Hello from Koh Chang, Thailand!
We have begun our third season of operations with a trip to Koh Chang, a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand in Trat province, near to the Cambodian border and Cardamom Mountains.
The third largest island in Thailand, Koh Chang has a rugged and mountainous interior, 67km of coastline including mangroves and sports a healthy coverage of old growth rainforest in it's interior.
As a stop on the infamous 'Hippie' or 'Banana Pancake' trail it has seen mass tourism since the 1960s and as such the local farmers have long grown potent ganja to satisfy both indigenous and tourist demand for Cannabis on the island. As soon as we arrived, we met our local contacts and within minutes of arriving had sourced some decent pressed cannabis. Within twenty four hours we had found or been offered a spectrum of cannabis ranging from hybrid indoor sourced from the Bangkok area all the way to the object of our collective desire - landrace NLD grown guerilla on the island.
We were led to meet an old grower, the producer of the bud pictured above and a local to the island for his whole life. He is willing to provide us with seeds from his grow: a few hundred plants in open pollination in a deep forested valley at about four hundred meters altitude in a valley on the western flank of the interior mountains.
Following an intuitive model of natural farming, adapted to what amounts to his squatting in a national park, he grows potent bud that he cures loosely, 'western' style and claims that cannabis in Koh Chang has a multiple century long history on the island. According to him, the famous Lonely Beach was actually lonely 45 years ago and at that time, cannabis was openly sold in the markets on mainland Trat for as little as 3USD per kilogram. The island's convenient location has always fostered piracy and smuggling, it's natural, he says, that Cannabis would be grown here in large quantities. Both to satisfy local and tourist demand but also for export. Notably, during the 1970's and 80's Koh Chang was a very low-key area from which Thai-stick could be loaded onto small boats destined to offload their cargo onto the ocean-going "motherships" that would ultimately offload the cargo to Hawaii or California.
In those days as now, the entire Trat province but Koh Chang island and district in particular are blessed with a perfect climate for growing tropical fruit and vegetables. As such, products from specific areas in the region have long been sought after and renowned - Koh Chang for it's Lychee and Cannabis. Today, only the Lychee remains in sight while the Cannabis cultivators from the west coast in particular are restricted to growing in the jungle. Despite this, locals estimate that there must be at least ten thousand cannabis plants being grown on the island at any time, most of it in on the Eastern side of the island, grown in open pollination and with the exception of a few plants here and there - all of it grown from seed produced on the island and located in the interior on the fringes where the rubber plantations meet the old-growth forest.
Growers on the west coast are all but gone with only small garden grows and a select few guerilla grows due to the increasing development of resorts and hotels to cater for the tourists. The price of land here is high and most local families have long since sold their land, to be replaced by wealthy immigrants from the mainland. There is one greenhouse on the main road here that supposedly grows Cannabis on a government license but we were unable to glean any more information than that, despite having been right up to the gate and peering through the barbed wire fence myself.
The eastern side of the island is much less developed and benefits from sunshine in the mornings and daytime, thus guerrilla grows in the rugged interior on the eastern flanks are common and larger than on the west. The eastern side of the island is however much less tolerant of tourists and their cannabis smoking habits while also being host to the local government headquarters and the police station. The locals here are much less inclined to welcome tourists and were very shy towards us. We met with a few local smokers who were happy to chat about the scene and eventually pointed us towards a local grower willing to talk.
The conversation was short: at this time of year, there are no mature flowering plants on the island. He is scared of letting us see his fields and says that he needs his seeds to plant the next crop and does not keep any extras. If he has too many any given year, they are distributed to his friends and family. We are told that if we want to talk, let alone take photos, we need to come back after the government announcement in a hundred days or so. If it goes well, he's happy to work with us. So let's see! I'll update you all in a few days once we get some seeds in our hands from the first grower!