Laplae is a little known district in northern Thailand’s Uttaradit province that has recently made headlines for its unique and expensive durians. The city hosts an annual durian festival every year in June. This year’s festival started on June 1st, the same day as the more famous Chanthaburi Durian Festival. I had to make a choice – Chanthaburi’s grand opening, or a new durian adventure in Thailand’s unexplored north.
Laplae is a quiet, rural town set in the mountains along the border of Laos. Literally, Laplae means “the hidden place,” a good moniker for a special area that hasn’t yet incurred attention from tourists or almost anybody else. Even most Thai people don’t know that this small northern district grows durians that rival the quality and price of the well-known and outrageously expensive Nonthaburi durians.
I arrived sleepy and hot in Laplae after a 9 hour overnight train from Bangkok. Laplae lies 14 km to the west of Uttaradit, or about 20 minutes away. In this region taxis are practically non-existent, as are the tourists. I attracted curious looks as I walked through the market, noting the piles of small, wild looking durians.
|Mae Pool Waterfall|
The festival takes place outside of the city, near the Mae Pool Waterfall. It lasts for three days, but most of the durian related activities take place on the first day (see the schedule). There aren’t any hotels nearby, and with the lack of taxis, you really need to bring your own transportation, like a bicycle, or have a friend in the area. Luckily for me, my contacts at the Tourism Office put me in touch with Julian, a German guy who has lived in the area for around 10 years.
The festival opened with a long speech and then a performance by these darling little girls, all wearing headbands of rambutans, longkongs, water apples, and other fruits on their heads. I was actually really impressed by their performance, as they hoola-hooped walking in circles, on their knees, around their necks, and jumping. I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t expect a six-year-old to do it either.
The next event was the Dancing Durian Salad Competition. If that sounds confusing, it’s not, although it is a loud chaotic event. Each village in the area sets up a table with ingredients to make som tom, a Thai pounded salad typically made out green papaya. This salad included chunks of under ripe durian. The competition is all about presentation, and as I walked around I noted carefully braided strands of green beans, tomatoes carved into flowers, and small whole durians carefully placed among the medley.
Each village is also required to have a band, for the dancing part of the competition. Essentially, all the members of the village break into dancing as one or two pound out the salad in huge wooden or stone mortars, pounding to the rhythm of the music.
The village with the best presentation, best tasting salad, and most enthusiastic dance wins the competition. There were some pretty neat presentations, my favorite of course being the one served inside a durian. That is pretty darn cool.
During the heat of the day the festival winds down, and it’s a good time to take a swim or buy a durian from one of the stalls lining the main street. I took the opportunity to look for special durian varieties in the area, in particular the Longlaplae and the Linlaplae durians.