Savouring a sylvan past
Rat Burana was once famous for growing high-quality betel nuts. Most of the areca palms have since been felled, but the rich agrarian traditions of this fruit-growing district can still be experienced by anyone willing to do a little exploring
In the late 1760s, when King Taksin was busy establishing his new capital in Thon Buri following the sacking of Ayutthaya, this was a sparsely populated frontier area. Those were unsettled times and the residents of this rural outpost probably lived in constant fear of attack by enemy troops.
A local man named Khai demonstrates how to climb an areca palm to pick its fruit. Betel nuts from the Rat Burana area are famous for their red flesh, crunchy texture and the fact that they don’t leave a bitter after-taste. Each tree has to be raised from seed. It only begins bearing bundles of nuts when it is between five and seven years old but, if cared for properly, can live for up to three decades. Areca palms usually need to be watered every two or three days and a farmer must be vigilant against the tree’s two worst enemies: aphids are a constant threat, but squirrels can also be troublesome. Production of nuts is most plentiful when a tree is between eight and 12 years old.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Rat Burana is a tranquil district in southwestern Bangkok covering an area of 15.7km2. Agriculture is still an important occupation here, with orchards and market gardens supplying fresh produce for city dwellers, but this is also an emerging industrial zone and, increasingly, a suburban refuge for those who don't mind the long commute to town.
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