Visiting A Salt Mine in Laos.
Above Photo: A worker scrapes dried salt from a pool.
When I was recently in Savannakhet, I took a day off from Secret War-related investigations and instead went a few kilometers out of town to visit a salt factory. I can’t say I was greatly enthused at the prospect, but it turned out to be a very interesting visit, and we took some great photos.
The salt deposit is underground and was discovered 30 years ago by a petroleum company scouting for oil.
We were shown two ways the factory makes salt.
First the sun-dried salt.
It was interesting to reflect that I’d seen Roman-era salt pools on Gozo in Malta dating back over two thousand years which dried salt in the same way, and that the ‘technology’ hadn’t changed in all that time.
Most of the sun-dried salt was exported to Vietnam.
The crystals taken from the pools were very large, and the salt tasted delicious.
The pools are filled with water from a pump and a bore hole which accesses the salt lake 103 metres underground. This sun-dried method of salt production can only take place during the dry season.
After the salt is harvested, it is collected and bagged in large 50km sacks bought from Thailand and amusingly labeled as ‘pig food.’ In the packing shed the floor was caked with a two inch-thick crust of crushed salt, which looked and felt like sludge underfoot.
There was a more extensive pool system further out in the fields near the factory.
The second method of salt production involved boiling salt water in pools, and again scraping off the dried salt. This method produces more expensive salt, because of the labour and heating involved.
I couldn’t help reflect that much jungle has gone into the fires to make this salt, and whether a better method of heating the salt pool could be devised; to which the owner might say “not cheaper than free wood, mate.”
The salt here is for the Laos market and has iodine added, and I thought it ironic that the method of producing salt for the Laos market requires the destruction of so much of their forest, whereas the more environmentally-friendly produced sun-dried salt all gets exported to Vietnam in what seems to me like an increasingly one-sided relationship.
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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