Kampot Salt

Kampot is a small riverside town about four hours drive south of Phnom Penh - with the roads in their current condition that is. The last time we were there, about five years ago and with the roads in “Cambodia-good” condition, it was closer to a 2.5-3 hour drive, just to give you an idea of “current condition.” The last time we were there was right before we returned to the states in August 2014 and I’ve been wanting to see the salt harvest ever since then. It was on that trip that we first heard about the salt fields, but harvest only happens during the dry season, December - April, so that August all we saw was barren paddy-like fields, not particularly compelling. Finally, this past weekend, with a three day break from school, we were able to make the trip down. While we enjoyed a few days away from the city for many reasons, it was getting to see the salt harvest that really made the trip. It’s a fascinating (and impressive) traditional process.


The workers, who make about $8 a day raking and hauling the salt, moved with so much grace. And they are fast too! They cleared several pond areas in our short time there.


If I didn’t know better, at times I would have thought the entire thing had been choreographed.


And in typical Cambodian style, even though the work is hard, days are long, and the sun is unrelenting, there were a lot of smiles.

The way the process works is that the fields, made of clay-like dirt, are flooded with sea water. As the water evaporates in the hot sun, the salt crystals are left behind. The salt is then collected and stored in barns before being taken to a factory for cleaning. After being cleaned iodine is added and it is then packaged and shipped throughout the country.


Thirteen to fourteen thousand tons of salt is harvested from each of the fields by hand each year. Yes, you read that right, by hand.


There are two main salt fields around the town of Kampot but there are seven in the general area. In 2014, the year we just missed seeing it by a few months, the combined production of salt was 147,000 tons. That is a lot of salt!


I didn’t ask too many questions because I didn’t want to interrupt their work but my guess, based on conversations with other land workers around the country, is that most of these families have been doing this work for generations.

From a photography standpoint, despite the interesting subject, its a challenging place to shoot. The sun is bright, there is no shade anywhere, the subject is moving continually, and you have to be very careful that you aren’t ending up in your own picture. The reflections can be fun and interesting when they are of the subject, but when they are of the photographer? Not so much. That said, it’s been one of the most fun photo challenges I’ve had in awhile and I’m already looking forward to next salt season!


“You are the salt of the earth . . .” - Matt. 5:13

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