders would picture them as savages.

Bee admitted he’d been jailed previously for selling drugs, and this time he was locked up for six years. “When I got back to society, people would look down on me and judge me for my tattooed skin. I could not get a job, so I returned to drugs,” he said.

“Most of the prisoners have nothing to do in their leisure time, so tattooing is a big interest. I saw them walking around with cool tattoos, so it provoked me to have one too.

“Nobody was forced to have a tattoo, it was all a personal decision. I got my tattoo after drafting it first with a ballpoint pen – then I went to see a ‘master’ to make my draft come alive. Most of the tattoos in prison are not much different – dragons, Japanese koi fish, or angry devil faces. There were no gang tattoos, because those with the tattoos would have been given them before their jail time,” he said.

Bee said those with a whole body covered by tattoos, including faces, might be making a statement about their lives.

A jail problem was that no matter how many prisoners were fascinated by tattooing, it was still an offence to take a needle into the institution and would be punished. Such a threat could not diminish prisoners’ interest in tattooing, however, and many took the risk and smuggled needles into the lockup.

Meanwhile, to get a tattoo, the prisoner would design one ahead for their tattoo artist, known among inmates as “The Master”. This man would have several years of experience in tattooing and was known for his drawing skills.In each tattooing ceremony, 10 to 15 needles would be purified by alcohol before painting began in ballpoint pen-ink on the subject’s back. Each tattoo session would cost around Bt500 to Bt2,000, which customers would pay by cash or packs of cigarettes. The vocational academic and professional career trainer of Thon Buri Remand Prison, Wiwat Rangketkarn, said the main duty of the Corrections Department was to detain prisoners. But career training was also implemented as part of the sentence in a bid to return the prisoners to society as good citizens.

“The prisoner could be trained in several areas according to his interests – like carpenter, metal worker, or artist, which focused on the Ten Traditional Arts. They include carving, engraving, turning, casting, moulding and sculpting, model building, lacquering, metal beating, and plastering.

“The prisoner would focus on learning new skills, and avoid breaking the law in future. As we know from keeping in touch with former prisoners, many could sustain their lives and make a living from skills learned from us,” he said. With many of those flocking to the career programme interested in tattooing, the prison officer answered their desires by bringing a tattoo artist to train them. And with the skills learned, the insiders can perhaps make a living by doing this outside.

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Koh Larn Island Pattaya Discover Thailand

Koh Larn Island Pattaya Discover Thailand

Koh Larn Island Pattaya Travel Thailand

During our recent visit to Koh Larn Island Pattaya I took some photographs from the viewpoint across the bay towards Pattaya. The beach below is called Tawaen beach and is the most popular on the island.

Koh Larn Island Pattaya. Ko Larn (Thai: เกาะล้าน, pronounced [kɔ̀ʔ láːn]) is one of the eastern seaboard islands of Thailand. Ko Lan lies 7.5 km from the nearest shore, Pattaya. “Ko Lan” is the name of the island in the Royal Thai General System of Transcription. It is also known as “Koh Larn”.

Ko Lan is the largest of the “near islands”, off south Pattaya. It is at the southeast end of the Bay of Bangkok, on the east side of the Gulf of Siam. Administratively Ko Lan belongs to the Amphoe Bang Lamung, Chonburi Province.

It is about 4 km in length and 2 km in width. It is a hilly island, covered with low tropical forest; its highest point reaches 180 m where there is a Buddhist shrine. The island has two small villages on it: Ban Ko Lan and Ban Krok Makhan where there are lodgings and restaurants. There are ferries connecting Ko Lan to the mainland. The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes. Ferries leave south Pattaya Bali Hai pier daily from 07:00 to 18:30. The one-way fare is 30 baht. The return ferry leaves Ko Lan’s Na Ban Beach from 06.30 to 18:00. Some local tour operators in nearby Pattaya organize picnic and snorkelling excursions to Ko Lan because there is a relaxed atmosphere and beaches with clear water.

Most of Ko Lan’s beaches are on its west side. Most visited is Tawaen Beach, where there is a small harbor. The length of the beach is lined with small tourist shops, behind which are restaurants whose menus are based mainly seafood. Other beaches are Tonglang Beach, Tien Beach, Samae Beach, and Naon Beach. Ko Lan is inhabited by about 3,000 residents in 1,000 households, mostly clustered around the ferry pier.

Two smaller islands are near Ko Lan:

  • Ko Sak (เกาะสาก), a narrow “C”-shaped island with a small bay open towards the north. It is 0.6 km off Ko Lan’s northern tip. Highest point is 33 m. It has a horseshoe-shaped beach in the north. Accommodation is available.
  • Ko Krok (เกาะครก), a private island less than 2 km to the east of Ko Lan’s northeast shore. Highest point is 41 m.

Koh Phai, the main island of Mu Ko Phai (หมู่เกาะไผ่), the group of “far islands”, off Pattaya is about 14 km to the west of Koh Lan.

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Wat Muang Ang Thong Thailand’s Largest Buddha

Wat Muang Ang Thong Thailand’s Largest Buddha

Wat Muang Ang Thong

Wat Muang Ang Thong

Wat Muang Ang Thong Discover Thailand

Wat Muang Ang Thong. Thailand’s Largest Buddha Wat Muang Ang Thong. Wat Muang is home to The Big Buddha, also known as Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin and Mahaminh Sakayamunee Visejchaicharn, which is the tallest Buddha statue in Thailand and the ninth tallest in the world.Located in the Wat Muang Monastery in Ang Thong province, this statue stands 92 m (300 ft) high, and is 63 m (210 ft) wide. Construction commenced in 1990, and was completed in 2008. It is painted gold and made of concrete.

Ang Thong (Thai: อ่างทอง), is one of the central provinces (changwat) of Thailand. The name means “golden bowl”, an allusion to Ang Thong’s agricultural importance. Neighboring provinces are (from north clockwise) are Sing Buri, Lopburi, Ayutthaya, and Suphanburi. Ang Thong native handicrafts include moulded court dolls, firebrick, and wickerwork. There are more than 200 temples in Ang Thong.

Wat Muang Ang Thong

Thailand’s Largest Buddha Wat Muang, Ang Thong Travel Thailand

There are several other important attractions in the temple.  The ubosot of Wat Muang is surrounded by the biggest lotus petals in the world.  Ground floor of Wihan Kaeo is a museum (open only on Saturday and Sunday during 09.00 – 17.00 hrs.) exhibiting sacred objects, antiques, and figures of renowned monks from all over the country.

The upper floor of the museum houses the first and largest silver holy Buddha image of the country, which was constructed in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s throne ascendancy.

Within the temple compound, there are figures of heaven and hell, Thai god paradise, Chinese god paradise, and a huge statue of Kuan Im female goddess.  Besides, there are figures narrating the history of Thai-Burmese battle in Wiset Chai Chan.

Wat Muang Ang Thong
Thailand’s Largest Buddha Discover Thailand and Travel Thailand
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Nuan beach Koh Larn travel Thailand

Nuan beach Koh Larn travel Thailand


NUAN BEACH Discover Thailand.

This beach has various name. Nual beach Thai pronounce Nuan and it’s also known as Monkey beach.

Nuan beach Koh Larn travel Thailand. We visited Koh Larn Island last week for a five day getaway and for some sun sand and sea.

We took the ferry from Bali Hai pier in Pattaya directly to Koh Larn Island at a cost of 50 Baht. The sea was flat so it was a pleasant journey and took around 30 minutes.

It was good to see that the boat crew were counting on the passengers, so as to not overload the boat and they were also issuing live jackets to the passengers. We arrived at the pier and were disembarked in an orderly fashion, so we then made our way to the hotel to check in. I booked the room online at a reasonable price of 1000 Baht per night for a second floor sea view room. The prices seem to be anything from 800 baht upwards depending on personal requirements.

We rented a motorcycle from the hotel at which we were staying for a cost of 200 Baht a day and this seems to be the going rate around the Island. Be aware that there were no crash helmets issued with the bike rental and in fact i did not see anyone wearing a helmet in the whole 5 days, so if you hire a bike make sure that you drive slowly and carefully.

Our first port of call was Nual beach which is quieter than some of the other larger beaches, so seemed to be a good choice. There are 7 beaches to choose from depending on personal requirements. We like the smaller quieter beaches with minimal water sport activity, due to the noise. We ordered Thai food and the was reasonably priced from 150 Baht per meal upwards and was of decent quality.

Discover Thailand. Nuan Beach is situated in the south of Koh Larn with a 250 metre waterfront under private ownership. The beach features beautiful coral reefs for snorkeling as well as the usual array of other facilities such as massage and jet-skiing.

More information here

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Child Angels more than just dolls; ask their lucky parents

Child Angels more than just dolls; ask their lucky parents

Child Angels – Original story from The Nation January 25th 2015

A WOMAN shopping in a Bangkok street carrying and talking with an infant on her arm might not catch much attention. But look again… Instead of carrying a living baby, an increasing number of women these days can be found cuddling a factory-manufactured doll – a Child Angel and they believe it can bring them luck. The life-like ‘Child’s Angels’ doll is a popular charm among Thais. It is believed the doll brings fortune by linking its owner’s birthday with a monk’s spell. The doll costs between Bt1,000 and Bt10,000 and is available at Tawanna Market at Pantip Plaza, Nonthaburi.

They’re called “Child Angels” and they’re the same size as a real infant, and they’ve become increasingly trendy since last year when a number of celebrities were found to have adopted their own baby substitutes.

Det-a-duh Nachariyanukul,is the owner of a well-known Child Angels shop entitled “Ban Look Thep.” He said that Child Angels were factorymanufactured dolls but had been blessed by monks and were being used as some kind of amulet for attracting good fortune.

The main thought behind child angels was that they brought people closer to the temple where the magical doll could be used to make merit.

“Such a doll needs to be treated with goodwill or good deeds, which makes it different from other black magic charms,” he added.

Det-a-duh said the dolls used as child angels were first around some 50 years ago and with no intention for them to be magical charms. But his business took off about six years ago with many customers being middleaged women or lonely people who needed something for company.

The magical dolls were swamped “interested” by social’ media after DJ Bookkoh Thannatchayapan from 94FM posted his picture with a doll, claiming it brought him success in previous events. The trend was taken up by many celebrities and university students.

People could get their magical doll for prices ranging from Bt100 to Bt10,000 depending on the quality of material. Some limited dolls were first brought for Bt10,000 but now attract more than Bt100,000 – like valuable antiques.

Det-a-duh also thanks the media for continuing to spread good or bad news about child angels or questioning about his business.

“The media or other social users who might hate or not favour the idea of a child angel, play a key role in putting this magical doll back among this year’s trends,” he added.

He also mentioned that people should notice there were several shops providing a similar doll with similar ideas of bringing luck, but treated their dolls differently, like having a plate of food served up for them in a restaurant.

“I could speak only on behalf of my shop that the faithful buyer doesn’t need to give their doll food, or take it outside. But if they do, it’s all about their personal thoughts. I have always told my clients that such an item needs only a good merit to keep it powerful,” he explained.

Thai Smile Airways has recently allowed passengers to book a seat for their child angels, and some restaurants charge as much for a doll as for a child.

According to the airline’s statement, it said its charge was for serving its clients’ needs according to an increase in demand. However, the child angels are strictly allowed to be booked for only window seats and not allowed seats in emergency exits in order not to disturb other passengers.

Det-a-duh commented that such promotions were just a way of businesses trying not to lose track of public feelings.

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MH370 Plane debris found on Thai beach?

MH370 Plane debris found on Thai beach?

Original story from The Nation 24th January 2015

EXPERTS will investigate a piece of aircraft debris found at a Nakhon Si Thammarat beach to determine whether it is a part of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane, local officials said yesterday.

Pak Phanang district chief Thanyapat Puttikongphan said military and aviation experts have been asked to examine the barnacle-covered piece of plane debris. “They should be able to find out if the piece is from MH370,” he added.

A team of military officers from the Fourth Army Area yesterday examined the debris and confirmed that it was from a plane, according to Pramote Ruangdit, a local kamnan.

Photos of the debris were sent to the Air Force, which described it as “part from a foreign airline’s plane”, he said. The Air Force would also send a team of experts to examine the debris closely.

Fishermen Wilai Charoenkhun and Somsak Sinchu said they found the white metal piece swept ashore yesterday morning in Pak Phanang district.

Weighing over 100 kilograms, the piece is about 3 metres wide and 3 metres long, with wires inside. What looks like serial numbers also appears on the piece.

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Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

Author Josh at Asia backpackers

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailnd. Where the ancient Padaung People better known as ‘Long-Necks’ or even ‘Giraffe People’ have been branded as ‘Cannibals’, when Divorce can leave you bed ridden. Slavers, dragons, tigers and beauty are an explanation for their customs and Premarital sex results in a fine

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

What’s in a name

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung. When writing about the Padaung one must first explain their place in the family tree of the Karen people, as while there is an abundance of information on the Karen there is some confusion and very little written on the Padaung.

The Burmese term “Karen” probably came from the word “Kayin, or Kayan” referring to the particular group of peoples in eastern Myanmar (Burma) and western Thailand who speak closely related but different Sino-Tibetan languages. In Thailand the Karen are known as ‘Thai Yai’. The term “Karen” itself was considered a derogatory term in Burma until Christian missionaries brought respect to it in the late eighteenth century.


Padaung is a Shan term for the Kayan Lahwi, who are a sub-group of the Red Karen (Karenni: People who now inhabit many areas of northern and north west Thailand). The Kayan can be further divided into the following sub groups (See flow chart below). Until very recent history the different Karen sub-groups did not recognize each other as belonging to the same main group as the languages/dialects were vastly different from each other, even though their social, religious and commercial traits were very similar.

What makes the Padaung immediately stick out from the multitude of tribes in the Karen group and its many sub-groups is the brass rings they wear around the necks, for which the world has given them yet further names such as the ‘Long-Necks’ or even ‘Giraffe People’.

It is reported the Padaung in Northern Thailand refer to themselves as Kayan or Laku and while many do not object to being called Padaung or Long Necked, (they themselves use the terms Long and Short to describe those among them that do or do not wear neck rings) they find the term Giraffe offensive.

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand


The early history of the Karen remains problematic, and there are various theories regarding their migrations. The most recognized would support that Karen peoples originated in the north, possibly in the high plains of Central Asia, and traveled in stages through China into Southeast Asia, probably after the Mon but before the Burmese, Thai, and Shan reached what is now Myanmar and Thailand. Seventeenth-Century Thai sources mention the Kariang and Karen lords are known to have ruled three small semi-feudal domains in Thailand from the mid-nineteenth century until about 1910

According to Kayan legends, the Kayan settled in the Demawso area of Karenni State (Kayah State-Burma) in 739 AD. Today they are to be found mainly in Myanmar states of Karenni (Kayah) State around Demawso and Loikow, in the southern region of Shan State and in Mandalay’s Pyinmana and Karen’s Than Daung Township.

A 2004 estimate puts the Padaung population at approximately 130,000 in Myanmar with approx. 600 in Thailand, There are only thought to be 120 Padaung who wear the neck rings in Thailand residing mainly in the three villages in the Northern Province of Mae Hong Son (Huay Sua Tao, Ban Nai Soi and Huay Pu Keng). While others live in the Ban Mai Nai Soy refugee camp (where tourists are not received), Pang Moo Sub-district, Muang District, Mae Hong Son Province. The camp was first established in 1989 in Karenni State, Burma but had to relocated on many occasions due to the fatal attacks by the Burmese army, it was eventually moved to its present position in Thailand in 1996.


In recent history the government of Myanmar began discouraging neck rings as it struggled to appear more modern to the developed world and through the governments disinformation people in the capital Yangon have followed the government-inspired idea that the Padaung are actually ‘Cannibals’ (Pascal Khoo Thwe 2002).  Consequently, many Padaung women in Myanmar began breaking with tradition.  In Thailand the practice has flourished in recent years because it draws tourists who bring revenue to the tribe and to the local businessmen who collect an entrance fee of 250 baht per person. It is this exploration of the Padaung that is now causing concern to many including the UNHCR and why more and more tour companies are refusing to go to the villages.

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

The Truth Behind the Neck Rings

There are many different accounts of why the Padaung practice this bizarre custom. It has been suggested that the coils give the women resemblance to a dragon, an important figure in Kayan folklore. Their own mythology explains the rings are to prevent tigers from biting them! Others have reported that it is done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders.

The most common explanation is that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery, though, is said to be punished by removal of the rings. In this case, since the neck muscles will have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, a woman must spend the rest of her life lying down. According to Paul and Elaine Lewis in ‘Peoples of The Golden Triangle’, adultery and divorce among all Karen groups is extremely low.

What-ever the reason is for the custom it is not a new fad and is actually centuries old; the Italian explorer Marco Polo was the first European to describe the tradition in the 1300’s, yet is only in recent history that the people are openly accessible to the world. It should be noted the Padaung also wear coils around both their knees and ankles.

The neck coils are adorned on females around 5 years of age and are gradually increased as they mature. The rings can be found to a length of approx. 15 inches (38 cm), with 16-22 coils, weighing between 5 – 20 kilos. It is this combined weight which acts to push down the collarbone, compressing the rib cage, and pulling up about four thoracic vertebrae into the neck. The coils don’t actually elongate the neck; they simply over time depress the collar bones giving the illusion of longer necks.

It is further believed that only girls born on a Wednesday with a full-moon could wear the rings around their necks, today there are more women wearing the rings in Thailand than maybe still in Myanmar.

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

 Beliefs and Practices

 The Padaung traditional religion, which they call ‘Kan Khwan’,  is animistic, rooted both in nature and in their ancestral spirits. This form of religion is believed to have been practiced since the people migrated from Mongolia during the Bronze Age. It includes the belief that the Kayan people are the result of a union between a female dragon and a male human/angel hybrid.

The people have a strong belief in omens and nothing is done without reference to some form of fortune telling, including breaking thatch grass, but most importantly consulting chicken bones. Dreams are also used to make predictions. This is especially true during the annual festivals and during “Cleansing Ceremonies” which are held when a family has encountered ill fortune.

Today the Padaung people follow a number of other religions including Buddhism and Christianity, which many still combine with their traditional beliefs


Language and System of Writing

The Karen as a whole do not have a pre-modern written language, their history was/is passed down to the next generation in stories and songs. Their tales tell of them as orphans, who lost their writing system after God handed it down to them, which would be later returned by visitors from a far away land. Many Karen thought this promise had finally been fulfilled when Italian Christian missionaries in the 19th Century descended on them, this possibly explains why we find today that almost 50% of the Karen people in Thailand have lost their ancient traditions,  beliefs and original identity to the Christian faith.


 Social Organization

A village is headed by a chief or headman and a council of elders. The headman’s position is hereditary and his traditional roles are with the help of the council of elders to deal with village disputes and equally important to conduct religious ceremonies, where he is seen as the spiritual link to the village spirits.
Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

Religious Practitioners


The two major traditional religious practitioners in each village, the chief/headman and the eldest woman of the senior line of the matrilineage.

There are also people endowed with ‘pgho’, (supernatural power), including prophets (wi) and medicine teachers (k’thi thra). There are also witches or “false prophets” (wi a’bla) who put their power to evil purposes.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities 


While the Padaung as with the vast majority of the Hill Tribes, were once Swindon (slash and burn) subsistence farmers, they have within a generation converted to cultivating wet rice along with other crops such as  tea, maize, legumes, yams, sweet potatoes, peppers, chilies, and cotton. While in the lower valleys they also grow Tobacco, betel leaves and nuts, and fruits including bananas, durians, and mangoes. The Padaung will also raise live stock for sale or for their ceremonies and/or consumption. Wealth amongst the people is counted in livestock and rice, with elephant owners enjoying the highest status.
Padaung males still hunt for birds, squirrels, lizards, deer, and wild pigs. They use crossbows, slingshots, snares, traps, and guns, while women and children may collect roots, leaves, bamboo shoots, herbs and bark for medicinal purposes, wild fruits, frogs, small lizards, insects, paddy crabs, ant larvae, honey, beeswax, mushrooms, firewood, weeds for pig food and snakes.

 Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand



Proposals, which require parental approval, are made by the young man or woman, although a go-between is often used. Premarital sex is prohibited, and 15 to 20 percent of bridegrooms pay a fine for having broken the rule. The majority of unmarried Karen women wear a white robe to indicate that they are as yet unmarried. However, as soon as a union is approved the bride will begin weaving a different colored dress for her wedding day

The marriage ceremony involves rituals to the Lord of Land and Water marking the union of the new couple and the husband’s incorporation into the bride’s parents’ household. The ritual and wedding feast in the bride’s village can last three days. After marriage the bride gives up her long white dress for the black embroidered blouse and red-and-black tubular sarong of married women; men continue to wear the traditional red fringed shirt.

Marriage is considered a very important part of a woman’s life; so much so, that if a woman dies before marriage, she is nonetheless buried (or cremated) in married women’s clothing. This, they believe, reduces the chances of malevolent spirits preventing her from entering the afterlife.

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

Karenni (Red Kaen) Family Tree


Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

Karenni (Red Kaen) Family Tree

Hill Tribes Thailand Padaung Travel Thailand

Facts on Thailand, Hill Tribes, North Thailand

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