Before Nan town became important, the center of power in the province was further North n Pua, based on the production of salt. While sea salt and manufactured salts are more popular and abundant these days, salts from land-based deposits have played an important role in history. We’ll take a brief detour to learn more about this maligned but essential mineral while enjoying a mountain resort.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Our last buffet breakfast at Khum Muang Min Boutique Hotel was the same as all the others before it: porridge with a choice of fish or pork, fruit, bad tea. Consistency isn’t the worst thing, but it’s time to move on.
A long drive in the mountains involves numerous rest stops, both for the vans and for their passengers. Our first stop was a coffee shop with clean bathrooms and great views. Our second was at a hilltop temple I remember from four years ago, where once again we could have miang kum snack packages on a skewer.
Our first substantive stop was the Phu Fa Royal Development Center, established by the Crown Princess. Here we were introduced to farming and forestry practices of the Mlabri people, a small ethnic group that previously practiced a nomadic lifestyle but in recent decades was encouraged to settle in Phrae and Nan provinces. The Center runs a rice bank to help eliminate hunger, but the focus during our visit was on more perishable crops, and a loop trail of the forest that introduced us to significant plants. They also showed us some bags woven from vines, a couple of which were available for purchase. (I still have mine from four years ago, so I did not add to my collection this time.)
Before leaving the Center, we stopped by their retail shop where I picked up a bag a mah-kwan peppercorns. I’m interested in substituting them for Szechuan peppercorns to see whether they give a different flavor profile. Back on the road, we stopped for a quick bowl of noodles at Rattana Restaurant (ร้านครัวรัตนา) before continuing our journey.
In Bo Kluea, the top attractions are two salt wells surrounded by informal shops. A man lowers a bucket into the well, submerges it in the saline water, hoists it back up, and pours it into a trough that feeds several nearby open-air huts boiling the water over wood fires. Salt is collected twice: once from the top of the water (similar to fleur de sel) and once from the bottom, where large, heavy crystals form. Vendors offer salt for culinary use, and also as scented scrubs. In addition to a little tasting here, we’ll have the town salt at our hotel.
The Boklua View Resort features numerous cabins set on a hillside above a dining room with a commanding view of the river and foothills. The wrap-around porch suggested a relaxing afternoon, but a large palapa with communal seating areas seemed better for a little happy hour, although I’m not sure it was intended for guests to simply take over.
Dinner was served in the resort’s dining room, and of course we had their mah-kwan fried chicken, which I remembered fondly from 2016. Other courses included sour sausage chunks in a tangy salad, a whole steamed fish stuffed with Thai herbs, chunks of fried fish in a green curry, a hot and sour soup, and (looking at the photo, I have no idea).
Tomorrow we depart this tranquil resort for Pua, another town that tourists seem just now to be discovering.