The province of Rayong doesn’t get enough durian credit, and in particular Rayong’s Fruit Festival. It’ the province just next door to Chanthaburi, Thailand’s attention-hogging durian capital, yet Rayong is the second largest durian producer of durian in Thailand and put on a festival that was, in my opinion, better than anything I’ve seen in Chanthaburi.
They put on their own celebration of the King of Fruits every May around the same time as the festival in Chanthaburi. It’s odd how some places or events get really famous, while others are either forgotten or never discovered.
I bet most of you planning your durian vacations around the Chanthaburi event have never even heard of the Rayong Fruit Festival.
Which is odd in itself, because Rayong Province is generally more popular with tourists than Chanthaburi. It has an island.
It’s also only 2.5 hours from Bangkok, making durian day trips totally feasible, whereas Chanthaburi is a bit too far.
Maybe Chanthaburi has a cooler sounding name. Maybe their marketing gurus do a better job promoting their durian festival as a durian-centric event. Or maybe it’s Durianrider’s fault.
I’ve been taken by Chanthaburi too. This is my fourth durian season in Thailand, and while I’ve visited Rayong’s enormous Supatra Land Fruit Park, I’d never tried to attend their fruit festival.
I’ve even been to the market grounds where the festival happens just days after the event ended. Now that’s just rude.
The Rayong Festival, however, is not within easy walking distance to anything.
So this year, I decided to make it up to Rayong by visiting their fruit festival on opening day even though the Chanthaburi Festival is happening at exactly the same time.
In fact, if you are reading these words before May 31, 2015, then the two festivals are still happening, right now, and you need to choose which one to go to.
Thai Durian Festival Experience
Actually you could just visit both. They’re only 1.5 hours apart, and they each last a week. That’s plenty of time to bounce from one to the other.
But they’re pretty similar, and if you’re short on time, Rayong is actually closer to Bangkok. You can have your quintessential Thailand Durian Festival Experience without going all the way to Chanthaburi.
Plus, in two ways the Rayong Festival was actually kind of better.
At their core, durian festivals are celebrations of the harvest, of another year that people will live and eat because whatever god controls rainfall allowed it to be dry at the right times and wet at the others.
Because science still can’t explain it, a good durian season is still kind of a miracle.
So there’s a kind of ancient joy in the durian festival that was expressed really well in the opening number, a dance imitating the harvesting of fruit.
It was so playful and surprising that my smile fell open the way people gape ridiculously at the circus.
Women twirled with the burlap sacks used in harvesting durians, as a young man climbed onto the shoulders of another and began to pretend to look for durians in a tree. Someone tossed him a durian, and he told the story of picking it and tossing it down to the waiting burlap sacks below.
The girls screamed. Durians began to fly around the stage as the other dancers took turns spinning and jumping with the durian before flinging it into the waiting burlap sacks.
It was the most fun recounting of the durian harvest I’ve ever seen.
But as much as I enjoyed the dance, I could only imagine how much people whose livelihood depends on durian must have enjoyed it – all the little inside jokes I didn’t catch, the appreciation of a good harvest, the work and the pride and the tiredness – all of the things that meld human lives to a fruit, and a fruit to human lives.
New Durian Varieties in Rayong
But nobody travels to durian festivals to wax philosophical about the relationship between humans and plants.
We just want to eat durian.
Which should have been easy to do, because Rayong was overflowing with durians.
I’ve complained before about the mysterious deficit of durians at other durian festivals, but this was not a problem in Rayong. One point for Rayong.
I even found four varieties of durian that I’ve never tasted before. SCORE!
But I’m not going to tell you what they are in this post – because they weren’t ripe. While there was plenty of durian in Rayong, anything soft and luscious was hard to come by. So like me, you’ll have to wait to see their insides.
After visiting the Rayong Fruit Festival, my best guess why the Chanthaburi Durian Festival is more popular and well known (at least among foreigners) is that for years it was located in downtown Chanthaburi, within easy walking distance from hotels.
Now that’s changed. This year the Chanthaburi Festival was moved to 12 km outside the city, and, in my opinion, has lost both some of its charm and it’s focus on durians. Things change, fads come and go. Just because a place or event isn’t well documented on the internet doesn’t mean that it’s not already awesome. Especially when it has so many durians.
How to Go To Rayong Fruit Festival
Rayong Fruit Festival 2015: May 22-28th at Taphong Fruit Market. Contact TAT Rayong for details and festival schedule