First stop was CHIANG MAI, 400 miles north west of BANGKOK. Known as the 'Rose of the North' this rather large country town was beautiful and very clean. The 200,000 population is mostly engaged in farming and cottage industries. Shopping is a pleasure and quite safe even at night. Prices generally were very competitive.
Fruit seen in the markets included durian, mangosteen, rambutan (chompoo and rongrien), longan (daw variety), sapodilla, maffai (Baccaurea species), mango (Nam Dok Mai and Okrong).
Next day, we visited the Chiang Mai University where we were entertained with a very interesting slide show and lecture on local commercial fruit such as lychee, longan and mango.
Nam Dok Mai is the mainstay of their mango industry which last year produced over one million tons of fruit. Okrong is their second most important mango. A new hybrid mango called Kio Saveuy was mentioned as having potential.
Sam Radu was a variety of mango which they claimed has three crops a year.
Mango trees are now grafted almost exclusively using the 'top wedge' method, then planted out at 2.5 METRE intervals. Every second tree is used for propagation and eventually removed. This leaves a 5-metre spacing and the trees are kept pruned to within these confines. Tree tops are also kept low for ease of management.
All fruit are wrapped in newspaper or porous polythene fabric to guard against insect damage. They have some very nasty mango maggots over there.
Sri Chompoo is considered their best longan. Other varieties include Haew, Dang, Biew and Daw. Daw was the earliest one on the market and sold for A$4 per kg. Marcotting is the most popular method of propagation.
Commercial size crops begin at 5 years and the trees are replaced at 15 years. Only the lower branches are pruned as they produce very little fruit. Tree spacing is 8 m x 10 m. In some orchards, tree trunks are hilled up with soil to strengthen against strong winds.
Some longan varieties in Chiang Mai tend to bear only in alternate years. On enquiry at one orchard we were told the trees were not fertilised. No doubt this would be a contributing factor towards alternate year fruiting.
Whilst in Chiang Mai, we visited the PRAPATT fruit orchard about 15 km from the town. This 400-acre farm specialises in mango (1,600 trees), longan (600 trees), lychee (200 trees), pomelo (200 trees), and macadamia nuts (600 trees).
The main variety of mango is Nam Dok Mai. The longans were mostly Chompoo and the lychees were mostly Haak Yip and Hong Huey.
A point of interest: long stems are left on the mango fruit for 2 hours after harvest to help prevent skin damage from milky sap. When the stems are cut short, the sap flow has generally stopped. This also reduces the need for washing.
Lychee is an important crop in this area. The main varieties are - OHIA (Haak Yip), HONG HUEY (Tai So), and KIMCHENG (Wai Chee).
In orchard situations, bunches of lychee fruit are wrapped in newspaper or perforated plastic bags to protect against insect damage. This is all done by hand, sometimes using a bamboo ladder.
Orchard trees of both longan and lychee showed considerable evidence of blade scars low on the main branches, and higher up were cincturing scars. However, these experiments appear to have ended a couple of years ago. (Cincturing in various forms is done to initiate flowering). In the old days, the Chinese were known to have beaten their trees with bamboo poles in an attempt to cause flowering. We were told that both lychee and longan crops were small this year.
Bamboos are used extensively in this area for building materials, utensils, ladders, scaffolding, water pipes and tree props. Several varieties of bamboo shoots were selling in markets.
In many back yards could be seen lychee, longan and mango trees.
This area is within the 'Golden Triangle' and we saw some helicopter patrols. We were informed later the choppers were dropping napalm bombs on the poppy plantations.
We stayed at the Orchid Hotel, a magnificent building decorated in colonial timber and chandeliers. Fresh sugar cane juice, crushed while you wait, was on sale everywhere, and was refreshing and delicious - cane farmers please note. Another point which may interest our cane growers was seen in the markets - fried cane beetles and crickets!
The city of Chiang Mai looks more like a large country town as it nestles at the foothills of the north west highlands. It is a very picturesque area surrounded by farms, paddy fields and mountains.
Flying back to Bangkok, we could see thousands of fruit farms down on the central plains. This is one of their main production areas of rambutan, durian, pomelo and early lychees.
Bangkok: this sprawling metropolis is not quite as clean as Chiang Mai, but still a fascinating place to visit.
The farmers' market near the week-end market, had the best range of fruit seen on our three-week tour. This market was set up by the Thai government for farmers to sell their produce direct to consumers, thus avoiding the notorious 'middlemen' who seem to have earned themselves a bad reputation.
This system of grower distribution direct to the public was found to be in operation in all countries visited and was usually backed up by government regulation.
Fruit seen in this market included durian, rambutan, longan, lychee, mango, sapodilla, mangosteen, salak, palmyra palm fruit, dark red malay apples, langsat, carambola, star apple, chinese jujubes, santols, pomelo, tropical grapes, seedless guava and breadfruit. The large MONTONG durians were mild, firm and delicious. They were selling for up to $20A each. Another small golden durian was also selling under the name of MONTONG. GAAN YAOW was another excellent mild durian. At least half of our group are now 'hooked' on durian.
Rambutans were everywhere and selling for $2A to $3A per kg. Varieties in abundance were RONGRIEN and CHOMPOO. Thai people prefer to eat CHOMPOO, but RONGRIEN usually attracts a higher price because of its bright red colour.
Sapodillas were a beautiful reddish-golden colour. After many questions as to why we didn't have that variety in Australia, we were let into a little secret - they are dipped in a red lime solution. The varieties were MARKOK and CRASUEY.
Large santols up to 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter sold for $1.50A.
Salak fruit were pink and of inferior quality compared to the BALI SALAK.
Langsats were good quality and size but slightly immature. They should be kept for several days to reduce the acid and bring out the best flavour. HAAK YIP lychees were selling for $3A to $4A kg. White-fleshed pomelos were of excellent quality and sold for up to $2A each. The new Thai seedless guava is softer and decidedly sweeter than the large 'Thai white' guava. In a nearby nursery we saw a guava bush with dark purple colouring on both the fruit and the leaves. We brought back 6 plants of the seedless type.
Mangoes were mostly Nam Dok Mai and Carabao imported from MANILA. The vegetables were just too numerous to mention.
We also visited the WEEKEND MARKET (formerly known as the SUNDAY MARKET) and saw another huge display of fruit, vegetables and pot plants of all descriptions including grafted fruit trees, ornamentals, orchids and bamboos.
Farms visited included a couple of durian orchards where the trees, mostly MONTONG, grow on raised dirt mounds. These mounds are about 3 metres wide and 1 to 2 metres above water level. The water level is raised during flowering and fruit development. Some of the trees had their roots in the water but no 'sickly' trees were seen. Propagation was by approach graft.
Durian production now appears to be one of the most important crops around BANGKOK. Total value of the crop last year was approximately $90 million US. for 260,000 tons. Most of the orchards had been planted about 25 years ago.
Montong and Gaan Yaow are the most popular cultivars, with a couple of others such as KRADUM THONG and KOB being planted mainly to extend the season. There is still a lot of CHANEE being sold because it was planted in large numbers in the early days.
DATE: September 1985
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