Beekeeping in Thailand

After six weeks in New Zealand, I traveled to Thailand to visit a second cousin. Tom has been living in Bangkok for the past twenty years, but he visits the U.S. from time to time, and we met once when I was a kid. We spoke on the phone in November. He almost remembered me.

“Maggie! It’s been a while. We met at Denny’s in 2001, I think. You have red hair? Blue eyes?”

I squinted my green eyes and tugged on my brown hair “. . . no.”

Luckily, we were the only two Irish people in the Bangkok airport at 10 p.m. on March 3rd. We found each other easily and became fast friends. We toured temples, explored markets, and drank coconut juice fresh from the shell. The best part was the motorcycle taxis. The weirdest part was the beekeeping.

After a week in Bangkok, Tom and I head to Chiang Mai. It was a ten-hour trip in a bus that looked like Las Vegas. A big screen TV at the front of the bus blasted a quintuple-feature at top volume. The Thai actors proved versatile. Every movie featured the same cast; only their characters changed. For example, when I dozed off, the main character was selling beef jerky to his soul mate. When I woke up, he was staging a heist in a tropical rainforest.

We reached Chiang Mai around 8 a.m. The city was draped in an early morning fog that lasted all week long. In fact, the city had been stuck in a haze for a month. The common farming practice of burning crops to prepare fields for planting usually results in a week of smoke. This season, unfortunate weather patterns trapped the air pollution so that it lingered over the city for months. The haze was mystical and hard to breathe.

On our second day in Chiang Mai, we ventured outside the city to meet Tom’s friend, a beekeeper. P’Gaew (pronounced Pea Gay-ow) met us in his pickup truck and showed us to a small yard of hives. The colonies were kept in single deeps. Our translator explained that due to the tropical climate, bees in Thailand are unable to regulate temperature in multi-story hives. I spent last summer working Minnesota bees in one hundred degrees and high humidity, and those bees handled the heat just fine, so I was a little skeptical of this statement. Maybe it was a mis-translation? Or maybe there is something to this claim? My mind is happy to be changed, so feel free to share insight if you can.

I was also surprised to learn about the harvesting regimen. P’Gaew pulls honey off his hives every six days. Some people do five, but five-day honey is high-moisture, low-quality stuff. If P’Gaew waits six days, he can get moisture levels down to 21%. At this stage, the cells have not been capped, so the honeycomb goes directly to the centrifuge, a portable hand-crank machine that allows him to extract on the spot. P’Gaew explains that this is less hassle.

P’Gaew sends his crop to a nearby packer where a processor mechanically dehydrates the honey, heating it to 55-75 degrees Celsius (131-167° F) to separate off the steam (exact figures may have been lost in translation).

The packer is Taiwanese, and I gather that he is working here because beekeeping is small-scale in Taiwan, and labor is cheap in Thailand. For an even lower labor cost, P’Gaew interjects, commercial beekeepers outsource to the neighboring countries of Laos and Myanmar.

P’Gaew does not need to outsource because he runs this small operation himself. His numbers oscillate between 70 and 200 hives, and he has only been at it for four years now. He learns from manuals, friends, and classes put on by the government agricultural association, which provides considerable resources for beekeepers. We spend twenty minutes in the pickup flipping through a government-issued beekeeping pamphlet, and then we head back into town for the local specialty: eggs fermented in horse urine.

Actually, the weirdest part was the lunch.

Maggie
HoneyBeeSuite

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Comments

Pat
Reply

Love that story, ‘Maggie’!

Actually the ‘P’ part of his name means ‘Uncle’. It is a form of address
showing respect for an elder.

Don’t they have bees there that are resistant to Varroa?

Lee Mike
Reply

How much can you tell me about Taiwanese beekeeping? I am here in Taiwan; I even have a 4 hive now. But there are no honey supers that I know of, so I am trying to figure out how it all works. I have a Taiwanese beekeeper trying to help me but he doesn’t speak English. So it is a lot of hand waving things get done. I have to figure out what he was teaching later. I was a beekeeper in America so I have some knowledge but this style has me totally lost. Oh, by the way they do have second deeps, but they only use them in royal jelly production. If you can help me out with what you know I would be grateful.

Regards,
Mike

Roy
Reply

I live in Fang in the Chiang Mai province. I would like to see this fellow’s bee hives. We are in the process of buying land and I am considering raising bees. Can you give me contact information? You are welcome to write my email.

Pee is a sign of respect to an older person, no matter the relationship. Thus I can be called Pee Roy. Ah is the term for uncle. I am Ah Roy to my nieces.

Rusty
Reply

Roy,

I will send your message on to Maggie. She was the one who was there.

Johannie Hanker
Reply

My Husband and I will be in ChaingMai on the 7 th of July 2013…I would love to let my husband see how Thailand does beekeeping…as Douglas is one here in South Africa…Is there anyway that I can come in contact with a Beekeeper in ChiangMai or the otherwise in Bangkok…prefer ChiangMai…Thank you very much!

Rusty
Reply

Johannie,

I will forward this message on to Maggie.

Elle
Reply

My name is Elle. I live in Chiang Mai (Sarapee District). Last week I just took a beekeeping class. I’m really interested doing top-bar beehive here, since I’ve never seen anybody here in Chiang Mai have TBH. I have an uncle who’s a beekeeper and he also haven’t seen TBH in Chiang Mai. I wonder if you ever seen anybody in Thailand doing top-bar hive?

PS. I’m thinking to start my backyard beekeeping in May (if possible).

Lee Mike
Reply

Hello Elle,

I know a person in Chiang mai that uses top-bar hives. He is the manager at North-Chiang Mai University his name is Ruangyot Jaiwang. You can use his name and find him on Facebook..

Regards,
Lee Mika

Elle
Reply

Thank you ^__^

John McCormick
Reply

Right now I’min Chiang mai and will be here for about another week or so and would really like to take a beekeeping class. I bought some local honey last night at the Sunday market and think that’s some of the best I’ve ever had. I’m also thinking about getting a hive or two as a side project this summer! Any info on the classes would be great! Thanks!

Elle
Reply

Hi John, I took a beekeeping class provided by Thai department of agriculture, Agricultural Extension and Development Center Chiangmai province (Bee Keeping) I took it in March 27-30. It was a free class. Limited only 30 persons.
I don’t think they’ll open more class in this month.
But if you’d like to check out here’s the web site of the department.
http://www.aopdb04.doae.go.th/

Sorry, They don’t have english version on that website.

PS. My uncle sale honey at Sunday market. You probably met him?
His has a bee farm name’s Jarapabee farm
https://www.facebook.com/jirapabeefarm.cm

Meng Chap
Reply

I am a beekeeper in Cambodia, Banteay Meanchey province opposite to Arahgabrathet Thailand, I am very happy to meet you in your website, I want to buy 2 complete colonies of bee. Could you please contact me my e-mail: [email protected]

With best regards and very thank you if you contact me; I can speak Thai.

Rusty
Reply

I forwarded your message to Maggie.

Joey Lee
Reply

Hi

I am an American living in Tanzania Africa right now hanging out with some people that are in the Bee Biz making honey. I keep raving about how i love Thailand and want to move back.They asked me to find out what the possiblities are of startiing a honey bee farm operation in Thailand. Any info would be helpful. Does the goverment and locals have it all locked up or can we come over and invest and start one up?

Jan Dekker
Reply

I live in Chiangrai and would like to buy a bee hive from her in CR or Chiang Mai, Anyone know an address?

Thanks in advance!

Rob
Reply

Do you know anyone doing bees in Khon Kaen area? I would like to start up a few. It is mostly rice farms here so I am not sure how well it will do… But worth the try I think. I had bees in the States so its not a new subject for me but learning the ways of Thai bees.

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