The salak king of Thailand

Main photo Pichai Kongsanoh shows off a heavy bunch of salak fruit.

Many award tokens and plaques are fully displayed in a glass-door cabinet of Suan Khun Pichai (the orchard of Pichai) in Rayong.

Fresh salak fruit is peeled before preparing them with syrup.

Pichai Kongsanoh, 58, had never thought that one day he would be a role model when he became a farmer 37 years ago. Today his orchard is also a learning centre, especially for those who want to grow salak, or snake-fruit palms.

At present, he is the chairman of the Community Enterprise of Salak Loi Kaeo (or Salak Fruits In Syrup) of tambon Chak Don.

Starting from humble beginnings with a 1.3 rai plot of land in Klaeng district in 1981, his farm has expanded to 40 rai today. He grows salak palm trees on a 10 rai plot of land. On the remaining 30 rai, he plants many varieties of durian and also has mangosteen, longkong and rambutan fruit trees. He can earn up to 2 million baht a year from his farm produce.

“If you travel to Rayong for orchard tours and a fruit buffet, there is a season for it, which is around the middle of each year. But my orchard is open for visitors all year round, because I will have fresh salak fruits and other processed products made of salak to treat you anytime of the year,” he said.

He has about 700 salak palms and most of them are of the Sumalee variety.

“If you compare the variety of Sumalee with durian, the variety is in the top tier, like mon thong. Sumalee is the sweetest variety. Its sweetness is 16 Brix,” he said.

Suan Khun Pichai has a walkway for visitors to explore the plantation.

Brix is a measure of the quality of sweetness in fruits, food and drink by weight. The 16 Brix means the fruit has about 16% sweetness — that equals the sweet taste of a good-quality orange and an excellent quality of strawberry, cherry and cantaloupe. But you do not feel that salak fruit is too sweet because the fruit also contains an acidic taste that gives it the sweetly sour favour in your mouth.

I like eating the snake fruit, but I don’t like to peel its scaly outer skin because I always get hurt from the spikes. I used to hold a piece of newspaper in one hand and a knife in the other to take out the skin, but Pichai showed me that there is a simple way to remove the spiky skin.

“Peeling the fruit is very easy. Just follow my technique,” said Pichai. He held the top of a fruit that has softer thorns with his left fingers and used the thumb and index finger of his right hand to pinch the tip of the bottom of the fruit. He gradually twisted the skin by moving both hands in opposite directions. The skin was peeled off as simple as that. It revealed two light yellow lobes inside. The fruit was juicy.

You can roam around his salak farm, but you should not feel free to pluck any salak fruits as you please. He put up signboards to ask visitors not to pick the fruits.

“The fruit will be ripe when it reaches 225 days. If visitors do not know and collect any salak fruits to try, they may not like my fruit because it may be still too sour,” he said.

To know the right time for harvesting, Pichai and his staff write down a date on a small piece of paper when they pollinate flowers of each bunch and stick the paper to the bunches. With this method, Pichai knows exactly when the fruits are ripe.

One salak palm bears many bunches of fruit. He has four concrete pillars erected at four corners of the tree and hangs a steel bar on each side to help the tree hold each of its heavy bunches.

The tree can bear fruit after it is three years old. It can give fruit all year round.

“I do not use chemical fertilisers nor hazardous pesticide in my orchard. I grow my fruits by making my own bio-fertilisers,” he said.

To add more value to the fruit, Pichai learned to make a variety of salak desserts. He shares the knowledge and also gathered a group of small-scale salak farmers to form a group. He founded the Community Enterprise of Salak Loi Kaeo years ago.

“Processing food is a technique to help us sell fruits when the price is low. We create various snacks by using the produce of our members,” he said. The group has about 30 members and operates as a co-operative whose members co-invest and receive a dividend at the end of the year.

The group produces salak loi kaeo in a cup, sweetened salak candies and sweet-and-sour salak juice. He also has a small facility to produce the products in his orchard. When you visit his orchard, you will have a chance to try those sweets.

If it is during the fruit festival (May until July), Pichai also offers a fruit buffet for you to pluck rambutan or longkong from its trees or to sample durian like phuang manee, mon thong, kan yao, krajib, thong yoi chat and kob chai nam.

Although the festival is over, Suan Khun Pichai still has juicy salak fruits for you to taste all year round.

A visitor admires rambutan fruits.

Staff of Suan Khun Pichai cut mon thong durian for tourists to try in May.

Staff arrange packages of sala loi kaeo for a pickup delivery.

Travel Info

  • Suan Khun Pichai (GPS co-ordinates: 12°42’38.1″N 101°35’34.8″E) is open every day from 8am-5pm.
  • For more details, call Pichai Kongsanoh at 081-782-4645 or 087-686-0418, or visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website at www.tourismthailand.org

Article source: https://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/in-thailand/1560066/the-salak-king-of-thailand

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