In 2011, I sat in a tiny wooden room in Costa Rica waiting with baited breath as the phone rang and rang somewhere in a place called Sarawak. Thomas Teo picked up the phone. Back then, I didn’t understand that while Sarawak is the land of Durian with a capital D, a Sarawak durian farm that grows common Malaysian durian varieties or cultivars, things like D24 or Red Prawn, are few and far between. Most people in Sarawak grow kampung style durians, ancient trees with no particular number or name.
That was one reason I went to go see Thomas in January, 2017.
The other was that it had been six durian-filled years since I’d called him. I couldn’t wait to see who that voice over the wavering telephone line belonged to.
Thomas’s Durian Stall in Kuching
Thomas sells his durian at the 3rd Mile Market in Kuching. I mention Thomas in my last post, A Guide to 8 Kuching Markets and Fruit in Sarawak.
I took an Uber out there one late morning to find him sitting in the back of his van with the last dregs of the morning’s harvest.
Because so few people grow durian clones in the Kuching area, most of Thomas’s durians get booked in advance. He knew I was coming, but I hadn’t made any bookings so all he had left was some Tembaga (Copper).
He was generous to share it with me. In Kuching, any durian that is a registered clone can sell for 50-60 RM per kilogram ($6-7 USD per pound).
But if even if he didn’t have many varieties for me to taste, he’d brought a booklet with beautiful photographs of his durians to show.
He has a number of varieties, which he brought over himself from Peninsular Malaysia in 1991. On his trip, he went to Balik Pulau on Penang Island, as well as Raub and Bentong in Pahang, and collected the budwood of what was at that time the most popular and recommended varieties.
Remember, Musang King wasn’t really around yet. He’s planted Musang King since, but the trees are still too young to produce.
So today, he has D24, D99, D158 (Ganyao), D168 (D101), D188 (MDUR78), D194 (Gabai) and D175 (Red Prawn / Ang He).
After chatting for a bit, I learned that he offers a Farm Stay as well on his property out near Serian. I rounded up some friends, and that weekend we went off for an overnight durian party at Thomas’s farm.
Thomas’s Farm Outside Serian
Thomas’s farm is about a 1.5 hour drive beyond 3rd Mile Market, just past the town of Serian. I rented a car on Easybook, and in Serian we met up with Justyna and Simon of Fit Shortie Eats (@fit_shortie_eats) who had traveled there by motorbike. It was a good durian munching crew.
We arrived in the late afternoon and parked at the small house where you can stay overnight. Thomas asked us to wear boots, as his property was muddy after a recent rain, and recommended we wear long-sleeve shirts for the mosquitoes. He also carried a mosquito racket. It was a hot, swampy, muggy kind of afternoon that threatened to rain again.
From the house, Thomas led us up a series of short, sharp hills. His property is divided by hillsides that seem to just jut up out of the ground. Durians roll here, and fast.
As he led us through the farm, we couldn’t notice how big some of the trees were. Some seemed much, much older than 27 years old.
Thomas agreed. He said they were already there when he arrived, and he kept them because older trees give better fruit.
It’s the same reason he isn’t trying to replace his older, odder durian varieties — like D99, D188, D194 — with the newer durians in fashion like Black Thorn or Musang King.
“The older trees have better fruit, so I don’t cut,” he said, shrugging slightly.
Even though the farm is one of the few to grow established durian varieties in the Kuching area, it’s managed in much the way of durian farms everywhere in Sarawak. That is, a bit wild.
Thomas lets things grow in the underbrush: bananas, longkongs, ferns, and grasses of all kinds. We had to bushwhack our way around the trees a few times to find the durians we knew were there just by smell.
Daniela (@daniella.raw) packed the durians up and down the hills as the basket grew heavier and heavier, slipping in the mud and over roots exposed by the recent deluge.
Then we were back at the house, and it was time to try out the gooDies 🙂
The durians were covered in matted muddy grass and leaves. We had to clean them with a brush before trying to open, because we couldn’t even see the seams, and we were afraid that if we did just try to hack them open we’d get the inside cream all muddy.
Most were so fresh even Thomas, with his 27 years of experience, struggled to get them open.
Then there they were, some fresh, delicious D.
They were a mixture of old tree, unknown kampungs like this one:
And more Tembaga (D118), which turned out to be my favorite of the bunch.
It tasted really similar to Puangmanee, for those of you who know the nutty, sticky charms of a tree-ripened Puangmanee.
But I didn’t end up eating much durian at Thomas’s. It had been raining too much, and the season was ending. Some of the durians were half ripe. Others were too watery. Many were sweet, lacking the alcoholic bitter oomph that this durian snob has come to love.
Thomas himself warned me that the durians were not as good as normal when I visited, and friends who have gone before and since my visit have told me that they had really good durian here.
It’s why timing is critical, and even I don’t always get it perfectly right.
So someday, I’ll just have to come back to try again.
Where We Stayed – 2 Options
Thomas offers a simple farmstay on his property in a small, stand alone cottage. The cost is 100RM per night for the room, not including durian.
There are two single beds and a cot in what can be best described as a farm worker’s room – replete with ladder, boots, farming equipment, and lots of posters of durian inspiration on the walls.
There’s a kitchen table, a sink, and candles to light in the evening as the sun sets, because there’s no electricity. As you dine on the day’s last durians by the flickering light, the darkness fills with sound: frogs crying, bat wings, crickets, the long hum of a cicada. You really feel like you’re out in the jungle.
There are quite a number of mosquitoes at the farm, so it’s best to be prepared with coils or spray, but most of them seemed to dissipate to wherever mosquitoes go by bedtime.
I woke at dawn to the thumping of durians and wandered around the property alone as the sky turned blue and then pink. That’s where I filmed my first ever timelapse, of a squirrel eating durian:
Thomas’s is definitely a get-away-from-everything-except-durian kind of accommodation. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s also not a place I could take my mother. Instead, I would take her to:
If you like electricity, you can also get a whole cabin to yourself at nearby Ranchan Recreational Waterfall Park (Taman Rekreasi Ranchan). The park is only a few kilometers from Thomas’s farm, so if you have a car or a motorbike it’s an easy distance to traverse.
Like most Malaysian government-run parks, Ranchan does not specialize in upkeep. The houses are old and barebones, but they are airy, huge, and (I thought) comfortable. Each house has two bedrooms and a living room with a big kitchen sink.
- Fully air-conditioned – 120RM per night.
- Slightly smaller with some air-conditioning and some fan – 100RM per night.
- Fan only – 80RM with fan only.
We opted for the fan only and were really comfortable. I could have stayed here longer, especially as it’s walking distance to a nice waterfall to swim and good, quiet places to run for those of us with distance compulsions.
For more information or to make a booking, call +6082-876681.
How To Get To Arts Borneo Farm
For Thomas’s privacy and security, I’m not going to pinpoint the exact location of his farm on the Durians of Malaysia Map below. Just know that it’s very close to Taman Rekreasi Ranchan and make sure to give Thomas a call or an email to make your booking.
Contact person: Thomas Teo
Mobile No.: 016 899 5596
Email Address: [email protected]
Use this map to navigate to other durian points of interest all around Malaysia! Each pin is connected with a blog post, so you can use this map to explore different areas and different durians.