Glimpses of a lifestyle that is worth our salt

By Nguyen Quy   July 12, 2019 | 05:00 am PT
Khanh Hoa farmers wake up before dawn and are at their busiest when the sun is at its brightest and harshest.
Go explore long-standing salt fields in central Vietnam

Around 40 kilometers to the north of Nha Trang, the popular beach town in central Vietnam, Hon Khoi, a sleepy seaside town in Ninh Hoa Commune is home to people whose entire lives are spent harvesting salt.

The salt is produced in fields along Doc Let Beach, an almost entirely isolated and largely undeveloped beach whose white sands and turquoise waters play second fiddle to the salt fields, which have become an Instagram hotspot in recent years. 

Travelers and/or photographers cannot resist capturing the startling white of crystallized salt mounds as well as the process of the mineral being harvested by farmers wearing conical hats under the rising sun, the shining sun and the setting sun.

Spanning an area of 400 hectares (988 acres), Hon Khoi produces about 30,000 tons of salt a year, which is consumed nationwide and also exported to Japan.

Salt production along Vietnam’s long coastline has an annual output of about 750,000 tons.

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During the annual harvesting season from January to June, salt farmers start their day at 4 a.m. and try to finish their work as soon as possible to get away from the burning hot sun.

Shallow fields are filled with sea water and left to dry for about 10-15 days. When it is ready, the team gets to work. The men use rakes to create mounds of crystallized salt in the fields while the women collect it in baskets and wheelbarrows and deposit their collections just outside the field in a larger heap for processing at a later time.

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A group of women in conical hats, their faces covered with handkerchiefs and their feet clad in rubber boots, deftly carry two baskets of salt each on bamboo poles slung over their shoulders.

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Female workers pour salt out of their yokes into the fields.

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During harvest season, salt farmers work constantly for up to seven consecutive hours under the scorching sun with temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celcius. They always carry sufficient quantities of water with them.

As the salt dries and crystallizes in the morning, farmers work more at noon and in the afternoon when the sun is at its brightest. The harsher the sun the better, as it will make the salt crystals form faster.

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While salt farmers are only busy in the fields during the first half of the year with its sunny, dry days, they have to look for other means of income, during the wet season and thereafter.

However, life in Ninh Hoa is unlikely to shift from salt making.

"We live in an area surrounded by saltwater," said Huynh Thi Nung, who has lived all her life in the commune. "We cannot grow rice or vegetables. The only thing we can do is salt farming."

Photos by Pham Hung and Hung Nguyen

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