Mangoes and Friends in Koh Phangan

Jack showing off his sweet digs

Our friend Jack from invited us to come stay with him in his beautiful beach side villa overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. How could we say no? So after a few weeks on the durian hunt, we decided to give ourselves a little vacation, sans durian (or so we thought).

Nonthaburi Durian Quest

Who would pay $300 USD for a durian? Rob and I wondered out loud as we rode the water-taxi to Nonthaburi. Located an easy 45 minutes hop up the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok, it's hard to believe that Thailand's most renown, and most expensive, durians are grown only 20 kilometers north of its biggest city. 

Few people have tasted the famous Nonthaburi Ganyao, which sells for as much as 10,000 baht, the equivalent of $315 USD, per fruit. The cost isn't the only deterrent. Nonthaburi's durians, known colloquially as Durian Non, are few and far between, and to even get the chance to purchase one, you have to know someone.

Thurian Guan or Durian Lempok | Recipe

I know exactly where I was the moment I fell in love with durian guan.

Durian was already my favorite thing, and I really didn't see how cooking the fruit down into a sticky, brown goo could improve the flavor. And it doesn't improve durian - it just morphs into its own utterly delicious, sweet, funky and sticky awesomeness, like if a butterscotch brownie joined forces with a saltwater taffy.

The Durian Artist

Suan La-Ong Fa is a small organic durian orchard that has recently gained notoriety not only for its unique durians but for its unique owner, a quiet man named Chatri Sowanatrakul. Chatri is an accomplished artist, and he finds both his work and inspiration in his durian trees. His orchard is a sanctuary for the more rare, "lost" varieties of Thailand that were mostly wiped out in the 1942 floods. 

Miss Durian World Beauty Pageant

In most countries, the durian fruit is thought to be ugly, misshapen, and stinky. If you remember the story about the Petruk durian from our travels in Indonesia, a durian beauty pageant might seem like a bit of an oxymoron. Rob and I were joking that maybe the winner of the Miss Durian pageant is the ugliest girl, or the one who doesn't wear deodorant. But of course, this is not the case.

The Miss World Durian Beauty Pageant is one of the more popular events of Chanthaburi's Durian Festival. Originally a small regional competition, the Miss Durian has boomed in recent years and has now reached national notoriety, attracting girls from all over Thailand. This year's Miss Durian, a Miss Wilawan, age 23, is from Bangkok. The pageant has been adopted by MCOT Channel 9, and like other national pageants is a media phenomenon. Rob and I had a good time watching a crane with the news camera zoom around overhead, while the announcer, a woman in tall heels and a short swishing white dress hollered into the microphone.

Durian Speed Eating

Probably the most exciting part of the World Durian Festival is the speed eating contests. Held twice a day and featuring a few different fruits, they attract crowds of Thais and a surprising number of foreigners. The premier event is of course the durian race, but the rambutan and mangosteen contests add another fun element, a blindfolded partner to feed the power eater.

Below is a pre-contest interview with Richard Gambino, Grant Campbell, and Chris Randall as they gear up to chow down in the first competition.

Chanthaburi World Durian Festival Overview

Chanthaburi's World Durian Festival is fairly new. In fact, when it was first held in 2004, it didn't focus on durian.  It's original title can be roughly translated as "Good Things of Chanthaburi," and included, in addition to fruit, wicker furniture, jewelry, seafood, and woven mats. As the festival matured, the spotlight rested on fruit, particularly on Chanthaburi's number one product: durian.

The festival attracts a few hundred thousand visitors, primarily Bangkokians out to enjoy a long weekend. Popular events include The Miss World Durian Beauty Pageant, Speed Eating Competitions, and food demonstrations of the region's famous durian products - fried chips made of the immature fruit, and Durian Guan, a reduction of the overripe fruit mixed with sugar. Prizes are awarded to the largest fruit, and the strangest looking fruit. We had fun gawking at a durian that instead of the normal 4-5 sections, had 12. An interesting difference from western tradition, first prize in Thailand gets a red ribbon.

Raw Durian Alfredo

Some durians Rob and I have eaten are so garlicky, pungent, and downright cheesy that we are astounded that so few people are using them in savory dishes and entrees. We thought durian would make a great substitute in gourmet raw dishes that use a lot of nuts, oils, nutritional yeast, and salt to recreate cheesy favorites.

While visiting Chanthaburi, I prepared food for a raw food gathering with Grant Campbell. One night, I decided to experiment with a durian alfredo. It was a hit, and surprised even me with how good it was. There were no leftovers that night, just ask Chris Randall, who helped Rob and me make enough raw veggie noodles to feed 15 hungry raw foodists!

Sunshine Durian Factory

If you live in Australia or Canada and you've ever purchased a frozen durian, chances are it passed through Sunshine International's factory in Chanthaburi, Thailand. The company is the largest supplier of frozen durian in Australia, sold under the brand "Fruit King", and has a large presence in Canada as well, shipping four 18 tonne containers across the Pacific each month. Rob and I have eaten our fair share of frozen Thai durian from Asian grocery stores, and we wanted to see the process of farm to factory for ourselves. Just where does our durian come from?

Return to Chanthaburi

After ten amazing days in Cambodia, it was time to return to Chanthaburi. We have a tour scheduled at a durian exporting factory, and the World Durian Festival is about to start. Even though I was really excited about the factory tour and the festival, I was sad to leave Cambodia and all its interesting sights, like this truck I spied crossing the border into Thailand.

Rob and I arrived to find the city gearing up for the annual durian festival. In our absence signs had popped up all over the city, announcing the event and accompanying beauty pageant, Miss Durian.

Angkor Wat

After a longer than intended stay in Phnom Penh, Lindsay and I headed north to Siem Reap, the city nearest to ancient Angkor Wat. We arrived around 2 a.m. after the best bus ride we've had in SE Asia. Our chairs rivaled first class airplane seats and the bus even had a toilet. It was a welcome change of pace after our adventures in shared taxis.
Although it was late and we were deservedly tired, we couldn't resist walking for an hour comparing our options for lodging. Finally we settled on a place that would let us share a $2 bed in their outdoor dorm. The fun part was keeping sand out of the sheets. It was hot and the air was still, but sleep came easily.