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:
The water is pumped from these wells into several rough huts that have rows of large earthen ‘stoves’:
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:
The guy pictured here is a native of Ban Bo Klua and has been doing this job much of his life:
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.