Kampot Durian


Kampot is a province and a small town in Cambodia's far south, near the Thai Sea and only a few kilometers from the Vietnamese border. It's famous for growing black pepper, being one of the Khmer Rouge's last strongholds, and producing a lot of durian for export to Vietnam. The city is a popular weekend getaway for expats seeking to escape the incessant traffic and heat of Phnom Penh and get a taste of nature.

A Funk Band named "Durian"

Durian - a Funk Band in the Pocket, on the Grind



Finding an ex-pat funk band that named themselves "Durian" -- in of all places Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- is pretty far-out there. Especially with Cambodia's recent genocide still unresolved, land mines dotting the rural areas, and wide-spread poverty, it came as a total surprise to me that Phnom Penh hosts one of the largest ex-pat communities in Southeast Asia and is a center for art and music.

"The effect durian the fruit has on your nose is the same effect we want when our music enters your ears," explained the enthusiastic band manager and bass player, Chris Rompre, when I asked him why they decided to name their band after the notorious fruit. "You might not like it, but you won't forget it. It's the epitome of what we want to do."

Feeling History

Phnom Penh confused, surrenders
On our last day in Phnom Penh  we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields to gain some understanding of the tragedies Cambodia suffered under the Khmer Rouge. Visiting both sites in one day was intensely emotional.

The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, came to power following a period of great instability, only five years after the king was ousted in a coup. Well, a brief look into history shows Cambodia had been going through similar turmoil for nearly a thousand years due to aggressive neighbors and powerful colonial interests. Pol Pot, however, took over in 1975 during armed struggle with communist Vietnamese occupiers and just five days after the United States withdrew forces and ended an eleven year bombing campaign. The people of Phnom Penh actually welcomed the Khmer Rouge soldiers, believing them to be liberators.

Entering Cambodia

Rob stands guard in  Battambang, Cambodia

After one month in Thailand, it was time to head into neighboring Cambodia to renew our visas in the capital, Phnom Penh. I was nervous about the border crossing. From reviews online and stories told by other travelers, the border crossing at Poipet was a confusing labyrinth of scammers and touts offering anything from fake visas to tuk-tuk rides to nowhere. So after some research, we decided to take the quieter border crossing at Ban Pakard/Prum.

New Year's Water Celebration


Sawadee Pee Mai! Happy New Year!

Yesterday was the New Year's celebration of the year 2555 here in Thailand. This is our third New Year's Day  in 2012, and definitely the most fun! Unlike our New Year's back home in Oregon, which is celebrated in the depths of miserably cold and dark winter,  the Thai New Year is celebrated at the height of the hot, dry season. It's also called Songkran, the Water Festival. For weeks we've seen posters with smiling cartoon kids throwing water at each other out of little plastic bowls, but we weren't prepared for the 24 hour city-wide water fight that broke out Friday night.

Defending the Odorless Durian

   
The controversy that erupted when Dr. Songpol Somsri introduced the odorless durian was not lost on the Western media. If his name sounds familiar to you, you may have overheard his interview on National Public Radio in May 2007. Between March and June he was also featured in Times Magazine, The New York Times, and The Guardian, as well as many other small media-outlets in a journalistic feeding frenzy centered on science's latest franken-food.

The publicity flooded Dr. Songpol's mailbox with a little bit of fan mail and a lot of hate mail by durian fans outraged by the seeming perversion of Asia's signature fruit. With all the hullabaloo and negative media coverage, I'm actually quite surprised that Dr. Songpol still answers email requests for interviews by unknown and unpublished wannabe freelance journalists from the States. He not only answered, but spent two afternoons showing us around his 500 acre durian playground. Self-proclaimed durian advocates may protest his work, but Dr. Songpol is the biggest durian fan of them all.

A Durian Feast with Friends

From left: Olivia, John, Terra, and Chris feasting on durian

Chanthaburi, Thailand has a reputation among fruit fanatics as the place to go in May. A lot of this hype is thanks to our friend Harley, a.k.a durianrider, who has been touting the wonders of Chanthaburi's fruit to his following of fruit freaks on youtube (and 30bad). The fame is well deserved as the province grows nearly 50% of durians produced for export in Thailand, and a surplus of mangosteen, jack fruit, rambutan, and other tropical fruits which are shipped all over the world.

The city is a typical Asian city far off the tourist map. The handful of hotels are gathered along one street of the old town, and almost no one here speaks much English. But every April the westerners begin trickling in to settle before the Chanthaburi World Fruit Festival, sometimes referred to as the World Durian Festival because of the prevalence of durian. Many are here on Harley's referral, and all are here for the durian. The locals must think all westerners are a very strange bunch of fruit-bats!

With all the durians in the area, you can guess why we're here. But being fruit freaks ourselves, we are more than happy to indulge in the abundance of other tropical fruits and enjoy the company of others who share our fruit fixation.

Friendly Locals

We arrived in Chanthaburi late last night. At that point, the streets were dark and quiet, and as far as we could tell the only open restaurants offered  shrimp balls and noodles. But then I smelled it - durian!

In a small shop, two girls were sitting at a small table watching a soap opera and eating green mangoes. Sitting on the table between them was a bowl of beautiful gobs of stenchiful yellow durian. It didn't look like we'd have much luck finding anything else to eat, so I entered the shop to ask if I could buy some of their durian.

Leaving Chiang Mai

Toilets come with instruction, sometimes with more detail

In Thailand, durian is banned in most public areas, including shopping malls, most hotels, all forms of public transportation, and weirdly, public restrooms.

Yet somehow Rob and I managed to forget durian's banned status on our way to the train station. We happened to pass the Warorot market - a sprawling outdoor market east of the old city. And there it was - the city's hidden cache!

*Please remember, all photos published on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Year of the Durian and Lindsay Gasik . If you want to use one of them please contact me first. Thanks!