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Bo Klua – Visiting the Salt Ponds

Michael Babcock, Sunday, June 1st, 2014

We recently traveled to Bo Klua (also spelled Bo Kleua or Boklua) – บ่อเกลือ – a district in Eastern Nan province in Northern Thailand right on the border of Laos. A translation of the name would be “Salt Ponds”  (เกลือ (klua) means salt). This blog explores some of the sights we visited. Bo Klua is well worth a visit.

The town of บ่อเกลือใต้ – Bo Klua Tai  (ใต้,  tai, meaning south) is some 90 km from Nan, about a two-hour drive up twisty, windy mountain roads, to an elevation of around 1,100 meters. (Here’s the Google map of the route from Nan to Bo Klua Tai.) Along the way we stopped to enjoy numerous mountain views.

View #1

View on the way to Bo Klua

View #2

View on the way to Bo Klua

(Click images to see larger version.)

Doi Phu Kha National Park

Doi Phu Kha National Park – อุทยานแห่งชาติดอยภูคา – in the Luan Prabang Range in Nan province, is the largest National park in Northern Thailand. It is directly adjacent to the district of Bo Klua and a good place to visit on the way. Its most noticeable feature is Doi Phu Kha – Phu Kha Mountain – which is 1,980 meters high. There are numerous trails for hiking; accommodations (cabins) and camping are available.

Park Sign

Michael & Sun at the park

Park View #1

One of the views at the park

Above left are Michael (that’s me) and our driver, Sun, standing in front of a park sign on the way into Doi Phu Kha National Park, with Phu Kha mountain the background. The park is full of beautiful views, such as the one above right.

"Cherry" Blossoms

Flower blossoms at the park

Park View #2

Another beautiful view

The National Park is home to Chumpoo Phu Kha (Thai: ชมพูภูคา – Bretschneidera sinensis), a tree with attractive pink flower bunches. Although they were not in bloom when we visited in January (they bloom later, in the spring), there were other trees with beautiful pink blossoms. The trees we saw (see above left) are often mis-called “sakura,” after the Japanese cherry tree; they are actually a completely different tree (not a cherry) indigenous to Thailand.

I’ve put in another of the stunning views at the park above right.

For further exploration:

The Rock Salt Pits

The name of the district – บ่อเกลือ (Bo Klua) – “salt ponds” – tells you about the main attraction here. For centuries salt has been extracted from these ponds and the salt has provided prosperity and power for the region. People still come here to see how the salt is extracted and to purchase it for their own use.

Salt Pit #2

Getting salt water from a well

Salt Pit #2

Another way to draw salt water

Salt is still manufactured much as it has been for centuries here. The first step is to extract the salt water from the wells. On the left it is being extracted in the traditional fashion: by lowering a bucket down into the well, hauling it up and putting it in a clay pot. The second operation we saw (picture on the right) used more modern methods: pumps were used to draw up the water rather than relying on manual labor.

Salt Oven #2

The two ovens

Salt Oven #1

Boiling away the water

The next step in the extraction process is to boil the salt water until much of the water has evaporated. The resulting salt is then put in baskets and suspended over the ovens to further dry it out.

Then the salt is packaged and sold. These days, iodine is often added to the salt to prevent goiter due to iodine deficiency. We saw it for sale in both forms: iodized and non-iodized.

The following blog has some good information on how the salt is produced:

Town Walk

Strawberry Patch

Pick your own strawberries!

Temple Sign

Sign for Wat Bo Luang

The best way to see everything is to walk through the town, from the one salt operation to the other. On our walk, we passed a temple with a sign also in Northern script (above right) and continued to the edge of the buildings to a field where you could pick your own strawberries; you could also buy strawberry plants. On our way back, we stopped in at the temple.

Wat Bo Luang – วัดป่อหลวง

Temple

A temple building

Temple View

Temple view

The temple is a good example of a local northern Temple. There were two simple buildings open with different Buddha statues. As with many northern temples, there were murals on the walls, both behind the main altar and along the sides leading to the altar. When we were there towards the end of our day this January, the sky and clouds provided a lovely backdrop for one of the buildings and the naga protecting it.

Buddha #1

Buddha & Murals

Mural Close-up

Mural close-up

Here is the main Buddha statue and a close up of the wonderful mural behind it. (Click on the pictures for a larger image.)

Mural #1

Buddha’s moment of enlightenment

Mural #2

Buddha’s “Parinirvana”

These two images are murals that were found on the side walls of the same building. The mural to the left depicts the Buddha at his moment of Enlightenment. Mara (represented by the green demon and the black elephant to the left) is mocking Buddha and asking how can he say he is enlightened. Mara asks: “Who will vouch that you are enlightened?” Then the Earth Mother Goddess (in the center) arises and says: “I will vouch for his enlightenment.” She then wrings out her hair and the resulting flood washes Mara away.

On the right is a representation of the Parinirvana of Buddha, where he gives his final sermon, lying on his right side, prior to leaving his body for nirvana.

Buddha #2

Another Buddha statue at the temple

Mural Close-up #2

Another mural close-up

One of the other buildings was also quite interesting: it had two Buddha statues under a mural with yet another Buddha image. The mural behind these statues had two fantastical creatures, one of which is shown as a close-up on the right.

(Click pictures to see a larger image.)

A Bo Klua Breakfast

When we stayed in Bo Klua this last January, we went looking for a quick and easy breakfast place. We found a place typical of so many restaurants in Thailand, with very basic decor and basic food that was delicious.

This roadside place had a menu that was in Thai and English, indicating that Bo Klua gets a fair number of foreign tourists. The menu was called เมนูอาหาร – menu ahaan (ahaan means “food”) – and the English on the menu says “Fast Foods Menu.”

Restaurant

Roadside restaurant

Thai Omelette

Thai Omelette over Rice

You can see that there’s nothing fancy about it: a roadside restaurant that opens onto the street. Our driver ordered an omelet – ไข่เจียว (Khai Jiow) – over rice. The menu had a “Minced pork omelet” – ไข่เจียวหมูสับ (Khai Jiow Moo Sap)  – but our driver doesn’t eat pork so he ordered it without pork instead.

Noodle Dish

Rice Noodle Dish

Pork Dish

Stir-fried Pork dish

Kasma ordered a noodle dish (above left), which the menu called “Wide rice noodles with vegetables and meat” – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแห้ง (Kway Tiow Haeng). The dish on the right, which I ordered, is called “Rice topped with stir-fried pork and Sacred basil + Fried egg” – ผัดกะเพรา + ไข่ดาว  (Pad Kaprao + Khai Dao). A dish made pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) – prepared with any kind of meat or seafood you can imagine – is one of Thailand’s favorite dishes. (See my blog on Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.) Here the dish came with a typical Thai-style fried egg – ไข่ดาว (Khai Dao) – literally a “star egg” – with its crisp-fried edges.

Where to Stay or Eat Lunch or Dinner

My previous blog was on Pongza Restaurant and the Boklua View (Resort).

Further Exploration


Written by Michael Babcock, June 2014

Pongza Restaurant in Bo Klua

Michael Babcock, Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Pongza Restaurant – ร้านอาหารปองซา (Raan Ahaan Pongza) – is found in the town of Bo Klua Tai – บ่อเกลือใต้ – in eastern Nan province in Northern Thailand, about 85 kilometers from Nan city. Here are my impressions from eating at this popular restaurant in a beautiful setting in January 2014. I’ll also talk briefly about the Bo Klua View (Resort) where the restaurant is located. My next blog will be on Bo Klua itself

Pongza Restaurant is located at the Boklua View (Resort) (see below) in the foothills of Doi Phu Kha, nearly 700 meters above sea level. Both restaurant and resort are owned by Toun Upajak, an English speaking Thai who is a trained chef. The restaurant serves a combination of Western and Thai dishes, including local (jungle) specialties. They make their own bread and desserts (western-style) and use produce from their own organic gardens whenever possible. Although the menu is not extensive because of the difficulty in getting ingredients at their remote location, there are still plenty of interesting dishes to choose from.

I’ll start with a couple of the dishes for, after all, the main reason to go to any restaurant is the food.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken with Mak Wan

If the restaurant has a “signature dish” it is ไก่ทอดมะแข่วน – Kai Tod Mak Wan – Fried Chicken with Ma-kwaen Herb. มะแข่วน (ma-kwaen or ma kwan) is usually identified as Zanthoxylum Limonella Alston and it is apparently fairly common in Northern Thailand (including Mae Hong Son & Chiang Mai). The genus Zanthoxylum (in English commonly known as prickly ash) includes the more commonly known Sichuan (or Szechuan) pepper. It has an exotic flavor and, like Sichuan peppers, a somewhat numbing effect on the mouth. It adds a very interesting, almost floral, taste to the chicken. It is used medicinally in Thailand to treat toothache, gum disease, nausea, dizziness and certain menstrual problems. Its oil can also be used as a mosquito repellant and has been investigated with some promising results as a possible bactericide for multi-drug resistent bacteria.

If you want more information about this interesting spice, do an Internet search using the Thai name (copy & paste) – มะแขว่น. Nearly all of the articles will be in Thai so you’ll need to hit the “Translate this page” link. There’s a company in Canada – spicetrekkers.com – that sells it under the name of Mah Kwan Wild Pepper;  all-in-all they have over 25 different kinds of pepper.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Fern Salad

Fern Salad

Fried Fern Salad

Fried Fern Salad

The restaurant has a number of dishes with a type of fern growing in the local jungles, called ผักกูด – pak kood. The dish on the left above is Yum Pak Kood Ruam – ยำผักกูดร่วม – a “yum” salad with the fern, ground pork and squid. We had this on our visit this January (2014).

Above right is a Fried Fern Salad – Yum Pak Kood Tod – ยำผักกูดทอด – Kasma had this dish on a visit during December 2012. This particular dish wasn’t on the menu when we visited in 2014.

Green Curry

Green Curry with Crispy Catfish

Limeade

Two blended fruit drinks

On our visit we ordered one other dish, the Green Curry with Crispy Catfish – เขียวหวานปลาดุกกรอบ (Kiow Wan Pla Dook Krob) – shown to the left. It had a lovely presentation, as you can see; however I found the curry itself a bit disappointing. It was ok, just not terrific (which somehow I come to expect in Thailand).

Incidentally, the food here is served with a lovely purple rice (that’s what it’s called, in English, on the menu); it’s a whole grain rice with a couple different varieties cooked together.

The restaurant can be excellent when it comes to presentation, as you saw with the green curry and can see with the two glasses of blended fruit drinks above right, taken by Kasma in December 2012. (When we visited in 2014 the drinks were a bit plainer, probably because the restaurant was absolutely packed.)

Caramel Cream

Caramel Cream

Banana Banoffee

Banana Banoffee

If you are so inclined, Pongza does have some very tasty desserts. Above left is what the menu calls “Caramel Cream” – it looks very much like a delicious Crème Brûlée.

The dessert on the right is called “Banana Banoffee” and looks mildly decadent. Kasma (who took these pictures on the December 2012 trip) said that they were quite tasty.

View #1

A view from the restaurant

View #2

Table with a view

The restaurant is in a lovely physical setting; it is quite pleasant to have a meal next to the mountain views from the dining room. You see a couple of examples above: some of the tables are right at the edge of the deck, giving a memorable dining experience.

If you’re ever in Bo Klua, I recommend eating at Pongza Restaurant. The food is very good  – some dishes excellent, others good –  the presentation is lovely and the views are quite nice indeed. Give it a try.

Check out:

Boklua View (Resort) – บ่อเกลือ วิว

I can’t end the blog without at least mentioning the Boklua View (Resort) where Pongza restaurant is located.

Boklua View

Front of Boklua View (Resort)

Resort View

View from a room

It’s a wonderful, peaceful place to stay. Many of the rooms overlook beautiful views, such as the one above right.

Bedroom

Bedroom at Boklua View

Wash basin

Wash basin

The resort is very nicely appointed, as you can see from this shot of the bedroom above right. There are numerous beautiful and tastefully done details, such as the wash basin above right, and the flowers floating in water (further down the page)  It’s a great place to stay while in Bo Klua.

Boklua View (Resort)
209 Moo 1 Baan Bo Loung
Bua Kluea Tai
Bo Kluea 55220, Thailand
Phone: 081 809 6392 or 054 778 140
Email: admin@bokluaview.com

Also see:

Floating Flowers

Flowers floating in water – another nice touch at Bo Klua View (Resort)


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014