Bo Kluea means “salt well” in Thai and the tiny village of the same name lays claim to two of these geologically unusual features. They’ve been mined for centuries — their salt once exported to China — but these days form the village’s main tourist attraction.
Both are in the old village, one between the main highway and river as you enter from the east and another about 100 metres away, down by the stream off the main street as you enter from the north. Oddly, other village wells and the Mang River contain little or no salt content; salt deposits then must be extremely localised but are certainly highly concentrated since the quantity of salt obtained is phenomenal. Perhaps in other areas a large hole would have been dug and the sodium chloride deposits mined directly but here there’s no need since fortuitous springs bring the dissolved salt conveniently to the surface anyway.
Buckets of water are hauled up from the wells, then transferred to giant wok-like bowls, where the water is boiled until completely evaporated, leaving mounds of pure salt crystals. The amount of salt obtained per litre is, as we said, almost unbelievable. The pure white crystals are then transferred to wooden containers to complete the drying process. The evaporation process takes around five hours and is carried on around the clock, so has to be permanently tended. The two wells produce around 60 kilos of salt each per day.
If the extraction process is ongoing when you visit, it is simply fascinating to watch. If you can understand a few words of Thai or follow the sign language then the workers — with little to do other than watch the wok boil — are happy to explain everything to you and show you the different stages of the process.
If there’s no work underway — rainy season may certainly stop play — then there’s absolutely nothing to look at. Indeed since work when ongoing is a 24-hour process, you can even watch them doing it by torch light in the middle of the night, adding to the atmosphere and perhaps great for photos.
The sole concession to modernity we detected in the entire process are the battery-run flashlights. Every other stage of the extraction cannot have changed an iota in hundreds of years. To call the wooden well platforms rickety is an understatement and the production buildings are constructed of bamboo with straw roofs. There are no official opening hours, no entrance fee and the only purchase visitors can make are plastic pots of salt for 25 baht each. It’s good salt, though it has no iodine content, which is added later.
The larger of the two wells, by the river, does have two rather good coffee shops as well as a noodle cafe plus a bamboo bridge across the Mang if you fancy a stroll. We found it enthralling and went back three times.
How to get there
From the highway, head in to town on the main road. The mines are on the right about 100 metres down the road.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 28th January, 2016.