2019 Update: This year’s dates are May 19-27.
The 2017 Chanthaburi Durian Festival is June 3-11th. It’s the biggest durian festival in the world, and one of the only ones that deserves the title “Durian Festival” instead of “Collection Of Durian Sellers in a Parking Lot.” It’s a big, crowded country fair with lots to look at and taste. But it can be both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time if you don’t know what to expect and where to go in the festival to find the good durian stuff.
Here’s an overview of the festival and what to (probably) expect in 2017.
Chanthaburi Durian Festival: Now And Then
I haven’t missed being there since 2012, which is starting to be a long time ago.
Way back then, in once-upon-a-time, the festival was held on the cramped sidewalks rimming King Taksin Lake Park in downtown Chanthaburi.
In 2015, the festival moved 12 km outside the city, causing confusion among non-Thai-speaking Durian Lovers as to where the festival is located these days (There’s a map down ↓↓).
The new durian festival is much, much bigger. There’s even a trolley that shuttles people around the festival grounds and the parking lot.
I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with what the New Chanthaburi Durian Festival is.
The old Chanthaburi Durian Festival was kind of cozy, a sprawling country fair of tarp roofs and outdoor food and fruit stalls set around King Taksin Lake park in downtown Chanthaburi.
It was easy to spend the whole day around the Lake Park, just moseying through the durian stalls, people watching, or looking for friends to eat durian with in the park. A few times a day there would be an activity, like a durian speed eating competition, or a free fruit buffet, or a sampling of durian varieties at the booth run by the Chanthaburi Horticultural Research Center.
Now, instead of a park, most of the festival takes place in buildings that look like this:
It’s different — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
VIDEO: Evolution of the Chanthaburi Durian Festival, 2012-2016
Previous years at the Chanthaburi Durian Festival
Guide to the Finding The Durian in the Chanthaburi Durian Festival
There are a lot of parts to the new festival. It’s a sprawling country fair, encompassing three swamp-cooler warehouses stuffed with booths and people, an outdoor maze of clothing and thing-a-ma-bobs, a row of baby plants and seedlings, and finally, the fresh durian and fruit stalls.
The durian sellers, surprisingly, make up a minor portion of the festival. In fact, a casual walk around might make you wonder where all the durian of the durian festival is.
So let’s take a look at this poorly-drawn and not-to-scale map from my memory:
The festival is a haven for shoppers, people-watchers, and those with an adventurous palate who like to taste all of Chanthaburi’s culinary creations — but if you’re solely, single-mindedly focused on eating durian, it might be a challenge for you.
So let’s use my mental map to get you straight to what I think are the most interesting parts of the festival for people like you and me.
My Favorite Things About the 2016 Chanthaburi Durian Festival
Greeting you at the entrance to the first tent is a huge display of fruit sculptures made with mangosteens, rambutans, and even durians.
It’s a little tragic looking at all those durians pasted into arrangement, knowing no one will eat them. But the sculptures are pretty cool to look at.
Why all the fruit bunnies? This post explains.
Free Fruit Sampling
Twice a day, several hundred kilos of fruit are handed out as samples to a hungry horde of people. This is a free fruit tasting event that happens at 11am and 5pm. To get in you need a ticket, but the ticket is free and you’ll most likely get one when you check into your hotel. If you don’t get one, just start asking around.
What they give away at the tasting varies depending on the day — usually rambutans, mangosteens, and snakefruits. One day when we were there they had run out of durian, and the other day they were giving away bite-size pieces of durian on toothpicks.
They also give away samples of cooked durian products. Both years, they had a lady fishing thin slices of unripe durian out of huge vats of oil to make durian chips. You could watch her work, then taste a chip while still hot and salty.
In addition to durian chips, they also put out samples of other traditional Thai durian desserts, like durian and sticky rice, durian guan, and candied durian, cooked in sugar until translucent (thurian chuam).
You can read a more detailed description of the Free Fruit Sampling and these cooked durian dishes in this post.
Fruit Wine Tasting
There isn’t actually any durian wine, mostly because of the Thai belief that combining durian and alcohol can kill you.
However, the French gentleman who owns the small craft winery in Chanthaburi has made durian wine and says it’s delicious and such a pity that no one will buy it.
Instead you can sample all kinds of other fruit wines, like mangosteen wine, snakefruit wine, rambutan wine, and two varieties of banana wine.
Maybe if enough people talk to him about his durian wine, he’ll make another batch. Just a hopeful thought.
Nearby the wine stall are several stalls pounding Durian Som Tom, a light, limey and salty salad made out of durian that’s so unripe it’s starchy and crunchy and just slightly sweet.
You can make som tom with almost any vegetable, but usually it’s made with green papaya mixed with garlic, lime, chilies, copious salt, tamarind vinegar, fish sauce and small dried shrimps. If you’re a vegetarian, it’s easy to tell them to hold the fish stuff.
The durian version is especially wonderful because the crinkle-cut slivers soak up the dressing like a sponge, giving the durian a texture similar to springy cheese sticks inundated with the deliciousness of the dressing.
Somehow this dish is not super common in Thailand, so don’t miss tasting if you can help it.
Get the recipe here.
Fruit Eating Competition
One of the main events of the day is a fruit speed-eating competition, which is always entertaining to watch. Can you guess who won this round? (it was the woman on the far right). They even had prizes, with up to 1,000 baht. That’s quite a lot for 2 minutes of hard eating.
I’m assuming this will happen again this year, although we didn’t see it last year and also couldn’t find any schedule of activities.
I’ve been told someone is going to send me the 2017 Schedule of Durian Events, and will update this blog post promptly on receiving it.
The Durian Situation
So finally. What’s the durian like at the Chanthaburi Durian Festival?
Well, it’s not the reason to go there. Last year, we were disappointed to find that the durian-buying areas were mostly sequestered in the the front on either side of the clothing maze. There was a very little bit in the building with the Fruit Sampling, all of it Monthong or Chanee.
We bought this packet of Chanee, which was excellent. But although we wanted more, we couldn’t get it. That vendor didn’t have any more, and when we walked down into the durian-buying areas, we were unable to find anything ripe enough to eat the same day.
There were also only the main four varieties — Monthong, Ganyao, Chanee and Puangmanee, whereas when the festival was at the lake park, we’d sometimes find weird ones like Nokayib or Tubtim, and there was always the exotic varieties at the booth run by the Horticultural Research Center.
Which brings up some of my complaints about the festival, just in case someone with durian powers is reading:
What I think would make the festival better:
Post the schedule online somewhere easy to find. Why is it so hard to find information about your event, even for Thai people? Create a Facebook page and upload the events schedule there so everyone can find it.
Make more information available in English. Your international guests would soooo appreciate it if you could make more of the information (like schedules) available in an alphabet we can read.
Cool it with the megaphones. Unrelated to durian, but one of the features that turns me off most about the festival is the decibel levels.
Create more pleasant places to sit and eat durian. Now that the festival is outside of the city, you can’t easily go back to your hotel or take a break in the park when it gets overwhelming. Create a quiet, shady area where people can hang out, eat, and hear each other talking without shouting.
Encourage Durian Diversity. If this is a celebration of local durian and durian growers, allow them both to shine by sharing the durians that make Chanthaburi special. I’m talking about Chanthaburi 1, 2, 3, Puangmanee, Nockyib, and some of the new hybrids (Nuan Thong Chan) and any unique or special varieties that you can’t normally find at a fruit market.
Just have more durian around. I’m going to be 28 next month, so while I’m not super old yet I feel that I can sagely make this observation: Focus Is Everything. Keep it simple. Keep it the Chanthaburi World Durian Festival.
I’m planning my 6th visit to the Chanthaburi Durian Festival. It’s exciting, the way all big markets are, but better, because there’s durian around. Plus it’s cool to get a chance to taste so many durian products in one space.
I’m taking my Thailand Durian Tour there this year, and we’ll stop for a bathroom and stretch break. I’m planning to spend about an hour there, which is all I think you really need to see and taste everything without being discomforted by the heat and decibel levels and then bored.
We’ll be there June 5th. See you there?
How to go to the 2017 Chanthaburi Fruitpital Festival
The Chanthaburi Fruitpital Festival is now located about 12km north of the city next to the Chanthaburi Provincial Administration Building.