Our host, Hansa, and her husband promptly picked us up at the BTS station and drove us out of the city and into the countryside of Samut Sakhon.
Our agenda for the day would be to get a local insight into mangrove conservation and salt farming.
Along the way, we passed by vast expanses of salt farms. Each salt farm is owned by a family and stretches from the seafront to over 15 acres inland.
Day trips from Bangkok – Mangrove Conservation
We arrived at a mangrove reforestation area, a forest managed voluntarily by community volunteers who are trying to regrow mangroves which have been washed out.
While walking through the boardwalk, we spotted tons of debris tangled between the roots of the mangroves. These are actually rubbish being washed in from the sea. These are very evident examples of how environmental degradation have an effect on the whole Earth, and not just your immediate surroundings.
As we neared the sea, we could see wood poles sticking out from the low tide sea bed. They are used for helping mangrove seedlings grow, giving them support against the tides. These volunteers go by hand to embed each of these poles into the water one by one, through sheer hard work.
Further out into the shore, there are rows of sturdy bamboo poles, designed to prevent the strong tides from uprooting the baby mangrove shoots when it comes in.
As much as it dissipates the force of the tides, only 10% of the mangrove shoots that are replanted actually successfully stay in place. That means, only 10% of these volunteers’ efforts come to fruition!
The mangrove shoot takes 10 years to fully mature, so it’s a really long and arduous process for these volunteers to see their baby grow into full bloom mangrove plants.
While initially hard to spot, after our hosts pointed it out to us, we began to spot more and more mudskippers on the sea beds as well. They weren’t as camouflaged and difficult to spot as I had thought!
Day trips from Bangkok – Salt Farm
A rumbling stomach reminded me that it was over noon. We left the mangrove forest and drove to a local family who owned a cafe, a shop and their very own salt farm called Coffee and Salt Farm Baanya (location).
After a short respite from the heat in the café, a couple of Thai exchanges between our guide and the host later, we were told that lunch was ready to be served.
We very excitedly got up to see what sort of local dishes were cooked for us that day. Thai meals are always an exciting affair. Dish after dish came and was set on the table. We were not expecting such a spread for 4 of us!
Their specialty is in salt-baked dishes. Seafood such as prawns, crabs and fish were the main dishes steamed with salt. These seafood are the by-products from the upkeep of a salt farm.
Normally, the salt farmers start farming from November after the rainy season. During the rainy season, they will fish instead.
Each morning, they drain the water with a net set up to catch these seafood. In this area, they can easily gather seafood such as cockles, sea bass fish, shrimps, mussels, oysters, blue crabs and mud crabs that enter the first pond, all of which ended up on our plates!
The vegetable dish we had was a kind of seaweed called seepweed. It tasted succulent and slightly salty. When served with crispy shrimps and a yoghurt-like sauce, it tasted like luxury!
All these were accompanied with fried rice with crab roe and a bowl of curry soup with seepweed and clams. How could we not feel like luxury?
After stuffing ourselves with the wonderful homemade creations, we went for a stroll along the salt farm.
Salt farm production in Thailand uses a solar evaporation method. Solar and wind are the main factors in determining how fast the farmers can harvest the salt. The standard area for salt farming is at least 40 Rai or 15.81 acres.
In Thailand, there are 3 standard processes of salt farming. The Thai salt farmers have specific technical words for each pond which describe each process:
- The first pond is called “Nar Tark”. This pond is connects from the sea. It is the biggest pond of the 3, and it is where sea water is pumped into. The purpose of this pond is to let the silt from the sea water deposit. The farmers will get the clearer and cleaner brine water from the next pond.
The second pond is called “Nar Chuer”. This is where the brine water comes into contact with solar and the wind. The purpose of this pond is to make the brine water more concentrated and reach near crystallisation point.
The last pond is called “Nar Plong”. The brine water from the second pond will be drained to this pond, where it will be kept for 10 to 15 days to reach crystallisation point.
When the thickness of the salt plate is about 1 inch, the farmer will use a tool made from wood and bamboo to break the salt up and separate into 5 to 15 rows.
Each row can make up 12 to 18 salt piles. After collecting the dry salt piles, they will drain the remaining briny water back to the second pond to repeat the process until the dry salt forms.
The farmers then store these salts into the salt shed.
There are 4 kinds of salts from salt farming:
- Young sea salt is collected from the top of the saltwater. It is the first of salt crystallization.
Since it is not in the brine water for long, it has lower sodium than normal salt. Young sea salt makes for great cooking condiments.
- Basic sea salt is the main product from salt farming. It is not good for cooking because of its high sodium level. It is mostly sent to factories for cold storage, making preservatives e.g. pickle and glass.
Gypsum is salt which is contaminated with soil, therefore giving it its brown colour. After refining gypsum, you will get a powder form without its saltiness, which is good for skin and therefore commonly used for cosmetic.
The chips on the ground surface after harvesting is called “Kleau Kee Dad” in Thai. It consists of algae, planktons and microorganisms which acts as good fertilizers for plants such as mangos and pomelos.
At the time when we went, it had been raining that week, so the farm was muddy instead of dry with salt deposits. I had a go at dipping my naked feet into the muddy farm. It felt really slippery and soft – not quite what I expected!
That concludes our half day local experience at the salt farm. We of course couldn’t leave without shopping for some of their natural, organic salt from their shop!
We couldn’t resist the crispy shrimp either, and specially requested for a packet to take back home, although it wasn’t for sale.
Our host ended our half day tour perfectly by stopping by a coconut shop by the road side and offering us fresh roasted coconuts.
Unlike regular coconuts, these coconuts had been roasted. You can tell the difference from how exceptionally sweet they tasted, with a hint of burned charcoal. Absolutely delicious!
Where to Stay in Bangkok
We stayed at ZENNIQ Hotel for this leg of our Bangkok trip. It is located further from the city centre, at the Thonburi district.
We were booked into the Standard Twin Room, which is far larger than most hotel rooms! It is almost like a studio apartment, complete with amenities like a sink, cabinets, a walk-in wardrobe, a dressing table AND a desk that sits two.
While there isn’t any indication of where they got their name from, there are telltale signs that they are inspired by the Japanese architecture, hence the word “Zen” in ZENNIQ.
Both the exterior and interior of the hotel are adorned with wood – wooden desks, wooden seats, wooden poles.
Even the beds imitate the Japanese tatami style in that it is raised a little from the ground – quite like sleeping on the floor like how the Japanese do with tatami mats.
Dining at ZENNIQ
Our breakfasts at ZENNIQ are some of the most unique ones we’ve had compared to most of the other hotels I’ve stayed.
Instead of the typical breakfast buffets, ZENNIQ offers standard menu choices. Each of the meals you order come in a spread, much like a Japanese bento-style set.
It comes with appetisers and little side dishes, on top of the main dish. The main dish itself was really nutritious (I had brown rice porridge) and the portions were big enough for sharing.
Wandering around the vicinity, we found little to no activities around. The closest activity you can find is Chinatown, which requires a taxi ride.
When we checked in at night and wanted to look for food, the front desk pointed us to one iffy roadside stall that spoke no English.
Other than that, there is absolutely no nightlife here. When we wandered around the dimly lit streets after dinner, we had a scary encounter.
We were walking along the streets when we saw a man approach us from the opposite direction. He stared us down so hard as we went closer that it gave us tingles down our spines and turbo to our feet. It was if he was ready to attack us. I honestly believed that he was going to come after us.
There is no warm hospitality quite like Hansa and her husband. They were very passionate about sharing information about the local community, went out of their way to pick us up, offer us coconuts (not part of the tour) and did everything to make sure we were satisfied and stuffed (including offering us huge portions of the lunch).
The local meal was truly a delicacy and very unique to the province’s specialty. You would not be able to get such recipes in downtown Bangkok city, nor find fresh produce at such crazy prices.
Remember, if you want to get some fresh seafood catches, you need to come to Samut Sakhon to find it!
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