Finding durian kura kura (Durio testudinarum) in Limbang was annoyingly easy. It almost made me mad. It was just there, at the daily market, sold in a pile like every other random and equally rare fruit.
A few years ago, I rode a bus over 36 hours, slept on the floor without a mosquito net, contracted both intestinal parasites and some form of dengue, and got held hostage by a tribe upriver just to find Durian Kura Kura.
Hey, it’s a special durian. So. Darn. Worth. It.
Because Durian Kura Kura doesn’t taste like durian. It’s weird, and really unique, and finding it was one of the highlights of my durian life so far.
But then we found it at the Limbang market, and, with the help of Simon and Justyna (@fit_shortie_eats) traced the fruits back to two huge and gnarled old trees dropping literally thousands of these decadent little D’s. It was a rain of Durian kura kura.
And I only got a few mosquito bites. Much better.
Limbang is perhaps the center of durian diversity in Borneo. Or one of them. Or just a really really good place to find lots of random D.
But it used to be known as the city of sin. The city lies on a large river, and it’s been an important center of trade and commerce since at least the 15th century when the city belonged to the Kingdom of Brunei. Limbang shipped staples like rice and sago to the Bruneian city-dwellers, and in more recent times hosted the rough-and-tumble logger and resource-exploiter types.
It’s economic importance was likely the reason Limbang was stolen from Brunei by Sarawak’s White Rajah in 1890, and is the reason why you should request extra passport pages for all the stamps you’ll get traveling overland through Malaysian Borneo. Thanks for that, Charles Brookes.
From the banners advertising karaoke girls, it seems likely that there are still plenty of resource-exploiter types in Limbang and that massage parlors are best avoided. Unless you’re looking for that.
But, since you’re reading this durian obsessive website, what you’re really after is the most super exotic durians out there.
And you’re likely to find them in Limbang. There were durians all over the city. You couldn’t not see durian if you tried. They were every where, and in the most unlikely of places.
Like hanging in the window of this barbershop.
Or waiting, unattended, on a bench outside a pharmacy.
You could eat durian without setting foot in the market sphere.
But the best place to go catch them all is the Limbang Pasar Tamu, or outdoor market.
The Limbang Tamu, Friday Outdoor Market
2020 UPDATE: The Limbang Tamu has moved location to the field behind the Purnama Hotel.
The outdoor market comprises a bunch of tents and beach umbrellas lining the main highway for 150 meters. There is an actual covered market buildings in the lot behind the Rakyat Bank, but it was strangely empty when we visited, the vendors preferring to spread out their fruits roadside.
Durian Kura Kura (Durio testudinarum)
That’s where the Durian Kura Kura was, being sold all innocent-like, in piles on the sidewalk at a stall that also sold stink beans and terap.
I had never seen them being sold at a market before. Yet there they were, just chilling like they’re not one of the most difficult to find durians. Locals have always told me they don’t like them, so they’re not worth going into the jungle to pick.
Which I guess is why the vendor, Mary, was selling them for only 15RM per pile of 6-7 durians — much, much cheaper than any other durian at the market.
But you know? It turns out that I really like them.
That’s right. This durian has more in common texture-wise with a crunchy jackfruit than with durian. It’s brown-sugar sweet almost like a chico sapote, and each rubbery sack of flesh peels away cleanly from the seed.
And it has almost no aroma.
I was so excited a bought a few stacks, and stored them in our hotel. Even after a couple of days, there was not a whiff of durian funk in our room.
I couldn’t say the same for some of the other durians we ended up keeping in the car, which have probably permanently permeated the seating.
Durian Pulo (Durio kutejensis)
Not that Durian Pulo smells bad. Unlike the normal durian, this durian species has an unusually sweet and fruity aroma, more like pineapple crossed with jackfruit.
It comprised the majority of durian at the market when we visited. We hadn’t eaten any yet on this Borneo trip, so it was exciting to come into an area with something new to taste!
There was so much of it around, we were able to really get a taste of what it’s like at multiple stages of ripeness.
You can see in the photo below two Durian Pulo’s, one that’s been off the tree for a few days, and one that must have dropped that morning.
The one on the left has a brown stripe running through the stem, which is how you can tell it’s a few days od. The flesh is a lot darker in color, mottled, and softer. It looks kind of like it’s falling apart.
While the one on the right has a stem that was pale green to almost white all the way through and was still sticky to the touch. This durian was really fresh, with thick, waxy, fruity-and-floral tasting flesh. It’s not really very duriany.
We found that unlike with Durio zibethinus, which basically needs to be as fresh as possible, these little Pulos taste better with a little bit of time off the tree, which allows them to soften and develop more flavor.
Durian Isu Oren (Durio graveolens, orange-flesh)
These little beauties were all over town. Even the vendors were offering us to taste them for free, there was such an abundance of them.
But here, they called them Durian Isu. In Sabah and even in Lawas, far northern Sarawak, they call them Dalit Oren. So there must be an invisible line somewhere through the middle of Brunei where the name changes.
In addition to the orange-fleshed Durian Isu, they also had the yellow one, Durian Kuning, and the red one, which they called Durian Otak Udang Merah.
One of the most interesting durian things to me was the proliferation of this D. zibethinus X graveolens hybrid, which the locals called Seong Kong.
It was really expensive. My friend paid 80RM for one fruit. But I can understand why.
It’s a seriously fleshy durian, much larger than a normal Durio graveolens and elongated instead of round. But the thorns where just as long, green, and spiny as the wild one.
Inside, the bright yellow flesh had the density and intensity of Durio graveolens, but was sweeter, very smooth in texture, and very, very fleshy.
You could even see it’s hybrid nature from the seeds, which were larger, a mahogany brown, and oblong, like jumbo D. graveolens seeds.
Limbang Durian Kura Kura Tree
We met Simon and Justyna and the market and showed them our booty. But they, never satisfied with just eating the fruit, wanted to go out and see the tree.
So we all piled into their rental car and headed out to the small village called Nanga Medamit where Mary, the kura kur vendor, said her durians came from.
Justyna and Simon lso had a contact through Instagram who knew the way and took us directly to the trees. No scrambling around in the jungle this time.
For some reason, I thought durian kura kura was always a small tree. I was wrong.
These trees were huge and gnarly. I couldn’t wrap my arms around the trunk, even if it wasn’t covered in fruit.
Unlike other durians, durian kura kura fruits primarily along the trunk. But I was startled to see the fruits sprouting everywhere from these trees, not just the bottom, but everywhere.
And the ground was blanketed in fallen durian kura kura. It was like snowfall on Christmas morning, we were that gleeful.
And then a miraculous thing happened. I’d eaten so many durian kura kuras that day, my stomach actually got full.
I’d had enough durian kura kura. I knew what it tasted like ripe and unripe, the good ones and the not-so-flavorful ones.
My durian kura kura hunt was satisfied in Limbang.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Purnama Hotel, a rainbow-colored behemoth of a building that towers over the rest of Limbang. It cost $23/night or 90RM on Agoda the night we stayed, and was much, much cheaper to book there than to walk-in and pay at the counter.
From the right hotel window, you could almost throw a rock and bounce it off the umbrellas of the outdoor market. It was that close.
But almost everything is pretty close in Limbang. It’s a small town. So there aren’t *that* many non-brothel-ey looking hotels.
Prime Hotel or Comfort Inn (not listed on Agoda) are probably your best budget options.
How To Get To Limbang
Limbang is in an awkward spot, sandwiched between Brunei and another piece of Brunei. But there are a lot of ways to get there.
You can fly from Miri or Kota Kinabalu on MASwings, a small Malaysian airline.
You can go there on a ferry from Brunei or Labuan.
Or you can drive, like we did, and get all the stamps in your passport. Neither the Bruneian or the Sarawakian customs asked to see any paperwork for our rental car. It was breezy.