A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

Salt wells

Posted date:  November 21, 2008

Freshly extracted salt, Extracting salt, Ban Bo Klua, Nan

Ban Bo Luang lies in far western Nan province, only a dozen kilometres from the Lao border. The town is nestled in an incredibly picturesque valley with forested mountains on either side and is inhabited by three ethnic groups: Htin, Lua and northern Thai. The town is colloquially known as Ban Bo Klua (Salt Well Village) because the town’s well produces extremely salty water. You’d think this would be horrible luck (in fact there are freshwater wells and a beautiful stream there as well), but from this well the locals have been extracting ‘mountain salt’ for an estimated 300 years.

Salt, as some of you probably know, was previously a seriously valuable commodity, particularly for those with no access to the sea. It’s said that caravans from remote corners of China would stop by Ban Bo Luang to load up on  the ‘white gold’ before returning home. Although just about everybody around the world has access to salt nowadays, little has changed at Ban Bo Luang, and they’re still collecting salt as they’ve done for centuries now.

The salty water originates from a couple deep wells in the centre of the town:

One of the salt water wells, Ban Bo Klua, Nan

The water is pumped from these wells into several rough huts that have rows of large earthen ‘stoves’:

A typical 'salt hut', Ban Bo Klua, Nan

The water is then boiled for about three hours until much of the liquid evaporates and crystals start to form. The salt is then scooped into bamboo baskets to drain:

Extracting salt, Ban Bo Klua, Nan

The guy pictured here is a native of Ban Bo Klua and has been doing this job much of his life:

Lifetime salt-extractor, Ban Bo Klua, Nan

When it’s his shift he actually sleeps in the smoky hut, waking every few hours to refuel the fires, scoop salt and refill water. The salt is sold in bags directly from the village, delivered elsewhere around Nan, and is now even being purified at the local hospital and used in different dermatological treatments. I reckon they should package it and slap on a label that says ‘Artisan Hand-Collected Htin Mountain Salt’ and sell it to people New York City for $8 a bag.

6 Comments for Salt wells

Fantastic post, Austin. I’d never heard of this place. Did you bring some “white gold” back to BKK so we can sample it?

Artisan hand-collected Mountain salt @ $8 a bag, I’d buy that!
We’ve been avid followers of your work for some time now …. Love the photo’s and enjoyed the food. Especially all the Khao Soi … mmmm!
Just letting you know we tagged you on our blog, http://www.bigfoodsmallworld.blogspot.com
Feel free to join in the fun, no obligation.
Kat and Kim

I have been enjoying your blog and photos for a long time and am following you on Flickr. Beautiful work. Your photos really make me want to return to Thailand.

Thanks for the description here. I had seen salt flats but had never seen this type of process before. Looks like you have a business model almost all worked out there!

Newley: Uh, actually no… I somehow forgot. Sorry.

Kat and Kim: I’ll expedite your order today!

Carl Weaver: Thanks for reading.

Hello, I found your pictures through google; great work! I was in Ban Bo Kleua not too long ago and bought a 2kg bag of salt as a souvenir. I love cooking and by using the salt I’ll remember this trip for a long time! Only thing: going through customs I had to open my bag and explain the 2kg bag of white crystals.. no real hassle, just a bit weird having to explain it’s salt and not drugs 🙂

[…] Luang continues to this day, although the salt is used for local consumption or sold to tourists. As I’ve blogged previously, a handful of aged gatherers still collect the salt in the traditional way. They also still cling […]

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