More tourist trap than sleepy countryside, the island of Koh Samui is not typical of a durian growing area. More than 1.5 million tourists visit the island’s balmy shores each year to stare over the turquoise waters and bask in doing nothing.
Outside of the tourist areas, which are plastered in high-rise hotels and bars, the island is still largely agricultural. Few tourists see the fields of coconuts, rubber trees, and durians which cover Samui’s interior hillsides and mountains. Coconuts have historically been the number one cash crop, with 2.2 million palm trees producing 51 million coconuts for export every year. But things have changed with the introduction of the Coconut Leaf and Rhinoceros beetles, which lay eggs in the flowers and kill the trees. In the last four years, many farmers have given up on coconut farming, and are moving on to new options.
One of these options is Monthong durian farming. According to Miss Jirasar Panthong at the Samui Agricultural Department in Nathon, currently 849 families are dedicated to growing Monthongs, producing around 9,000 tonnes a year for export to China.
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Unfortunately, the increased interest in commercial durian farming has led to a neglect of Samui’s own local durian, which is famous in the region. Durian ban literally means “home durian,” and denotes the more wild, noncommercial varieties grown and preserved in people’s backyard gardens. Unlike its commercial cousins, which have been bred for a dark yellow color, durian Ban is also sometimes called “white durian.” Each region has it’s own durian ban, but these are growing increasingly rare as Monthong gains popularity. I asked Jirasar where I could find Samui’s local durian. Her eyes lit up when I mentioned the fruit.
“Durian ban is very best,” she said excitedly. “Look like Gadum, small, but round like Ganyao.” She assured me that Samui’s durian ban was better than anywhere else, because of the soil and weather in the island’s main durian region, the mountain near Ban Thurian (Durian). Then she informed me that right now the trees were merely flowering, and
I would have to wait until August or September to try one. Samui’s durian
season is several months behind the mainland season, a factor that is
spurring the growth of the island’s durian industry.
|View from our porch|
Thailand’s local durian are a kind of endangered species. Because they fetch a lower price per kilogram, many farmers and families are cutting down the trees and grafting Monthong onto the trunk. A durian ban meal is a smelly, messy finger-licking ordeal — a stomach-turning turn off to Thailand’s new generation of tidy Monthong-munchers.
I think I would love durian ban. It sounds far more exciting than a dependably sweet but flavorless Monthong. Rob and I will be on the look out when we return to mainland Thailand, where it’s now the season!
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