Magic doesn’t follow rules — but it’s typically found by accident, somewhere unexpected, and not somewhere high-end. The best flavors are often found at the simplest venues; standing on the road, outside, nowhere to sit, no plates or utensils, your hands and mouth full of the most intense and mouthwatering flavor. One of my favorite places to eat durian is nothing more than a random roadside durian stall on the highway along the border of Prachinburi and Nakhon Nayok that I found by lucky accident one hungry afternoon.
How I Found La Ao’s Prachinburi Durian Stall
I first visited La Ao’s Stall last spring, 2017, when I was headed through the area to check out a new-to-me farm nearby called Rianthong Orchard. Rianthong Orchard is run by “Andy” Nopparat Rianthong, the owner of the new I’m Durian eatery just north of Bangkok.
I was curious to see his farm, because unlike other Prachinburi Farms I had visited in the past, Andy is a durian variety collector.
But that day, Andy’s farm had run dry. There were just a few cut durians around that were too unripe and too untasty for the likes of me and my friends.
We found ourselves prowling along the roadside stalls on Highway 33, hungry. La Ao’s stall was in the strip of durian and fruit stalls located closest to Rianthong Orchard. Just turn right and you’re there.
Most of her durian had been cut, as is normal in Thailand. You can tell they’ve been cut in the photo above by the long stems with a line through the middle. That line is where the durian would naturally fall off on its own. Instead, the durian has been cut off where the stem attaches to the tree.
La Ao said she normally would cut all her durian, but her 9 rai (3.5 acre) farm is now too large for her to manage on her own, so some of the durians fall now.
La Ao inherited the property from her husband’s parents, who purchased the property about 50 years ago and planted durian. She and her husband have now managed it for 40 years, and her son helps out sometimes now. When I visited her last, her son was away at the Prachinburi Durian Festival (May 19-27, 2018) located at town hall.
She concentrates her energy on cutting the Monthongs, Puangmanees, and Ganyaos, which are worth more money.
Chanee, the forgotten favorite of yesteryear, isn’t a priority.
The day we visited, Monthong sold for 160 baht/kg, cut-Chanee 120 baht/kg, and the tree-dropped Chanee just 80 baht/kg.
Which worked out in our favor, because her tree-dropped Chanee was all we wanted.
I smelled it before I saw it. The tree-dropped durian was piled in a bucket in front of the stall, unwanted and unmarked. The aroma was amazing, dizzyingly gaseous and chocolatey. I was already hungry, but I thnk we all did a little dance of delight when we got a whiff of these durians.
They looked like super, super fresh tree-dropped durian. “Thurien rohn?” we inquired cautiously. La Ao confirmed our suspicion. Yes, it was tree-dropped, and from the look at the stems just hours before.
We bought the entire bucket and cracked them open with glee. To be honest, tree-dropped Chanee is among my favorite durians ever anywhere.
A Note About Prachinburi Durian Chanee
A few year earlier, I’d visited Prachinburi specifically to taste its famous Chanee. Prachinburi is currently in competition with the more durian-famous Nonthaburi province. The governor of Prachinburi has claimed several times that Prachinburi durian is just as good as Thurien Non, and has even made allegations that Nonthaburi durian farmers are hawking Prachinburi durians as their own because the fruits are so good and high quality as to be indistinguishable.
I think that might be a little salacious, but I do agree that Prachinburi Chanee is among my favorites in Thailand and any visit to La Ao’s durian stall is a super treat.
But, I do still think it’s unusual for Prachinburi to be growing such great durian. The geography just isn’t that perfect for durian.
Prachinburi extends into the hot, flat, rice-growing Issan region. It’s hot in Prachinburi, and dry. Prachinburi averages just 77 inches of rain per year, 24 inches less per year than its more durian-famous neighbor to the south, Chanthaburi.
It’s also relatively flat in Prachinburi, with dry red clay which is beautiful to look at but doesn’t seem that great for fruit trees. In fact, Prachinburi reminded me a lot of Cambodia, and it has several khmer archaeological sites worth visiting.
The two durian-growing districts are nestled up against the Nakhon Nayok border, in the little bit of mountains there.
Namtok Khao I-to Waterfall
These mountains are full of small waterfalls. The closest one to La Ao’s Durian Stall is Khao I-to, a small and tranquil park with a shallow pool. There was nobody there the afternoon we visited.
But you fruit hunters are probably more interested in the uncommon fruits I’ve also found in Ban Nong Chuang besides durian. Maybe it’s the proximity to the Issan or Cambodia, but Prachinburi definitely has a different set of fruits than other regions of Thailand.
Kraton (Santol) at La Ao’s Stall
In addition to durian, Prachinburi is famous for kraton, known elsewhere as Santol or among sciencey people as Sandoricum koetjape.
Inside, it looks a bit like a mangosteen with fluffy white sections. It’s sometimes known as cottonfruit, because the flesh is fluffy and fibrous you can’t chew it. You just have to roll it around in your mouth like a juicy, sweet and sour cottonball. A single section can last for hours if you keep it in your cheek and suck on it. I love it — but many people find it annoying to eat.
In Prachinburi, you’ll see these being sold along the roadsides fresh or brined.
Korlan (Nephelium hypoleucum)
These are usually called wild lychees, even though it is maybe more closely related to rambutan. They’re really sour and not that delicious for just popping in your mouth as a snack, but can be used as a souring agent in Thai cooking to replace tamarind or lime.
Purple Ma Fai (Baccaurea ramiflora)
In other parts of Thailand, Ma Fai, or the Burmese Grape, has fluffy, marshmallowy-sour, white-colored flesh. But in Prachinburi these are extra special. They’re a gorgeous purple color inside, and they’re sweet. Like really sweet. I was lucky, and this was the first place I ever tasted Ma Fai. I will still eat ma fai in other places, but mostly because out of nostalgia for the ones I first relished in Prachinburi.
Want to learn more about the other fruits that grow in Thailand? Grab a free copy of this fruit-nerds Thailand bible, with local names, lists of fruit festivals, and different varietial names.
How To Find La Ao’s Prachinburi Durian Stall
GPS: 14.13303, 101.42069
La Ao’s Stall is located on the famous “Fruit Road” between the villages of Baan Nong Chuang and Baan Nong Kankrao on Highway 33.
There’s a large tree just to the right of the her stall if you have your back to the road.
Use this map to navigate to La Ao’s Durian and Fruit Stall or to other durian farms in Prachinburi or around Thailand.