I really love living in Bangkok. But sometimes it’s nice to get away from the big city and see another side of Thailand. Fortunately, for this latest trip I didn’t have to go far. In fact, adventure was found just an hour outside of the Big Mango in the lovely coastal province of Samut Sakhon.
TakeMeTour in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have put together day trip tours under a program called “Local Table“. These private tours offer visitors a unique opportunity to explore Thailand through the eyes of locals.
I received an invitation to review the very first Local Table tour for Samut Sakhon. It was described, “Discover the Secrets of Salt and Savor Homemade Seafood at Salt Farm“. I was thrilled to accept. The tour consisted of a tour to a mangrove forest, an active salt farm, and a lunch of seafood and unique local dishes prepared by the salt farming family. Honestly they had me at seafood!
It was a fantastic break from the city, and I’m happy to share this experience.
First Stop: A Mangrove Forest Conservation Center
My gal and I met our “Local Expert“, Khun Hansa (“Pink”) and her hubby, and our driver, Khun A at the Wutthakat BTS station (Silom Line) at 9:00 am. I’m not a morning person so I was pretty grateful it wasn’t too early. From the BTS station we proceeded straight to Samut Sakhon.
After about 45 minutes we arrived to our first stop, a Mangrove Forest Conservation Center. There are actually several mangrove forest conservation centers in the region. Translated from Thai to English this one is called “Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation Center Number 2“.
A small museum
The center offers a small exhibit dedicated to the flora and fauna of the mangrove forest. There’s also some interesting pictures of how some of the animals were found.
As an example, they had a picture of a large whale beached between several mangrove trees. These bones presumably came from that picture.
I personally didn’t see monkeys, beached whales, or dolphins. But I did see a lot of mud skipper fish and tons of little crabs that had 1 tiny claw and 1 GIANT claw. The tiny claw was for feeding itself and the GIANT claw was brawling with other crabs.
At one time the mangrove forest and villages extended a few kilometers further out to sea. But due to the rising ocean and people leveling much of the mangrove forests to make room for salt and fishing farms this important ecosystem was quickly disappearing.
Today people understand how important the mangrove forest is to the ecosystem and environment. These forests prevent soil erosion, aid against flooding, and provide a necessary habitat for small sea life. This conservation center encourages visitors to participate in planting young mangrove saplings in the hopes of educating the public and growing future generations of trees.
Second Stop: A Fish Farm
I’ve visited fish farms in America before. They’re much different than what you see here in Thailand. In America fish farms are row after row of small concrete rectangular pools teeming with fish. Often you can throw fish food pellets in the water and watch them go bananas. In Thailand fish farms are huge shallow fields of brackish water. Don’t expect to see any fish.
The fish are caught in the early hours. A canal with a water gate is opened at night. Long nets are lowered in the track. In the early hours the gate is quickly shut and the nets are raised to reveal the bountiful catch. What is caught is quickly whisked off to the morning markets for sale.
Third Stop: Coffee and Salt Farm Baanya
In the dry season this salt farm is peppered with large mounds of fresh salt and workers raking newly formed crystals into new piles. During the rainy season the scene is less much dramatic. It’s simply too wet for the salt to crystalize.
The on site warehouse is able to hold 300 tons of salt when full. During our visit it had just a fraction of that stored. It’s the results of what they could gather over a short little break from the rain.
Fortunately I was able to get an education on how the salt farm works. There were 5 wicker baskets filled with the farm’s products: very fine sea salt (“new salt”), large crystal 10-day old salt, very large crystal 20-day salt, dark salt, and crusty earth chips.
I tasted the new salt, 10-day, and 20-day salt. The new salt tastes just like the normal seasoning salt you’d find in the kitchen. The 10-day salt is much saltier–but I can see using it for food (like salt crusted fish) or freshly ground salt. But the 20-day salt is so salty it almost stings your tongue! I don’t think it belongs in the kitchen. The dark salt is used in cosmetics, and the crusty earth chips are used in soil fertilizer. Neither are meant to be eaten. That would be just gross.
Dramatic scene or not, I didn’t miss an opportunity to get my feet in the squishy mud!
What’s in a name?
The salt farm is called Coffee & Salt Farm Baanya. It has been a family run operation for 80 years. “Baanya” is Thai for “Grandma’s House”. No they don’t farm coffee.
The matriarch of the family, Khun Daeng, decided to expand the operation to include a coffee shop, and expand the products that they sell on site to include salt based soaps, and lotions.
Let me tell you, they make a fine cup of coffee here, too.
Khun Daeng has become a bit of a local celebrity and has had many celebrity visitors to the farm. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones you might just spot the “Lannister” in this poster of visitors. Here’s a hint.
But what I really want to share with you is the amazing seafood meal we had!
Please note that this feast is exclusive for folks who book the Local Table tour. So if you roll up there on your own don’t expect this amazing spread (but do order a coffee!). The tour promised a seafood feast with unique local dishes. The meal consisted of 4 different dishes, 2 dishes each. I was not disappointed!
NOTE: This is the standard menu they have. If you require variations takemetour is happy to adjust the menu–so long as the menu remains seafood based!
The catch of the day!
This dish of Salt-Baked Seafood is meant to impress. It contains a large cod fillet, blue swimmer crab, and 5 large prawns. It was served with butterfly pea flowers on a bed of salt crystals. Nothing beats fresh seafood cooked simply.
Seepweed is a local delicacy. It grows wild in the Samut Sakhon province and looks kind of like plumped up rosemary. The greens are tender, and slightly salty.
Khun Pui (Khun Daeng’s daughter) made a delightful snack with the Seepweed Leaf Salad and Sautéed Dried Shrimps dish. She divided the seepweed into little mounds of greens topped with a coconut cream dressing, and crunchy dried shrimps. Amazing!
The recipe for these two dishes was actually created by Chef “Book” Boonsmith Pukkanasut. He wanted to create simple dishes that showcased local ingredients with unique flavors. These two dishes successfully capture the amazing cuisine the region offers.
A flavorful rice dish!
This Fried Rice with Crab Roe dish was incredibly flavorful. It was accompanied with a spicy seafood sauce that kicked it up a notch. The roe provides a nice saltiness to the dish. I really enjoyed it.
A unique curry dish!
I’ve never heard of an oyster curry before. This Seepweed Leaf Curry with Oysters is totally unique to Samut Sakhom. It’s not spicy at all. The curry is light and creamy, the seepweed slightly salty, and the fresh oysters are plump and meaty.
Get your shop on!
The Coffee & Salt Farm Baanya has a large store where you can buy their products directly. It’s shocking just how much salt you suddenly find yourself needing. Seriously. I think I’m good to go for all things salt for the next year or so now.
We ended up with a couple of bags of new sea salt, a couple of bags of 20-day salt (who doesn’t want baby soft feet?), and some bars of soap, and lotion. All of this for a very reasonable 300 baht!
A little extra…
After the lunch we headed back to Bangkok. The tour was technically over. But since there was a seafood market open we made one quick stop just to check out what they had. After all, Samut Sakhon is famous for their seafood.
It’s no wonder folks will drive to Samut Sakhon just to do some seafood shopping. I’ve never seen fresh seafood so cheap! There were deals for live green mussels for 3 kg for 100 baht and trays of 6 large cooked prawns with seafood sauce for 120 baht! I do much of my shopping at the Klong Toei Market. I’m used to getting food “cheap”. However, this redefined what I now know is cheap.
TIp: Should you decide to take a tour, it might we wise to take a cooler with you.
With the tour complete after a 45 minute drive we were returned back to Bangkok at the Wutthakat BTS station (Silom Line) a little after 2:00 pm. We’d had a full day of adventure yet it was wonderful still having a full day still ahead of us.
Take a break!
#1: It’s a good deal.
This tour is 1,800 baht per person (not including booking fee and taxes). This includes all transportation from the meeting point. We chose the BTS meeting option which is free, but you can choose a pickup from your hotel if you’re willing to pay an extra fee. For a large family with small children that pick-up option might be nice to have and worth paying.
#2: You’ll have great guides.
Pink and A are fantastic guides and human beings. They’ve been operating tours to Samut Sakhon for 2 years and are very familiar with the area, the people, and the food there. It’s not unusual for A to pick leaves off a tree and offer you to smell or taste them. Taste them–they’re delicious. Plus Pink and A are both foodies who have a wealth of knowledge about places to eat there and in Bangkok. Pick their brains!
Both speak English very well (Pink was educated in the United Kingdom), and are a joy to talk to. They really make you feel welcome. They’re also able to zero in on your interests and ensure you have an enjoyable tour experience.
#3: It’s the only way to get the feast!
If you don’t have a car then getting to and around Samut Sakhon is very difficult. If you don’t speak Thai it may be difficult for you as well. Most signs are in Thai and most of the locals do not speak English. But even if you have a car and speak Thai you’ll miss out on the amazing feast only offered when you book through TakeMeTour!
Should you take the tour I’d love to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment below!