This is the 4th article of “Life less ordinary in Prasae” which touches on the hard life of shellfish harvesters that we take so much for granted in the big cities.
One other marine produce that is also famous in Prasae is the “hoi khao” or white smooth shelled clams that we see on sale at fresh fish markets, supermarkets or hyper food stores. These clams are mostly cooked in a sweet sour sauce, fried with fresh basil or used in seafood pastas and rice. One kilo of these clams retail for around THB49 or about USD1.30 in a retail store so you can expect that a clam harvester only gets about THB25 for a kilo or less than USD0.80
The arduous task of harvesting the clams along the Prasae Beach in Rayong. Photos courtesy of SukiDragon.com
We have no idea how difficult or hard it is to harvest these little morsels of shellfish until you have seen and experienced it firsthand in Prasae. The township of Prasae is located about 2 hours and 30 minutes’ drive from Bangkok along the coast of the province of Rayong just a short distance from popular Pattaya. This little township has a stand now in community tourism where you can actually go and experience rural life and the real Thai livelihood is like.
Salted and dried seafood. Dried salted anchovies and small squids
The main produce of Prasae is a variety of seafood from fresh shrimps, fish and mollusk to salted dried seafood, snacks and seafood pastes. This community of fishermen are involved in various activites of economy to make a living and many of them produce many different types of items according to the seasons. Life is hard but they persevere and are happy to show visitors around their little town in the hope that you will understand their way of life and in some ways appreciate the fruits of their labors when you love the food they offer at meals and the little snacks they make.
The “hoi khao” is a common clam found off the beaches of Prasae when the tide is low. The condition of the beaches are a little on the silted side and the sand is mostly a fine gray color and texture. These clams are found just below the surface and one would have to dredge the sand to reveal these shellfish. An average work day for shellfish harvesters is as long as the tide is low which around 5 hours is in the blazing heat of day.
A special tool which is a set of twin blades not unlike a shaving blade mounted on a sturdy heavy wooden pole with two belts of which the longer one is slung around the shoulders and a shorter one is placed around the hips. These poles weigh around 3 kilos each and is used to dredge the seabed for the clams.
Happy to find just one clam and our guide showing us how it is done
To operate these poles, you need to push the blade ends into the sand, using your hips and shoulders as leverage to move the poles through the sand in the water until you feel a slight “thunk” on the blades which could or could not be a clam, sometimes it could be empty shells or even stones. It is tough work pulling these poles along in the water as they are heavy, clumsy and also very hot in the day time so one has to have a lot of stamina and endurance in order to make a living as a shellfish harvester.
The yield after an hour in the hot sun and eight of us attempting to harvest!
It took one hour, 8 people and a whole lot of hard work to yield less than a kilo of these clams, which made it a very eye-opening and humble experience as to how hard these clam harvester lives must be to yield enough to make a living. Unfortunately even if you were to culture these clams, harvesting them still requires this method so there is really no easy way to do this. The clam harvesters are mostly women and they are a hardy lot and made it seem so easy to do it. One has to admire their resilience in such a hard life and they still keep the jovial smile on their faces.
HTMS Prasae in the backdrop. Photos by SukiDragon.com
The backdrop of harvesting these clams with the HTMS Prasae as a silhouette in the background of a fast descending evening was a memorable experience.
Hobby for the privileged along the shores of Prasae Beach in the evening
While those with the privileged life of great hobbies sail their windsurfers along the waters are a stark contrast to the way some people earn their livelihoods.
At the evening village market. Vendors here selling preserved and salted fish, fresh caught shrimps, pickled shrimps and fermented shrimp paste
Young bamboo shoots, a variety of wild vegetables and herbs, and dried preserved seafood
Evenings in Prasae can be found making your way to the weekend evening market where locals would go and buy their supplies which are inexpensive and very typical of village markets. Local vegetables such as young bamboo shoots, dried salted fish and a variety of other goods including clothing and snacks can be found for a reasonable and affordable price in these markets. A once monthly Walking Street happens on the first weekend of each month which is where the locals can have a chance to go and enjoy their times and maybe obtain some items of interest.
The freshly caught clams cooked with basil courtesy of the home-stay chef in our lodge at Prasae. Photos by SukiDragon.com
Life is simple in a small fishing village, there is no extravagance and the quality of life is a lot better. Neighbors know each other and unlike being in a big city, there is no keeping up with the Jones’s in a down-to-earth life which though may be hard but is still a great life. Therefore the next time you fret on the price of clams at the market or supermarket, spare a thought for the fishermen who make a livelihood harvesting them.