Left Lotus buds are harvested in the morning.
A number of tourist boats docked next to a lotus farm along Klong Maha Sawat, a canal in Nakhon Pathom, last weekend.
The farm owner Prapai Sawatdito greeted her visitors with a smile — the same as she did when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited the place during his mobile cabinet meeting last month, an occasion that, she hoped, would help boost tourism in the area.
The lotus farm of Prapai is known as Na Bua Lung Chaem (or the Lotus Farm of Uncle Chaem). It is located in Ban Sala Din in Phutthamonthon district. Chaem was her late father who had six children, of which four sisters run the lotus farm today.
Lotus buds are harvested in the morning.
Prapai Sawatdito prepares lotus buds for sale.
Chaem grew rice when he was young on a 60 rai plot of land he rented. But the price of rice was too low for him to raise his children. He segmented his farmland to grow other plants such as lotus, morning glory and water mimosa.
Aiming to help farmers out of poverty, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej bought a 1,009 rai plot of land in Ban Sala Din in 1975. The land was allocated to farmers by the Agricultural Land Reform Office. Each of them could buy a 20 rai plot of land and earn the land titles, but they can’t resell the land. The lands must be used for farming only, said Prapai.
Her father decided to stop growing rice and turned the 15 rai plot of land into a lotus pond. He also followed the king’s sufficiency economy theory by planting herbs, vegetables and fruit trees in the remaining 5 rai plot of land. At first, the family grew sacred lotus (bua luang) but they later changed to double red lotus (bua chat or sattabongkot) and white magnolia lotus (sattabut), due to higher market demand. The flowers are mostly used for religious rites.
Prapai and her sisters harvest lotus buds in the morning of every other day. To protect themselves from the sunlight, they wear straw hats, cloth masks that reveal only the eyes and mouth, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers which they tuck into their socks. They wear rubber shoes and a pair of gloves to protect their hands from little thorns.
They can harvest up to 6,000 lotus buds per day. The wholesale price starts from 20 satang to 2 baht depending on size and market demand. Delivery is done by vendors whose shops are located in Pak Klong Talat in Bangkok.
“We earn our living by selling lotus buds and also have extra income from selling herbs, vegetables, fruits and fish,” she said.
Since they grow lotus without using hazardous chemicals, they raise fish such as the Nile tilapia, silver barb and stripped carp in the lotus pond. The fish also help keep the water clean, she said.
Another extra income is from tourists.
It started in the year 2000 when the Department of Agricultural Extension wanted to promote agro-tourism in Klong Maha Sawat. They called for community meetings and finally selected five places which can be reached via a boat ride, which is perfect for a tourist cruise package. At that time Chaem supported the tourism idea and opened his farm for tourist visits. The activity is carried on by his daughters today.
Khao Sam orchid farm.
A set of miang kham bua luang is priced at 150 baht.
“We prepare a boat for visitors to paddle in the pond without a service charge. They can pluck lotus buds by themselves,” she said. Later, she introduced a small class where students or foreign visitors can learn to fold lotus petals. She also has a small corner in her backyard to sell produce from her farm such as green mangoes, her home-made sweetened mango pulp (mamuang kuan), bananas and lotus tea.
“It is good to have visitors. I am happy to see that they are excited when they collect lotus buds from the pond,” she said.
In addition to the lotus farm, visitors can stop at the newly opened Ban Sala Din Floating Market.
At the market, visitors can find food, drinks, fruits and vegetables from local farmers. One of the highlights is rice crackers (khao tang). The snack is produced by the Group of Housewives of Klong Maha Sawat Farmers.
The group was founded in 2000. The aim is to promote rice grown in the area. The group use only unmilled rice (khao klong) for the snack and have various choices of toppings such as white and black sesame or shredded dried pork (mu yong).
Farmers offer their produce at Ban Sala Din Floating Market.
From the market, visitors can further their boat journey to a fruit orchard of Bunlert Set-amnuai. Every tourist will be greeted with many choices of fruits including green and ripe mangoes, guava, pomelo and home-made snacks such as khao tu (a dessert made with rice, coconut and palm sugar), khanom phing (a sweet baked flour mixed with coconut milk) and pickled fruits.
“We do not use chemicals in our orchard,” said Chongdee Set-amnuai, the daughter of late Bunlert, adding that she wanted every visitor to try their fresh fruits and sweet treats, which she offers without extra charge.
After sampling those fruits, visitors will have a chance to tour inside the orchard by taking an e-tan ride. This service is priced at 100 baht for one round for up to 10 passengers.
Tourist boats can accommodate up to six passengers.
According to Chongdee, her 80 rai farm land was inundated for three months during the big flood of 2011. All the fruit trees died. It took them many months to clear those big fruit trees out of their land. This year is the first season that she can harvest fruits from the 1,000 pomelo trees that she grew six years ago.
“I’m glad that visitors like our fruits,” she noted.
Recently, Chongdee introduced a new product, miang kham bua luang. The snack is a bite-sized wrap filled with slices of lime, chilli, dried shrimp, red onion, roasted peanut, ginger, roasted coconut and sweet sauce. Instead of using betel leaves for wrapping, the dessert has pink petals of sacred lotus.
The flower has a good smell and does not have leave a small bitter taste like betel leaves.
The last two stops are Khao Sam Orchid Farm where visitors can shop for various types of orchid plants or newly cut orchids and Ban Fak Khao where tourists can try cold juice with the sweet and sour taste of gac (fak khao).
A boat vendor sells pork noodles along Klong Maha Sawat.
A boat trip along Klong Maha Sawat can be short or last for half-a-day depending on visitors. The time is flexible and the boat driver can also act as a local guide.
Cruising along Klong Maha Sawat can be a family or educational trip for children during summer.