Betong is a border town and like all things in the middle doesn’t know which country it should be like. It’s kind of like Thailand, and kind of like Malaysia, and it can’t decide if it should want durians like Thailand or durians like Malaysia.
The result is that Betong durian is a mix of both Thai durian and Malaysian durian, so you can compare them side by side if you want. We did.
Betong is described as a “major tourist town” with “several famous tourist attractions.” From Malaysian friends, I’d learned that a lot of Malaysians go to Betong on holiday because it’s an easy drive from Malaysia. To get there from Thailand, you have to fly to the Narathiwat Airport and continue south for 3.5 hours through Yala. I don’t think many Thai people go on holiday to Betong.
We certainly didn’t see many other people on the drive down from Yala.
The day we drove down from Yala, there were plenty of tourists, but we couldn’t seem to find what was attracting.
We found Thailand’s Largest Mailbox within minutes of entering the city. It took longer to snap a photo unobstructed by traffic.
The other tourism attractions — a small hot springs, a flower garden, a communist tunnel hideout, some misty mountain look out — are located a 10 km drive or further from the city. Since most people drive over the border from Malaysia, there aren’t many forms of public transit to tourism destinations. It’s best you rent your own car, and cross the border from Malaysia, like we did.
But since most of the accommodation options are inside the city, you’re most likely going to get hungry for durian and want some nearby Betong durian options. That’s what this post is for.
Where To Stay
Accommodation in Betong is plentiful, but run down, musty, and from what I could tell, generally overpriced. It also books out quickly on weekends, which is how we ended up staying in a place I will never recommend to anyone.
If you are going to Betong, I recommend you check out the Modern Thai Hotel or the Garden View Hotel for what looks like a good, clean, modern mid-range hotel. Neither are listed on Agoda.
Ah Heng’s Puangmanee Durian
We knew we had come at a good time for durian in Betong. The season here is late July through the end of September. Our arrival at the end of August was perfect. Durian abounded. It seemed like every small shop in the city had a few fruits out front.
We stopped at Ah Heng’s Bakery because there was a basket of tree-dropped Puangmanee sitting out front for only 60 baht (7.60RM) per kg.
That’s cheap. Really cheap. In Malaysia, you can’t even get an unnamed kampung durian for less than 10 or 12 RM per kg anymore, not to mention a deliciously rosy, nutty, coffee-ish durian like a Puangmanee.
Puangmanee is a Thai variety that originates in Chanthaburi, Thailand. From this mother tree, actually.
It’s often imported to Malaysia because of it’s deep yellow-gold-orange color, stickiness, and thick texture that allows it to travel well. I’ve purchased it in Malaysia or prices as high as 50RM per kg.
So this seemed like a steal:
It was delicious. But there was a catch of course.
We crouched on the sidewalk outside his bakery, opening durian after durian.
About half of each fruit had been destroyed by seed-boring caterpillars, who had scattered their frass (bug poo) throughout many of the sections. Some of the durians we bought were half-eaten. Some we could get only one or two pods. One durian was completely inedible. I had to be very persuasive to Mr. Heng to get him to replace that one.
“That’s why it’s cheap,” he grumbled. “It’s your gamble.”
A safer bet was his durian-stuffed buns.
Each white bread roll was stuffed with thurian guan, a jam made by cooking the durian down to a sticky-sweet brown goo. In Malaysia, this same confection is called durian kek. Served hot, thurian guan is as delicious as a baked caramel pudding.
But one little durian guan bun wasn’t doing it for us. We were frustrated to be buying so many durians, and eating so little. The price stacked up, and at the end I’m not sure we actually paid less than if we’d just bought a few good, non-wormey durians. Which is why we kept looking.
Na Rong Rat Betong Durian Stall
I’d seen this durian stall the night before, as Parisa navigated the one-ways to find our hotel. But in the morning, I didn’t have any idea where it was. We had to wander around until we found it near the New Cathay Hotel.
This appears to be the only dedicated durian stall in Betong. It’s owned and operated by Mr. Na Rong Rat.
His small fruit shop has been there for the past 5 years. During the non-durian parts of the year, he sells pineapple, guava and rose apples. When we were there, he just had durians.
About Betong Durian
Mostly, he said, durian growers in Betong sell Monthong to the Yala Durian Wholesale Market we went to a few days earlier. Here the Monthongs are scooped up by factories in Chumphon or Chanthaburi, frozen, and sent around the world. It’s just a steady market.
But because the price of Malaysian durian has gone up so much in the last few years, he now does have 50 trees of Musang King.
The rest of the varieties — a few Puangmanee, Ganyao, and Thurian baan — he sells to tourists visiting Betong. The prices (150 baht/kg or 19 RM for Ganyao, 180 baht/kg or 23 RM for Puangmanee) are still cheap by Malaysian standards.
Since we’d gotten a teaser of Puangmanee at Ah Heng’s bakery, we went for a Puangmanee. It was peak Puangmanee season anyway.
But where was the Musang King?
Musang King, he said, ripens earlier in the season than Puangmanee. If we wanted to try Betong Musang King, we needed to come around the first week of August. I took his phone number, and told him I’d call him next year.
Having selected our durian, we stepped inside the shop to a small table and chairs to eat. It was nice to get off the busy and convoluted street
But I had low expectations for our Betong Puangmanee durian. Like most Thai people, Mr. Rong Rat cuts all of his durians rather than letting them ripen naturally on the tree and fall to the ground.
The durians are still creamy, still sweet, but the taste is completely different.
Can you see that even the color of this cut Puangamanee is different than the tree-ripened Puangmanee we’d eaten just a few minutes before? It’s a paler yellow, more opaque, and the skin is shiny and fuller looking.
Good thing Damien actually prefers cut durian to tree-dropped. He likes the extra sweet flavor and buttery texture from cutting them early. I wasn’t satisfied, so I let him eat it all.
I was saving my appetite for the durian hunt.
Betong town is a weird mix of Thailand and Malayisa. Just the names of the two durian sellers are a good example — “Ah Heng” is very Chinese Malay, while Na Rong Rat is a very Thai name.
It makes tasting durian in Betong a little interesting, because you have to be able to use my tips and tricks to differentiate between Thai and Malaysian style-durians, and pick one out to suit your taste buds.
The prices for durian are lower in Betong than in the rest of Malaysia, which might be reason enough to come here. Otherwise — sorry Betong — I don’t get what’s so famous about you.
Find The Durian: A Map For Hungry Travelers
Use this map to find Betong Durian spots or navigate to other places you can eat durian in Malaysia! Hope you have a great durian trip!