There are 234 Thai heirloom durians, and yet most people just know Monthong and Chanee. It’s a constant battle convincing durian lovers in Malaysia and Singapore that Thai durian can be more than sweet and crunchy, that it ranges in taste from golden sweet-peanut-butter to soft red-wine -cream depending on the variety, just like in Malaysia. But they are harder to find in Thailand’s commercial-oriented market, where 90% of durian is shipped off to China. That’s part of what makes Suan Itsaree so special.
About Suan Itsaree
Seven years ago the family decided to open their large 170 rai (67 acre) farm to tourists. The fruit farm is one of the biggest and most diverse you’ll visit in Thailand, so big that the family decided to outfit a small tractor as a train and take guests on a lumpy-bumpy ride around the farm property to a special hut up the hill where they can sit for a fruit buffet.
Wawsiri Rityotee’s father purchased Suan Itsaree 64 years ago, in 1954. Thailand, and Thailand’s durian, was a lot different then. Monthong was new and was just catching the attention of durian farmers in Chanthaburi (see a History of Thailand’s Durian).
Instead, durian farmers grew a lot of other varieties. An official agricultural officer that year actually recommended the varieties Kop Med Tao, Kop Tha Kam, and Kop Lep Yao.
Wawsiri’s father planted Kop Tha Kham, Thong Yoi Chat, and Kop Lep Yao, Hawk’s Talon, which is one of their best durians today, and the focus of this blog post.
Jaboticoba (Plinia cauliflora)
First as you head up the hill on the tractor-ride, on your ride side you might spy these small willowy trees covered in black-purple globes. These are Jaboticoba, which actually originate in Brazil but were brought to Thailand a long time ago by the Portuguese, like papayas and cherimoyas and soursops and other South American fruits.
Rambai (Baccaurea motleyana)
Rambai grows wild in much of Southeast Asia, but again isn’t that common in Thailand. Ma fai (Baccaurea ramiflora) is a super close relative and is pretty commonly sold at markets. Why one and not the other? Who knows.
They taste pretty similar, a sweet-sour like the American candy called Sweet-tart, with the same weird impossible-to-chew marshmallow texture. You have to suck on these and just swallow them whole, or trying to pull out the seeds will drive you crazy. Anybody who hates cempedak because of the slimy, strandy texture would not be a fan.
The main differences that I can tell between Ma Fai and Rambai is that Rambais are orange on the outside, oblong, and a bit more sour than Ma Fai. Ma Fai can also be a darker purple in color, and tends to be rounder.
Not everyone is a fan, but I am. It’s at least a fun stop and chance to taste something that you’ve never tasted before.
Kinda like this durian.
Kop Lep Yiao
This is Kop Lep Yao, which means Hawk’s Talon Kop. Kop is a family of about 50 durians. You can see my collection of Kops here.
Initially, I wasn’t that interested because of the durian’s off-yellow color. But this durian just turns yellow really quickly, even if it has been tree-dropped.
And we were careful to order all tree-dropped durian ahead of time by calling Pi Wawsiri. She both cuts her durian and allows it to fall. Cut, this durian isn’t that much to talk about.
Sure, it’s sweet and rosy and has a nice to smooth texture. But let a durian fall from this over 60-year-old tree and…
It’s pretty magic, something that might convert any Red Prawn lover in Penang, Malaysia. Seriously, just look at this thing.
The super thin skin punctures easily, erupting the fiberless rose-tinted cream. It’s silky with just a touch of red-wine-tannins or chocolate, just enough that the sweetness and creaminess has a depth to it and isn’t just fruity and sweet.
I’ve been back to Suan Itsaree three times now, and I can say that Kop Lep-Yiao is consistently delicious and a major favorite on the Durian Tours.
The Durian Buffet at Suan Itsaree
Suan Itsaree is open during the main durian season for a Durian and Fruit Buffet for 400 baht per person, including the tour. It’s an all-you-can-eat style of buffet, with mangosteens, rambutans, snakefruits, longkongs and whatever is in season.
A random assortment of durians are included every day, including Monthong, Ganyao, Chanee, Kop Lep Yiao and four or five other Heirloom varieties like Thong Yoi Chat, which come into season later in the season.
I didn’t manage to get photos of the others, because once Pi Wawsiri gets to opening durians, it is hard to keep up! She opens durian after durian, and when the durians look like this, tour groups tend to get kind of grabby… well, I can understand that!
The more rare heirloom varieties are definitely fewer in number at the buffet than more well-known varieties like Chanee and Monthong, but because the farm is so old, and because you can get tree-dropped durian, the quality is pretty top-notch.
Our last group got kind of drunk-happy off of all the durians.
It was as good of a durian feed, and as good quality durian, as anything you can find in Malaysia.
And that is why I am convinced that if Singaporean and Malaysians would just come to Thai farms like Suan Itsaree and taste their old-tree, tree-dropped fruits, they would stop insisting that Thai durian is no good.
Maybe they would even prefer Kop Lep Yiao to Red Prawn. Who knows? Come try and see for yourself!
How To Get To Suan Itsaree
Suan Itsaree is located about 25 minutes north of Chanthaburi Town on the road to Wat Khao Sukim.
GPS: 12.72588, 102.05185
Call: 092-5574643 / 089-9909141
Use the map below to get directions to Suan Itsaree, or to navigate to other durian points of interest in Thailand! Click the pin to pull up the link to the blog post with more information.