I have never been a fan of longan, or lamyai, as it is called in Thai, but it is difficult to avoid the plant and the fruit altogether if you are in Chiang Mai these days. Market stalls are laden with bunches of the fruit, and the heavy, sweet, sticky smell clings to your nose.
One of my favourite roads is the narrow and winding riverside route from Chiang Mai to the south – lush, colourful, peaceful. If you look at the satellite map of the area on our Chiang Mai map, you can clearly make out millions of lamyai trees in neat rows. They bloom in February, and the fruits ripen in July and August. Lamyai is one of the most important cash crops of the region; 70% of the fruit is exported fresh, dried or canned.
The plantations surround picturesque little villages made up of a few wooden houses, there are no barbed wires, fences, mad dogs or men with guns protecting the crops. The trees are all groaning under the weight of the fruits, bending to the ground. Most of them are supported by thick wooden sticks. Extended families sit in the shade, there is no rush to get all the fruit picked today – men up in the trees, women sorting and packing fruit into sacks, children chasing dogs. It would be hard to go unnoticed. Less than an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, it feels very remote. People smile, wave and shout hello, they try to show me the way to the main road, thinking I am lost. I am invited to take a bunch of fruit here and there, the sweet juice sticks on my hands. I wish I was more outgoing, or had friends around here, I would love to join in the fruit-picking, it reminds me of a century long gone, a time of coming together and sharing.
Once the fruits are picked, they are delivered to weighing and sorting stations that pop up everywhere – temple yards, markets, back yards. The prices seem to be the same at every one of them. It is worth stopping and contemplating them just for a second, comparing them to the prices you pay for your fruits in the supermarket – this is where they all come from. Noisy, ancient-looking contraptions sort the fruits into different baskets according to size.
Of course, the people are all laughing at me. If they had cameras, they would be taking pictures of this weird farang for sure.
Some good news: This year, the usual lamyai festival is scheduled to take place on August 6 in the Lamphun Sport Centre – in the world’s lamyai capital. I have never been, but I presume it is the usual OTOP fair, fruit contest, beauty contest, music and funfair. If you are around, it is a good time to take a dirt road instead of the main road, see it all happening in the plantations, buy the fruit, have some fun in the meantime.