The Karen, who call themselves Pwakin-nyaw and who are known as Kariang to ethnic Thais, are one of the largest hilltribes in Southeast Asia with a total population of about three million spread throughout Burma, Laos and Thailand. There are an estimated 320,000 Karen in Thailand alone, which makes up half of the total hilltribe population in Thai territory.

Traditionally the Karen live at lower elevations than the other hilltribes and although they still practice slash and burn, unlike many hilltribes they live in permanent villages and have been aggressive in developing environmentally sustainable terraced rice fields. These factors have allowed the Karen to become much more integrated members of Thai society. The Karens living at lower elevations almost universally have Thai citizenship which has allowed them to buy land and to have access to free secondary education, luxuries other hilltribes do not yet have.

Much of the Karen population in Thailand and Burma is Christian and has been for multiple generations. Christian Karens are very strong in their beliefs.

Among hilltribes in Thailand, the Karen have a distinct advantage. The size of the Karen population and their unification in their religion allow them to adapt while still retaining their cultural identity.