When I planned my Thailand Durian Tour, the one thing I wanted to show people was how many varieties of durian there are in Thailand. Even hardcore durian lovers often assume there are only one or two types of durian in Thailand, and that they taste more or less the same. On Day 3 of the tour, my group demolished 16 Thai durian varieties and any misconceptions they’d had about what defines Thai durian. This post shows photos of all 16 durians that we ate in one single sitting.
About Suan Ban Rao
Suan Ban Rao used to grow rubber, like most of the other farms around it. Today, you turn off the large highway onto the farm’s narrow cement driveway, which winds through the dense brown shade of rubber trees. When the shade gives way to verdant green durian orchards, you’ve reached Suan Ban Rao. Even in this year’s extreme heat, the farm was emerald with health.
The farm is a labor of love, not a commercial endeavor, and I suppose that explains the efforts Kajohn Puttisuknirun takes to keep his pet trees healthy. Eleven years ago, Pi John made the startling decision to chop down all his rubber trees and replace them with old, scarcely remembered durian trees with no market value.
Basically, he planted his 40 acres with 111 durian varieties he wasn’t sure he could sell. His durians look different: they have sharper, longer thorns, different shapes, and are generally smaller than the commercial durians of today. The flesh is more often pale, or with lower flesh-to-seed-ratio, or with a stronger, distinct flavor.
They are exactly the durians my group was hunting, but even today most of the people who visit his farm request the old standby varieties: Monthong, Ganyao, and Chanee.
But when there’s novelties like Kratoei or a Chok Loi or Yindi durians to taste for the first time, who can get really excited about Chanee?
I’ve been to Suan Ban Rao twice now, and each time Pi John started our durian feast by hopping into a creaking trolley car with a microphone in hand. As we lurched around the orchard, he narrated the story of each tree we passed.
The orchard is arranged by durian family, so we bumped through the Kops and Thong Yois and Kampans and Luangs, each dangling a colored ribbon.
This diversity alone sets apart Suan Ban Rao from other farms, but then there’s the odd, twisting, Dr. Seussical trees themselves.
Pi John believes that combining three rootstocks together yields a stronger, more disease-resistant tree. I’ve seen this done elsewhere with two or three trunks, but I don’t know if it works or not.
The tour lasts about 15 minute, and for full value make sure a member of your party speaks Thai and can translate. Otherwise it’s just a farm ride to look at some very strange trees.
At the end of the orchard tour, the trolley stopped in front of a beautiful, elevated boardwalk that leads to the buffet area.
Everyone commented on how beautiful and serene it was, way up nearly at eye level with the durians (look in the far left of the photo above).
Pi John brought us a basket of 13 varieties of durian. If we could finish that, he told Parisa, he’d bring more. We took it as a challenge. We were determined to taste as many varieties as he had.
Luckily, there were 11 of us to do the job. We successfully surpassed his 13 durian challenge.
Scroll down to see photos 16 Thai durian varieties consumed in one seriously successful sitting. I did my best to take notes, but got too excited/distracted and forgot a few.
1. Khaotoei Nueakhao
This one fell during our tour of the property, and the driver of the trolley hopped out to get it. The name translates to “White-faced Lady Boy,” which led to a conversation about what exactly defines a Lady Boy.
We were excited about it, since it was freshly fallen, and so ate it first. It was creamy and milky, a pleasant freshly fallen durian that reminded me of many kampungs I’ve eaten in Malaysia. It was a good one to start with because it was so mild and nondescript, just good enough to tempt us but not so good that it would be hard to find something better.
2. Chok Loi
I knew I’d tasted this durian before, at the Chanhaburi Horticultral Research Center, but I was still startled just how similar my newest picture is to the old one.
The name Chok Loi literally translates to “Flooded Water Lettuce.” It was creamy and milky, a bit more bitter than the previous one but similar enough that I could see my group’s faces begin to fall as they wondered whether all our 13 varieties would have much diversity.
3. Lueangthong (Deceptive Gold)
Luckily Lueangthong opened to a pretty golden-hued interior, to give us some variety. Unfortunately, this durian got lost in the onslaught of opening, and I didn’t write any notes about it. So I’m relying on the memories of the other durian munchers on the tour to help keep the record! It’s pretty, isn’t it?
This durian caught everyone’s eyes not because of it’s size, which was huge, but because of it’s dark, nearly maroon-tipped thorns. It’s a really unusual looking durian, both outside and in.
Daokrajai is the Thai name for a pink flower we know in English as “Starburst.” Perhaps this is because the spines of this durian are nearly maroon. It’s quite a unique fruit.
The group described this durian as an intricate flavor, alternating between a heavy flower perfume, a hint of chive, and vanilla.
Pi John told us this durian was a relatively new cultivar. It’s name refers to a type of bowl that is used as an offering plate in Thai temples or in the small spirit houses scattered around most Thai neighborhoods or properties. In this case, the durian actually was offered to the King of Thailand.
“No wonder they gave it to the King,” one person marveled. It was creamy, vanilla custard. The texture was thick and dense, but nearly fiberless, like a container of Coolwhip. The similarity was enhanced by the fact that Pi John had tucked it into the refrigerator to keep it for us, and it was cold.
This durian startled us by being radically different than the one before it, with a sharp citrus aroma and a flavor and fiberless smoothness like a lemon bar.
7. Tub Tim
Tub Tim is actually fairly easy to find around Chanthaburi and Rayong, if you are looking. It’s one of the fleshiest durians, a mountain of really fatty, really rich yellow cream as thick and rich as a nut butter. The group described it as a heavy banana cream and many people said it was their favorite (so far, it was only Day 3 of the tour!).
“Whoa,” breathed the group as they tasted this durian. It was chocolate through and through. They couldn’t believe it.
It was sort of a strange looking durian without a lot of apparent potential. The flesh was weirdly flat and narrow, without much to eat between the thick walls of shell. The skin was also a bit firmer, almost crisp, but with a butter smooth interior so chocolatey that days later the group simply referred to it as “The Chocolate Durian.”
9. Kampan Dam
This one looked really similar to Tool-tha-wai inside, with the same network of extremely fine wrinkles and pale cream flesh, but it was a bit larger and fleshier, and also a lot more watery. You can see just how soft, moist, and almost juicy the flesh is in this picture:
I was very excited to try E-nak, because in my nerdy delving into the History of Durian in Thailand I’d discovered that E-nak may be one of the oldest established durian cultivars and in the 1950’s was recommended by the Department of Agriculture.
E-nak did not impress us, and the only word I wrote in my notes was “UNRIPE.” Capitals included.
11. Ton Yai
Parisa says this one means “Big Tree Trunk,” so the original must have come from a very old tree. I wish I wrote notes on it, because the picture looks so delicious.
This durian is proof that looks can be deceiving. It looked pretty identical to the durian we ate just before it, Thong-Yai, which looked a lot like E-nak, which looked a lot like… let’s face it. Most of the durians we tasted were off-white to pale yellow. It was getting monochromatic.
But the flavor of E-Tui was totally unique. I’ve never had Nutella, but those who had gasped and immediately referenced the sticky, chocolate hazelnut spread. As an Oregon girl, I agreed that the flavor was totally reminiscent of hazelnuts and vanilla and chocolate, like biscotti dipped in chocolate.
The flavor was exciting enough that we found a second wind to charge through the 13th durian, and onward to more varieties.
By the time we got to Chanee, we were pretty stuffed and a ho-hum commercial durian just didn’t seem exciting. But it was in our basket of 13 varieties, and if we wanted to try more varieties we had to get through the Chanee.
It was shockingly good Chanee. Rich and not too sweet, it lacked the floral notes I hate in Chanee an instead had a bit of peanut buttery finish, ranking it among the best Chanees I’ve had.
But it was still a Chanee, and at the end of the day everyone forgot about it in the excited chatter about all the other varieties we tasted. Like:
The name of this durian means “Welcome.” I didn’t write any notes about it. Oops. Maybe the other eaters remember. Alicia? Jeff? Cedric? You guys took notes. Can you fill me in on this one? (just write a note in the comments, thanks!)
15. Kob Langwihan
The name of this durian translates as “the Kob behind the Palace.” I like imagining this tree growing just outside the walls of the royal grounds.
This one confused all of us. Didn’t we already have Kampan Deam? No, Parisa explained. That was Kampan Dam. This one was Kampan Daem. She said the words slowly for us.
Dam. Deam. The Thai language is so hard.
Kampan Daem means the original Kampan, the one that was described in a 1950’s text as the blue-collar working man’s durian: super fleshy, very sweet, and extremely pungent. It was all of those things. It also tasted a lot like Kampan Dam.
But by this point, we’d been through 16 durians and half our group was passed out over the table in a durian-induced stupor. So like our ears, our tastebuds were not comprehending the subtle differences between the two Kampans.
By the end of the 10-Day Thailand Durian Tour, most people cited Suan Ban Rao as one of the highlights of the trip. There were just so many new varieties. It was hard to keep track of them all, and even a little bit hard to eat them all.
The flavors varied widely, but in a range different than Malaysia. We didn’t taste any bitter durians or alcoholic durians. All the durians were nutty, or vanilla-ey, or floral, or vaguely spicy, like nutmeg or cloves. They were fleshy and really filling, meaning that after our smorgasbord I feared no one would want to eat durian for a week.
Luckily everyone had such a good experience, they were onboard for more durian by the next morning. Onwards with the durian tour!
Getting to Suan Ban Rao
Suan Ban Rao is located in Klaeng District, on Rayong’s eastern border with Chanthaburi Province.
If you want to taste a lot of old varieties, make sure to call in advance.
GPS coordinates: 12.851423, 101.612575.
Tel: 0818646533 /