If you’re not specifically looking for Trang durian, there’s little chance you’ll find yourself on the lonely mountain road that winds between the southern Thai provinces of Trang and Phattalung.
Most tourists don’t even go to Phattalung. Those that go to Trang get off the train or step out of the airport and head straight for the ferry port to the durian-devoid islands off the coast. That’s what I did with my mom and dad when we went to my white-sand castaway dream, Koh Kradan, but there are no durians there.
Well, maybe not entirely durian devoid. Koh Muk, of the famed Emerald Cave, has a durian farm but the season had just ended when Parisa, Damien, and I arrived one damp August off the pointy-bowed wooden longtail boat. Rainy season had chased away the tourists, leaving the island eerily quiet, grey, and fruitless.
We headed back into Trang Town to continue the durian hunt.
Trang Central Market
Our first stop was the extensive Trang Central Market, just nearby the Trang Railway Station. I had visited years before, and remembered the market winding down and around Satthani Alley for several blocks, including a row of fruit-only stalls and a covered vegetable area.
We parked our car in the large parking lot in front of the Trang Train Station and looked skeptically at the Chom Trang Hotel, just across from the station. It looked dingy from the outside, the narrow, soot-stained exterior looming over an inexplicably empty lot. But inside the rooms were surprisingly modern and cozy. Thrilled with our score, we headed for what we hoped would be durian dinner.
But the durian pickings were also slim at the extensive Trang Central Market near the train station. Dtem was the only lady selling a sad and dwindling selection of Monthong, which she said was coming all the way from Yala. As she thumped at her wares with the rubber-tipped stick, trying to find us a good one, she complained that little durian grows in Trang.
Instead, she said, she often imports durian from as far away as Chanthaburi, in northeastern Thailand. Sometimes she gets durian baan from nearby Krabi, or Ganyao from a few provinces in Trang. With a little prompting, we soon had the list of all durian growing regions in Trang. Ready for it?
- Thung Yeow
- Nong Suk
- Huy Yod
But now, she said, there was just a bit growing on the border of Phattalung.
After just one durian, we resolved to reroute in the morning and head into the mountains toward Phattalung. We were on our way to Pattani anyway, what was a little extra durian detour into a province I had only heard of minutes before?
Highway 4, or Phet Kasem Road Trang Durian Hunt
We packed up the beat-up white Proton Wira with the Malaysian plates and headed inland, up and away from the coast. After about 25 minutes driving, we turned off onto Highway 4, Phet Kasem Road, which leads up over the Khao Luang Mountain range that bisects peninsular Thailand.
Just 300 meters later we spotted our first durian stall in what felt like forever. “Stop, stop!” I shouted.
“I hope they have Ganyao,” Damien said. “I’m in a Ganyao mood.”
The lady’s name was Daem, and she did have Ganyao from a farm in Moo Ban Huy Luk, Ka Chong District, a little further up the road. She also had Monthong, Damien’s usual fav, but we were Ganyao-ing today so we ignored it.
Like most Thais, Daem had cut her Ganyao off the tree early. She tapped around with her rubber stick until she found a soft one for us, and cut it open. It had the smooth, pale yellow color of a not-totally–ripe Ganyao.
It was smooth and nutty, with the hint of the frosting-fruitiness that Damien is partial to and I don’t much care for. Damien was delighted.
I let him have it, saving my appetite for later. But now I was in the mood for a super-dense, cakey, more fully ripe Ganyao too.
Suan Ban Dit 50-Year-Old Ganyao
We didn’t see any more durian for three-quarters of a mile, just over a kilometer. We were wondering if Daem was a fluke when we spotted this small unimposing stall.
This was a small 17 rai (6.7 acres) farm, called Suan Ban Dit.
Not only did she have Ganyao, she had 50-year-old Ganyao.
She said she has 10 Ganyao trees, 5 Monthongs, 10 Chanees, and 2 Durian Baan.
But since today, so late in the season, she had only Monthong and Ganyao. We again went for Ganyao.
This one was a bit riper and a delicious yellow complexion, with a hint of wrinkles at the bottom corners. Durian ripens from the bottom of the fruit up toward the stem, so if this whole fruit was ripe I bet it would have been criss-crossed by the fine network of an old-tree Ganyao’s wrinkles.
It was decidedly better than the half-ripe, pale Ganyao we’d eaten just a few minutes before, the classic almondine nuttiness making us smile and begin to feel excited about our durian adventure.
What would we find around the next corner?
Pi Eeat’s Stall (Trang Side)
From the car Parisa spotted three types of durian at this well-stocked fruit stall: the green, long-stemmed Ganyao, the big bulky camouflage brown Monthongs, and an unknown durian.
Plus what were those hanging pink things?
The stall was manned by another woman, Pi Eeat, who told us she didn’t have a farm of her own, but sold for farmers in the area who brought her their fruit. She had a pile of cempedak, beautiful red rambutans, and the pink fruits that had grabbed my attention. She said they were wild mafai.
I had never seen Mafai that were bright, bubble-gum pink on the outside. Mafai is fairly common in Thailand, but normally they are a dark yellowish brown color on the outside and a lavender purple on the inside.
Inside, these were white. They looked a lot more like a relative, rambai, to me than Mafai. But Pi Eeat was insistent. They were mafai, just the wild kind that grows on the mountains around here.
I bought a bag to snack on because I like Mafai. There isn’t much to eat in them, but I am a big fan of their marshmallowy, gummy texture. They open with a pop when you squeeze them, their foamy hard shells cracking neatly and revealing the three translucent-white sections of sweet-sour flesh encasing a seed.
They’re pretty more-ish, to use my favorite Australian slang, and the whole bunch disappeared that afternoon as we kept cruising along, trailing shells out the window of the car.
Next to the rambutans, we spied another little Baccaurea species.
It was a fruit I recognized from Malaysia, that we call Buah jentik-jentik, which means “flicking fruit” because you open it by flicking the bottom. The fruit cracks open, revealing a lucious, unreal orange flesh within.
These were pretty old and dried out, but still tasted good. Later, on the Phattalung side, we saw a lot more of them.
Khoa Chong Waterfall and Botanic Garden
As we left Pi Eeats, we passed by a sign announcing there was a botanic garden and waterfall ahead. With belllies full of durian, there was no way we could pass it up.
The garden is small and nothing is labeled in English, but the waterfall and swimming area was nice. We didn’t see any real cascades of water, just some nice sandstone bolders turning the river frothy.
The water was deep and relaxed enough to dip between the boulders, but we didn’t see anywhere where you could have a proper feet-off-the-ground swim.
The Khao Chong Waterfall marks the end of the strip of durian stalls until you cross into Phattalung and begin heading down the mountain again.
From Pi Eeat’s Fruit stall to the durians on the other side, it’s only about 10 miles. You can wait that long, right?
Pi Eeat’s Stall (Phattalung Side)
As we crossed into Phattalung, I noticed from the car that all of the durian stalls here were selling the wild Mafai and jentik-jentik. There were other bags swinging from the stall tarps or umbrellas too, but I couldn’t see what they were.
“Let’s just stop and have a look,” I suggested. We pulled over and approached the seller.
“She says her name is Pi Eeat,” Parisa said.
“We just left Pi Eeat’s stall in Trang-side,” I said. “Like 10 minutes ago.”
“I know but she says her name is Pi Eeat too. I don’t know — maybe they are like family?”
Although this Pi Eeat was selling only Monthong, she told us she also had about 40 or 50 Chanee, Ganyao and Kradumthong trees as well at the farm just behind the stall.
“Do you want any durian?” Parisa asked.
“Nah, I’m not in Monthong-mood,” I said. “But I do want this.”
Velvet Tamarind (Dialium Indum)
I recognized this fruit from my time in Sri Lanka, where I’d become fascinated by it’s soft, furry exterior and dry, dusty, sweet-sour interiors, like pixie-dust.
But these were much fresher, and the fruit inside was still moist and almost gummy, wrapped around a small seed. They easily cracked under my thumb and forefinger, so fragile I kept getting shells stuck in the flesh. I bought a bag to add to my mafai car snacks, and we were off again.
I kept GPS notes on where we saw durian stalls, but we didn’t stop again. Our tummies were full, and all we saw from the car was Monthong. You can check the map to see where we saw stalls.
It was time to get on the road and make some distance.
Phattalung Central Market
As the road grew less steep and flattened out into the flood plains of Phattalung, we stopped seeing durian stalls altogether.
But we decided to stop by the Phattalung Central Market anyway, just in case. After all, we’d started that morning oat the Trang Central Market. It felt somehow like the appropriate end to the day’s durian hunt.
The Phattalung Central Market was a red-roofed building in a gilded city that reminded me a lot of Chanthaburi.
“Yeaaaa,” Parisa agreed when I told her that. “It is like Chanthaburi. But hot.”
Phattalung was hot after the coolness of the mountains. The market had no durian. But we did find an interesting dessert.
Pandanus Flower Dessert
We didn’t find any durian at the Phattalung Central Market, but we did spot a dessert table with this regional specialty.
Dok Lam Chiak, or Bunga Pudak in Malaysia, is the flower or a Pandanus Tree. They are the small suckering trees that lining the coasts with fruits that look almost like big, inedible pineapples.
The flower nectar is boiled and congealed to make a sweet, gummy dessert (that’s vegan!) served with a splash of coconut milk.
How To Get To Trang and/or Phattalung
Trang has a small International Airport as well as a train station linking the city to both Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Phattalung has neither. The proximity of the Phattalung durian stalls to the province border means it’s probably easiest to access Phattalung durian stalls from Trang Town.
To get to these durian stalls, simply drive up Highway 4 from Trang Town. Most stalls are clustered around the Ka Chong Waterfall on Trang Side or in Na Wong District in Phattalung.