Magsaysay Durian Park is a place in Davao City where you can find durian any time of the year. June, July, November or February, on or off-season, there is always durian available for those with cravings and enough pocket money. It’s one of the first places many durian tourists head to after getting off the plane in Davao City; and it’s also a place where you will, as reliably as there is durian, find yourself facing barefoot street children hoping for a handout.
As you try to slurp up sweet durian, they stand at your elbows watching.
It’s morally perplexing. Here you are, with your frequent-flier credit card and microfiber travel towel, spending relatively big bucks to fill your stomach with the durian of your dreams, when a doe-eyed, dirty little toddler puts out a hand.
Oh the quandaries. Do you give, knowing that most experts agree tourists should never, ever give to begging children, not even seemingly harmless gifts like pens or pennies or candy? Or do you stoically ignore them, chawing on durian that tastes less sweet with every bite?
The sweetness, the bitterness. It can be found all year at Magsaysay Durian Park, an existential crisis any time you need one. (And everyone needs one sometimes, maybe that’s even why you’re traveling. Think about it).
This post is about how to enjoy durian at Magsaysay Durian Park, while doing something that might actually help the community you’re visiting.
About Magsaysay Durian Park
Magsaysay Durian Park is a strip of durian and fruit stalls in downtown Davao City. It’s often the very first place durian lovers visit after leaving the airport, making a bitter-sweet first impression.
The official name of the shops is the “Magsaysay Fruit Vendors Association,” but that’s too many words for anybody to say in normal conversation.
The shops face the ornate gateway to Chinatown across the bustling, trafficky Quezon Blvd. It’s where Magsaysay Avenue comes to a tee. They line the side of Ramon Magsaysay Park, a square of public green space that faces a turquoise sea and the Santa Ana wharf, where you can get on boats to Samal and Talikud Islands.
It’s a busy, hectic area with lots to see and do and buy.
A Short History of Magsaysay Durian Park
The name is in honor of a president Ramon Magsaysay, who died in a tragic airplane crash in 1957. The public park was opened to the public in 1960, containing the tall black obelisk as a monument to the prez.
The durian stalls didn’t lag far behind. One of the most senior durian sellers on the street, Toto Willie, set up his shop on the Chinatown side of the street in 1964. Anywhere people gather for holiday or leisure is a great place to sell durian.
Now of course, you’re not supposed to take durians into Ramon Magsaysay Park, but people still sneak them past the guards.
Picking a Durian Stall at Magsaysay
The hardest thing about Magsaysay is choosing which durian stall to settle at. There are at least a dozen individual durian stalls in the strip of shops, owned by different people.
There’s Neneng’s, one of the oldest stalls, and next to it Tito D’s, and next to that Angelo’s Fruit Stand.
I was looking for stall we frequented in 2012 – Jojo’s – but he was gone. Eventually we settled on JC and Fe’s stall, somewhere in the middle. Below is a picture of JC and Fe.
They’re a cute couple who live in the room behind the storefront with their teenage daughters.
I picked their stall because their durians looked the most fresh. You have to pick which stall carefully, because they are different. They source their durian from different farms, replace their durians more or less regularly (some I saw were pretty old looking) and specialize in different varieties.
They also sold plenty of Marangs, another of my favorite fruits. We bought one of those too.
JC said his durians came in fresh that morning. He still had his truck sitting in front, full of durians.
He picked one out for us, a great big one he called Basketball. (See Philippines Durian Varieties)
We settled on a plastic table, crunched between stacks of Coca-cola bottles (a pivotal part of the Philippine durian experience), piles of chairs, racks of chips, cookies and snacks, baskets of durian, and more durian lying around on the ground.
The seating at Magsaysay is a bit cramped, even when it’s the middle of a scorching hot weekday and there’s no other durian tourists around.
We ended up standing around the table, rather than sitting. This durian was just a wee breakfast snack for our group of five. We had other durian matters to attend to, and didn’t want to settle in.
JC put the durian on the table and pulled it open.
The durian was massive, a perfectly round, “basketball” shaped durian that probably belongs in the Kob family.
The flesh had a thick, fairly firm skin that made it look smooth. It’s pale ivory-cream skin had an almost pearly sheen in the morning light.
But when my fingers sunk into the very soft flesh, it fell apart into a caramel goo.
But I hadn’t had more than a bite before the kids approached.
This time it was a pre-teen girl with a pre-school boy clinging to her skirt. “Money,” she asked us, holding out her palm.
We handed her half of the Basketball durian, and she gave us a frightened smile. “Money,” she asked again. We shook our heads, and she wandered a few feet away to let the boy eat.
I realized I’d never been to Magsaysay and not shared durian with some kids. And then I wondered:
Why do we always see these kids at Magsaysay Durian Park, but not at any other durian restaurant in Davao City?
Who are these street kids?
So this trip I started asking around. Who are the street kids at Magsaysay Durian Park? What can we tourists actually do for them?
I learned that these kids are primarily, but NOT exclusively, Badjao. This ethnic tribe was once sea-dwelling boat people or “sea gypsies” and are now some of the poorest people in the Philippines.
I got in touch with Joseph Zanetti from the non-profit Badjao Outreach via his Youtube channel. Every year, Zanetti runs a sponsorship drive every December to send Badjao children to school, since he says fewer than 10% of Badjao are literate.
Zanettti told me that the largest Badjao community in Davao City is only a few hundred meters away from Magsaysay Durian Park.
Aside from living nearby being the reason for the Badjao begging at that particular park, the second reason is contained in your question. Tourist. They realize that there are a lot of foreign and out of town visitors to the park, so they make good prospects for receiving alms (…)
In almost every case the money a Badjao child gets from begging will go towards the benefit of the entire family. Some will use it for their personal consumption, and some of them will use it for gambling with their peers, but drug use is not a concern. Also, the parents of these children are not known to be drug users, but many of the men will spend money on alcohol and alcohol consumption is an issue with some of the fathers of these children. Regardless of how the money is used, it should not be given.
For starters, you can give them durian. They love it.
Joseph says that giving them healthy food is one of the best things you can do. Although they’re not starving, they are malnourished.
Giving money to them should be avoided at all cost. While they are in need, this only encourages more begging and more children from the village to join them in this practice [rather than going to school] (…)
Education and keeping kids in school is by far the most effective way to address the poverty issue that exists in the Badjao community. There are a few other groups besides mine in the community, and there are always opportunities for volunteering. In addition to educational needs, proper sanitation and hygiene practices need to be taught. Medical and dental outreaches would be beneficial as well.
Joseph’s program works to provide free education to Badjao children and families. Currently Badjao Outreach sponsors 51 children to attend public school as well as providing 20 children with a free learning center.
If you want to do more than share a durian with the kids, you can donate to Badjao Outreach (it’s tax deductible) or even visit their community to volunteer your time and learn about their culture.
I’m planning to visit them next time I’m in Davao City. And I’ll probably bring some durian to share, too.
Where to Stay near Magsaysay Durian Park
There are a number of budget hotels just across the street from Magsaysay Durian Park. It’s central, downtown location actually makes it a great spot to spend your first few nights in Davao, to get your fill of durian and get a feel for the city.
The photo above is the view from the Evergreen Hotel. It was $12 a night for a room when Rob and I and many of our friends stayed there. There are cheaper options, but this is a standard budget hotel with basic, comfortable amenities and functioning Wifi.
We felt safe there, and there’s a lot of cool stuff in the area. There’s good vegetarian restaurants, the park, a gym, bountiful people watching and the most reliable heap of durian in Davao City just a hop skip across the street. It’s also a good pit stop for coming and going from the islands.
Eventually though, the crowds and the traffic wore us out and we moved to a quieter neighborhood.
How To Go To Magsaysay Durian Park
Every taxi in the city will know how to go to Ramon Magsaysay Park, and many Jeepnee routes terminate in front of the fruit stalls.
The fruit stalls are located at the T-junction of Magsaysay Avenue and Quezon Blvd. If you ask for help, someone will point you in the right direction.