Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year!

Although a few days late, I wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year!  I have a lot to look forward to in 2012 and am excited about the traveling and activities we have planned for this year.  

Our trip to the beach for the New Year's holiday was, as to be expected, filled with many different experiences and sights.  As with my blog posts about our other travels, I will have to write about this trip in several segments.  There is just too much to tell you about (as evidenced by the fact that I took over 200 photos!).

We went to Cha-Am, a small fishing village on the Western Coast of the Gulf of Thailand, about a two hour drive (southwest) from our home.  Cha-Am is "the" weekend, beach & holiday destination for Thais living in Bangkok.  Before we left, I read in a guidebook that if you want an authentic "Thai" experience, Cha-Am is the place to go for it.  Now that we have been there/ done that, I will agree with that statement!  The beach and the town were very quiet when we arrived early Wednesday afternoon but, because of the four day holiday weekend, our hotel and others in the area filled up rather quickly.  By Saturday morning, tents and camper vans lined the 7 or 8 miles of beachfront between our hotel & the northern edge of the village.  The beach and the town also became quite "lively" with the influx of people.  Kevin and I had to weave our way through the pedestrians, bike riders, food & souvenir vendors and soi dogs while running Sunday morning.  The streets were incredibly crowded, even at 7 am!    

About 30 minutes after we left Bangkok (city proper), we started to see these large square "fields" on either side of the highway.  

At first, we thought the empty fields might be harvested rice paddies.  However, we then remembered hearing that this area (Samut Sakhon) is the biggest producer of brine salt in Thailand and we realized we were looking at the salt fields.  Of course, for the rest of our drive to Cha-Am, Kevin and I spent much time discussing how salt might be "grown" and harvested.  Yes, we are exciting!  

After we returned to Bangkok, I did a little research and learned that Thailand's brine salt farms produce about 1,000,000 tons of salt a year and Thailand is the 26th highest producer of salt in the world.  The salt is produced by flooding each field with high salinity sea water (from the Gulf or the Mekong River) that is pumped in using small windmills and a wooden conveyor belt that essentially "paddles" the water into the fields.  
On both of the days that we passed the stretch of salt farms, there was little to no activity in the fields so I couldn't take photos of the salt being harvested.  However, I did find a few photos online that show the process of harvesting as well as a few of the tools used. 

Below is a photo of the conveyor belt used to flood the fields (photography credit to walet.twins).
After the field is fully flooded, the field is damned and the water left to evaporate.  The salt production season in this area is October through April - the sun is hottest during this time and there is very little chance that it will rain.  After the water evaporates and the salt is completely dry, it is ready to be harvested.  

When the salt is ready to be harvested, it is raked into small piles in the field (photography credit to Dale Allyn for the following four photos).
After the entire field is raked, the salt is collected and taken away to be cleaned and sold.
As you can see in these photos, salt production in Thailand is not a very a high tech operation.  The equipment is very rudimentary and there is a great deal of physical labor involved.  Given how unsophisticated the process is, it was very surprising to realize how much salt is actually produced and harvested here!    

There were numerous vendors set up along side the stretch of the road that bordered the salt fields and selling the salt (photography credit to Walet.twins).  
Vendor related... in each village we passed through on our drive to Cha-Am, there were numerous vendors set up along side the road selling whatever "specialty" might be grown or produced in that particular region.  First, we saw the salt vendors, then the pineapple & mango vendors and then palm sugar vendors.  As we got closer to Cha-Am, the vendors began selling prawns, fish and crabs.  It was like we were traveling the agricultural map of Thailand!  

So, on with the trip... Wee stayed five nights at the Grand Pacific Sovereign Resort & Spa.  The hotel was very nice with large (and clean) rooms, three nice pools and a great view of the Gulf.  This was the view from our balcony...
A friend of Christopher's from school, Kei, and his mother were also in Cha-Am for a few days.  After we unpacked and got settled, we met up with them to go to the beach for the afternoon.

I am going to break here as I need to start getting dinner together.  

Have a great Wednesday!     

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