The villages of Northern Thailand are surrounded by densely forested hills (jungle to the locals). Apart from wild plants and herbs the damp dark tropical forest floor gives birth to numerous varieties of wild mushrooms. Many villagers, who seem oblivious to the possible dangers, still go deep into the jungle in search of the highly prized delicate fungi. The experienced know the terrain and regularly collect mushrooms to sell in the local markets. Cultivated mushrooms are considered a poor alternative to the wild kind.
Several times a year search parties are gathered and go out into the jungle in search of missing mushroom hunters who haven’t returned by nightfall. Despite the obvious risks attached, particularly at monsoon time, the lure of the mushroom draws the unprepared off the beaten track. Without the foresight to carry a compass, enough water, protection against mosquitos or mark their trail they can easily get lost by nightfall. And they do with great regularity and sometimes torrential monsoon rain makes it impossible to travel any distance. Even if they have a cellphone the likelihood of a connection in the forest is remote.
For the careless there are hidden dangers in the prize itself. The incidence of mushroom poisoning causing serious illness and even death is remarkably high. Guess work when it comes to picking wild fungi is not recommended and even the experienced hunters make mistakes. In Chiang Mai province alone hundreds of cases of mushroom poisoning are reported each year during the monsoon season and numerous deaths result.
Only a couple of months ago a family of Karen hill-tribe people died through eating poisonous fungi. If you are a mushroom lover you may be tempted by what you see in the local markets. Personally I don’t love mushrooms that much and there are plenty of alternatives when it comes to nutritious produce in our neck of the woods. So you won’t find me eating wild mushrooms.