Brunei’s Gadong Night Market is one of the most reliable places for a one-hit Borneo durian spree. It’s a huge market, with a wealthy clientele thanks to Brunei’s petroleum industry and strong currency, and durians are shipped in from all over Malaysia.
The magic of this is that at Gadong Night Market, you can get early season durians from Sabah at the same time as late season durians like Durio kutejensis from Kuching. All the highly sought-after hybrid varieties, like Otak Udang Galah or Suluk King make their way to the night market.
If there’s durian somewhere in Borneo, it will likely make its way to the Gadong Night Market, and if you are in Brunei, into your happy stomach.
Explaining the New Gadong Night Market
In the summer of 2016, Brunei’s philosopher-king, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum (real name), unveiled something brand new to Southeast Asia: a shiny, modern, and clean outdoor market.
When I wrote my last blog post about the Gadong Night Market in 2014, it looked like this:
A cluster of high tarp canopies, strung with more tarps, *mostly* protected shoppers from the rain. Smoke from grilling meat drifted across the brilliant white lights, giving an atmosphere of mysteriousness and everything you ate a uniform flavor of charcoal.
It was like night markets everywhere in Asia, except more expensive thanks to the Brunei dollar being tied to the Singapore dollar.
I was shocked in early 2018 when I rocked up the night market with my durian gang and found this.
It was clean.
The huge 5,979 square meter space and all its 156 stalls (since we can be exact) were now protected by a vaulted high ceiling. It was raining, but we barely noticed.
We ate our durian at stainless steel tables and washed our stinky fingers in sinks tactically stationed near the eating areas.
The air was clean and free from smoke, because the food vendors have all been given grill hoods to whisk the charred air up and away from those of us trying to sniff out a good durian.
I was impressed. Gadong Night Market is suddenly something pretty special, which is great, since some special durians can regularly be found there too.
Dress Code at Gadong Night Market
Are you nervous about going to Brunei? Don’t be.
Tourists are still few and far between in Brunei. The great thing about this is that if you are obviously from a Western country, locals are generally *excited* to see you, want to know where you’re from, and will be super nice to you.
As a woman often traveling alone, I have never been cat-called, hit on, or made uncomfortable by a Bruneian man (can’t say the same thing for Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia unfortunately).
But we all like to fit in, right? You’ll quickly notice that Bruneian people — both men and women — do NOT wear shorts. Everyone covers their legs.
Personally, I always feel more comfortable when I dress modestly in Brunei, usually ankle-length tights or jeans or a long skirt and t-shirt. I think it’s respectful, non-distracting, and leads to better conversations, relationships, and better durian.
So despite the heat, my advice is to cover up a little when you go durian hunting at the Gadong Night Market — not for fear of Sharia law or sexism, but to be polite to your new friends.
How To Buy Durian at Gadong Night Market
It’s easy to get lost in the durian oceans when you first arrive to Gadong Night Market. It’s an impressive scene – the stacked ikats swallow the floor in a sea of green and yellow tied with bright plastic strings. The seller floats in the middle, chanting that he has durian durian durian durian, only $10 per pile!
Durian shoppers mill haphazardly through the piles, lifting and checking for split ends, worm holes, damage, and — if they know what they’re doing — smelling to find the ones that are fresh.
At Gadong Night Market, durians are sold 3 ways and 3 different pricings:
- Tompok or Ikat ($10-20 BND / stack) — These are the stacks of 3-5 durians you see all over the floor and also on tables. They can be Durio zibethinus, Durio graveolens, or Durio oxleyanus. The ones tied with plastic rope are called Ikats and the untied ones are called tompoks. They are both sold by the whole pile — you can’t just pick out one or two — meaning if one durian in the pile smells amazing, and the others are yawning open and riddled with worm holes, you still have to buy the whole stack to get at that tantalizingly gassy single durian. The upside is that it’s cheaper for quantity, but maybe more expensive for quality.
- By Kilogram ($5-15 BND per kilo) — Durians that are a known and loved variety (Tembaga, Suluk King) will usually command a per kilo price and are more expensive than the tompok durian. Some vendors will allow you to pick a single durian out of the pile, but they will charge a per kilogram price. Sometimes, one durian can cost 50% of the the price of 3 or 4 of them. But, if you want to be selective and only eat the *best* quality, this is the way to go.
- Tapau ($2 -15 BND per package) — For convenience and immediate attraction, many sellers offer durians that are already sold and packed into plastic containers. This is called tapau, or take away, durian. If you buy a durian in shell, you can always ask the vendor to tapau it. Sometimes selling tapau durian is away for the seller to get rid of older stock, but sometimes the durian can be really fresh, good, and cheaper than buying in shell. Observe carefully. This is especially a good way to buy D. graveolens or D. kutejensis types since they don’t spoil as rapidly as D. zibethinus or D. oxleyanus. D. zibethinus will always be far cheaper than the others and is not a recommended buy.
Guide to the Local Names of Gadong Night Market Durian
One of the most confusing things about durian hunting in Borneo is that there are several durian species and each region has its own local names for each durian. Depending where you are, asking for an Isu can get you a D. oxleyanus, a D. graveolens, or a blank stare 😂
So here’s some varieties and their names to use at the Gadong Night Market.
Otak Udang Galah
This petite hotshot is the most sought after durian in Brunei, and also the most expensive. Although the name may not be the most appetizing (it translates literally as Shrimp Brain) the colors will stoke your curiosity immediately — bright, hot, lipstick red intertwined with orange — and it’s worth the price. This durian is sweet Nutella chocolate deliciousness.
I believe this is actually a hybrid of red and orange D. graveolens, but maybe we’ll never know.
There are at least three varieties of Otak Udang Galah floating around the market, one with a green skin and one with a yellow skin. The Brunei Agriculture Department acknowledges just two varieties; BD80 and D120. Currently which ones these are is not clear and Otak Udang Galah is used to refer to any sweet-fleshed, bright red durian.
Suluk Oren/ Suluk King
Of the many types of Suluks, this particular one is most commonly found at the Gadong Night Market. A Suluk is any hybrid of D. graveolens x D. zibethinus.
You’ll notice that it’s larger than regular D. graveolens or Otak Udang Galah, but smaller than many D. zibethinus. The thorns are dark green and clustered thickly, and the shape is a pretty oblong with rounded ends.
This is a very delicious durian, combining the stickiness of D. graveolens and intense flavor with the smooth texture and sweetness of D. zibethinus. Since it takes a little longer to ripen off the tree, it’s usually in peak condition by the time it arrives at the Night Market.
A more rare-comer to the Gadong Night Market is Sukang, or D. oxleyanus. This sweet treat is most often sold by ikat and is not expensive compared to the other varieties.
It’s a very soft and sweet durian, meaning it does not fare well in tapau and may already be overripe by the time you’re buying it. The texture is soft butter, a little on the watery side, light and saccharine sweet with subtle levels of coffee. If you like condensed milk in your coffee, you might be a Sukang fan.
This is a D. graveolens, and to my consternation, locals refer to BOTH the orange and the yellow-fleshed versions of this durian as simply Durian Kuning — the yellow durian.
Even though the orange and the yellow taste very different and are obviously different colors. At least to my Western eyes. I’ve been equally flabbergasted at the number of yellow/orange colors in Asia that can all be referred to as red.
The texture of Durian Kunings is very dense and sticky. They can actually taste pasty if too fresh, so it’s better to wait for one that has been off the tree for about a day. At the same time, don’t wait too long or the flesh will begin to taste sour. Still, you have more time leniency with these, so don’t be afraid to try a tapau box.
Last but not at all least, D. kutejensis comes into season at the very end of the season, usually after D. zibethinus, D. oxleyanus, and most of (but not all) the D. graveolens is finished dropping.
You can easily come to Borneo at the wrong time and miss these babies completely.
But since there are so many microregions with different seasons in Borneo, the Gadong Night Market can source all the durians at the same time, making it much more likely that you’ll find this durian AND D. graveolens AND Suluk and everything else right here, even at 1 vendor.
Durian pulu is different than the others, so definitely try to find it. It has a drier texture that peels easily off the seed, a really sweet fruity flavor which can border on bubblegum or jackfruit, and none of the oniony durian funk that can turn so many people off. Interestingly, locals don’t prohibit combining Durian pulu with alcohol, as they do with other durians.
Not that you can find much alcohol in Brunei, anyway. It is after all, a Islamic constitutional monarchy, and one of the most interesting places to visit in Borneo.
Getting To Gadong Night Market
Gadong Night Market is a 10 minute drive from downtown Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), where you’re likely to put up for the night.
It’s 5km away, which is technically walkable, but Brunei’s petroleum industry has made sure that pedestrians are second to cars and you’ll find yourself walking alongside large highways or on unfriendly sidewalks.
Brunei also does not have Grab or Uber. They have their own ride-booking App called Dart, for iOs or Android. You can try it out or ask your hotel to help call a taxi for you.
On the way you’ll pass the beautiful Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah ☝all lit up and gleaming gold. Your driver will be happy to stop and let you enjoy the fact that you are in Brunei.
Gadong Night Market
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Use this durian hunting map to navigate around Brunei or jump to other blog posts. You can find more durian hunting maps of Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines or Thailand too.