Six months ago, the road wasn’t there and neither were the durian stalls. It’s all new.
When I visited Song last year, in 2018, the only way to get there was to shuffle on board a boat and cruise up the Rajang. Durians either traveled to Song the same way, or were never collected or sold at all.
With the road newly finished, this durian season was different than any other before.
For now, the city consists of a small morning market along the river, the boat pier, a row of Chinese shophouses facing the river with two coffeeshops, two small hotels, a small Chinese temple also on the river, and … that’s about it.
Not that it’s boring in Song. In fact I’ve perhaps never been in a more entertaining place.
Durian days start early here. By 7am, the streets were lined with sellers hawking all kinds of jungle produce. Buyers from both Kapit and Sibu walk the strip, loading baskets and baskets of durians, rambutans, and petai to take away to the big cities.
Both coffee shops sell durian, and don’t mind if you open durian on the breakfast table.
The morning market is a wild place. Strange animals show up to get chopped, like deer, river tortoises, wild boars, and civets. Alcohol flows freely at the tables in the back of the market, with vendors selling all three of the local beverages — tuak (rice wine), ijok (coconut toddy) and more dangerously, langkau (a distilled rice liquor) — and insisting that the we Western visitors at least taste them.
By 9am, at least a quarter the population of the market was regularly sloshed.
By 9:30am, I was high on durian coffee and slightly sloshed.
Boring in Song? Not at all.
We were in a great state to try out the new road, and go hunting durian.
Durian Stalls Along the New Song to Kapit Road
Not to fear, we had a designated driver. We’d hired a local van driver who calls himself “All Blacks” (after an obsession with New Zealand rugby), and the very same “All Blacks” I’d met inadvertently in 2017, to take us all the way to Kapit, stopping all along the way to check out the new stalls.
Within 15 minute of crossing the bridge over the Katibas River, we screeched to a halt in front of our first stop of the morning.
Stall #1: Durian Distribution
Our first stop was a lucky one. Within seconds of stepping out of the van, we knew we’d found super fresh, super gassy, super numbing durian.
The family was surprised to see us. They’d constructed their stall only a week previous, when the durian season started.
The stall is operated by 3 families from Rumah Kulleh Longhouse, who all have farms nearby.
In addition to durian, they were selling rambutans, bright yellow Iban eggplants, different flavors of sago crackers and a type of baked sago pearl called Sagok that reminded me a lot of a Kellog’s breakfast cereal.
As we stood there, more durians arrived in baskets. The man carrying one heavy basket said he had walked 45 minutes up the new road to sell them here.
Before this year, he said, it was too far to carry them to the river to sell to Song or Kapit.
But his stash smelled amazing. We begged one of the fruits nesting on top, sensing that it would have the tongue-tingling sensation that we craved.
It was a kampung of unknown variety. He wasn’t sure how old the tree was, but he said it was big.
But it was a great start to the morning, just as bitter, burnt sugar and menthol as we had hoped.
It was enough to keep us on a high even as the coffee and tuak started to wear off.
Durian #2: The new Jungle Mart
We almost passed this small stall by, but when my friend Bianca spotted her favorite fruit, Dabai, All Blacks hit the breaks so hard we fish-tailed a little.
As we climbed out of the van to investigate, I noticed sacks of durians stacked against the woodpile.
Mr. Nyarayo told us that the durians, like the tree-fresh Dabai, came from his small farm just behind.
“I’m here all the time,” Mr. Nyarayo told us. “This is my new house!”
He opened the door to show us the living room beyond, with a bowl of rice and a metal tea kettle on the floor. The house still smelled like new balsa wood.
When the road was finished, Mr. Nyarayo moved his wife and family into the small wooden house with a front counter attached. He now sells fruits, vegetables, river mollusks, and other jungle produce from the stall.
I asked if I could buy some durian, but he said it had already been purchased.
The words had just left his mouth when a white truck already loaded with durians pulled up. Two men popped out, and within about 50 seconds the durians and the truck were gone.
Before the road, Mr. Nyarayo said, he didn’t bother to sell his durians at all because it was too hard to transport them to market. Now someone comes to transport them for him.
Stall #3: Longhouse Collective
The last stop on our Song to Kapit durian hop was at the stall set up on the gravel driveway to the Rumah Landi Longhouse in Sungei Tubo.
It seemed like there were at least 10 sellers gathered there, selling everything from durian to eggplants to cempedak to melinjo.
We found the Durio kutejensis right away.
And followed it closely with what the seller called Cempedak madu, or honey cempedak.
It was to be honest, not that sweet.
Our mission complete and tummies full, we drove back the way we’d come, past Mr. Nyarayo, past the folks from Rumah Kulleh Longhouse, back to Song.
I was surprised we passed only two car accidents on the way home, considering what we’d seen at the local market that morning.
But by the afternoon, the city was deserted. The durian was gone. The fruit sellers were gone.
Even the drunkards were gone.
The city was quiet, and to be honest, a little boring. So we decided to just head back to the hotel to relax until the next morning, when we knew all durian hell would break loose again.
Where we stayed in Song
There are two hotels in Song; the Capital and the Katibas Inn.
We chose the Katibas Inn by the recommendation of a friend. The Katibas entrance is located in a side alley of the main road. All the rooms have windows, although there is only one river-facing room (so snag it early).
Our room had air conditioning and a hot water shower. It cost Rm70/night + the Rm10 tourism tax. I don’t know why they bother separating the tax; just call it Rm80/night. But there ya go.
Conclusion: Thoughts about the new road
Most tourists find it romantic to take the express boat up to Kapit, but few travelers stop in Song.
It’s part of what makes the Rajang Adventure feel exclusive and “way out there.” But at some point, the road will connect Song not only to Kapit but all the way to Sibu. People will start driving through Song on their way to further up the Rajang River.
And at that point, Song will really change.
Just six months into its existence, and the road is changing how and where people live and do business.
And sell durian.
How to Get to Song
Currently, you can drive from Kapit to Song, but to get to either city you need to take an Express Boat up the Rajang River.
Google doesn’t seem to realize the new Kapit to Song road is there, so it can’t calculate directions, but it took us 45-minutes on the way back without stopping for durians.
Use this map of Malaysia to navigate to other durian hot spots! Each pin has a blog post just like this one to help you figure out where to go, how to get there, where to stay, and what durians to look for when you arrive.