Thailand: The Bird Nest Condominium Industry

108 images Created 12 Sep 2014

The town of Pak Panang sits on a quiet estuary in Thailand’s Southern Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Unless you are in the edible birds nest industry there is very little reason to visit other than soak up some sleepy southern charm. The town is home to the largest concentration of what are commonly referred to as birds nest condos in the country and some say the first place in Thailand to create such a structure.

Some 80 years ago when a home-owner of a large three-story house in the middle of the town found swiflet’s that make the edible birds nests usually associated with caves, making the same nests in the roof of his house he came decided to dedicate the entire building to the birds.

Since that time the industry boomed and whilst the caves excluded most from entering the industry due to their enormous concession fees paid to the Thai government in 7-year time slots and strictly implemented laws, the ‘birdhouses’, flourished. Pak Panang alone has over 500 buildings covered solely to house the birds and many of its inhabitants became very rich.

Often termed the Caviar of the East, it is not only one of the most favourite delicacies eaten by the Chinese but one of the most expensive. The nets, built by a certain species of swiflets using excretions from their mouths, the nests are said to enhance beauty and improve skin complexion. Trade of Swiftlet nests began in China during the T’ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). China is the prime consumer of a soup made from these nests made in to a soup until a policy of austerity under Mao’s communist rule discouraged such extravagance.

A boom of several decades began after Mao’s death until Beijing decided to clean up the industry after finding excessive amounts of impurities such as nitrate in the nests plus an increase in ‘copied’ nests. This led to blanket ban on all imports until the impurities ceased to exist and countries could specify exactly where the nests were coming from. As a result prices plunged and producers throughout Southeast Asia suffered.

Traditionally in collection of nests in caves, on top of the concessions that costs millions annually, the companies are only allowed to collect the nests three times per year at specific times and each time much pay an additional 500,000 baht (US$15,000) ‘collection fee’. This means the company, having just one chance, completely clears the entire cave leading to many small birds and eggs falling to their death on the cave floors.

The condo’s work differently. Collection can be made anytime so nests not fully developed or containing eggs are left. It is this difference and positive approach that the Association of Birds Nest Entrepreneurs wants to get across and it is hoped that a MoU will be signed between Thailand and Beijing this year so the now 10,000 plus bird-nest condo’s throughout Thailand can transparently and officially resume trade with China.
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