In Thailand, there is a saying: “ Any Thai willing to work will never starve”. There is always rice in the fields, fish in the waters, and fruit on trees. Even in hard times, the country’s natural wealth continues to provide a livelihood and hopes for a more prosperous future.
Thailand’s location between north latitudes of 6 – 20 (1500 km. in all) and longitudes 100 – 106 enables farmers to grow a variety of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate climate fruits and vegetables.
Rice has always been the most important food staple, but since 1950’s, Thai farmers have also grown cash crops including rubber, cassava, corn, soybean, tobacco, sugar cane and pineapple. The country produces enough to feed its population, millions of tourists that flock annually to skip cold winters in Europe and elsewhere, and even exports significant amounts to other Far Eastern countries and North America. Many of the Dole pineapples are now grown in Thailand for export the both the U S A and Canada.
In Chonburi, Rajong, Chantaburi and Trat on the coast of South China Sea produce quality rambutan, mangosteen, lychee and durian. All are delightful fruits that taste at their peak of ripeness indescribably delicious. Unfortunately, when we get them here they fail to impress us as they would if they were picked ripe.
Southwest of Bangkok, grapes grow abundantly to supply local markets.
In teh north Chiangmai, where temperatures average 21 C, during December to February the weather gets cool. Temperatures may drop to single digits. Scientist are researching to find the best locations for coffee, cold-climate fruits (apples, pears, peaches, apricots) and even flowers for export. Surprising as it may sound, apples, pears, peaches, apricots and cherries are exotic fruits in tropical countries and expensive luxury items.
Even macadamia nut trees are planted to see how well they can thrive in the terroirs of northern Thailand.
Royal projects funded by the king have helped poor highland farmers to switch from opium planting to cultivation of peach trees, and cut flowers. There is an insatiable market for exotic flowers in Western Europe.
Further north close to the border of Myanmar in Chiang Kai researchers planted citrus fruit trees and determined that they are viable cash crops. Soon you will be able to buy Thai citrus in Sri Lanka and southern India, two regions too hot to grow oranges, grapefruit and mandarin.
In Phetchabun, approximately 300 kilometres north of Bangkok, farmers now grow sweet tamarind, and less traditional vegetates like spinach, celery, salads, herbs and even carrots.
Imagine buying locally grown strawberries, mulberry, loquat, qumquat, persimmons and avocados in northern Thailand; thanks to research funded by the government and western scientists.
In Loei, north-east of Bangkok, and very close to the Laotian border, Château de Loei is a popular wine with locals during celebrations. Chenin Blanc grapes yield off-dry white wines suitable with local specialties. Although wine is not part of Thai gastronomy and culture, western educated young people and entrepreneurs have taken to drinking this mildly alcoholic beverage. The market is growing with the help of tourists visiting the country. Regardless of the popularity of wine beer is the most popular of all alcoholic beverages and most suitable with delightful Thai curries and seafood specialties.
If you ever wanted to experience a floating market, take the train from Bangkok to Rathchaburi. In two hours you will arrive in this hectic but beautiful village, and experience how farmers hawk from their long, narrow and graceful boats their fresh coconuts, pomelo, mango, lychee and sweetest grapes you ever ate.
Tourists associate Thailand with beaches, constant tropical climate and fiery hot cuisine, but miss out on the delights of visiting villages that are gradually changing by switching to a new agriculture more in tune with export markets.