I was half durian-starved the first time I arrived at Hua Lamphong Train Station, just a few blocks from Bangkok’s Chinatown.
It was on the very first year of this blog, back in 2012, and after 9 hours on the train my durian desperation gave me the courage to approach the first passing Bangkokian.
“Where is the closest place to buy durian?”
He looked at me strangely, checked his watch, and then pointed across the canal. “Maybe you can try Chinatown,” he suggested.
And so I boldly left the protective shade of the train station and trudged across the sweltering Phadung Krung Kasem canal towards my sweet gold.
I had no idea that Bangkok is actually a riverine archipelago, every canal encircling a small island district with its own culture.
On that first day in Bangkok, I unknowingly tiptoed into the second largest Chinatown in the world, after San Francisco, the densely populated, chaotically trafficked stretch that is a street food mecca and major tourist attraction.
Thanks to all the food tourists milling about the streets in the late afternoons and evening, Bangkok’s Chinatown is one of the easiest places to nab a few sweet bites of durian.
Or pay extra cash for crappy quality, your choice — like me on that first innocent day in Bangkok.
So here is your Bangkok Chinatown Durian Hunting Guide with the when, where, and how to eat your durian desires.
Bangkok Durian Hunting Map
Where to go:
Chinatown is an old, old place, founded when the King decided to build the royal historic district and politely requested all the Chinese merchants then living there to please leave.
They hopped across the canal and started a thriving commercial business district, with Bangkok’s first bank (built 1904) and lots of other historic landmarks.
But the street that became famous for food is Yaowarat Road, a 1.5km stretch starting from the Ong Ang Canal and ending at the decorative China Town Gate.
The majority of the durian stalls are clustered in 3 blocks of Yaowarat Road between Mangkon Road and Song Sawat Road, with an offshoot offering a slightly better durian experience on Phadung Dao Road ( more commonly called Soi Texas).
How to buy Durian in Chinatown
On Yaowarat Road, 99% of durian is sold pre-packaged on Styrofoam trays, tightly swaddled in wax paper boats and wrapped in clear plastic.
Even if you want to eat the durian IMMEDIATELY right then and there in front of the vendor, he will still wrap all your durian pieces in paper before handing them to you, and may kindly put them on a Styrofoam tray for your convenience.
So if you see giving sea turtles plastic-induced appendicitis as a potential problem, try to refuse the tray. Startle the vendor by bringing your own tray, or give the foam tray back when you’re done (just make sure not to lick it clean).
Durian pods with straight cut lines cut through them is usually an indication that the durian is firm to kaeng crispy.
It means that the durian was so unripe the seller had to manually hacksaw through the shell, likely splitting the fruit into 5 pieces and opening each section individually. If the durian was riper, the durian shell would be softer and easier to cut, reducing the stabbing-into-the-fruit-itself.
The lines also indicate that the durian skin is rigidly holding shape with a big cut down the middle, instead of softening and and collapsing inwards so the cut sort of fades away.
This durian won’t get your fingers messy, it will have a nice chewy outer skin and if you’re lucky butter within — but if the color is too pale/white, it could be kaeng to the point you could fry it up for durian chips.
There is a lot of overripe durian on Yaowarat Road, unlike everywhere else in Thailand.
Most of the Chinatown durian vendors say their main customers are Chinese or Vietnamese, who don’t like Thai-style durian.
They like fully ripe, squishy, creamy, soft durian. So Chinatown is one of the easiest places in probably all of Thailand to find fully ripe, squishy, creamy and soft durian.
BUT, when the durian gets so soft it adheres to the plastic, it’s usually not a great sign of freshness.
The durian above is ripe to the point the pieces have no skin left — it’s all soupy cream — and you can see bits that are turning grey and translucent.
If you like watery, slightly sour, sweet alcohol onion and garlic, by all means enjoy.
What price should you pay for a Bangkok Chinatown durian?
The prices seemed — random. Each package has a price scribbled in permanent marker on the plastic wrap, but I think the prices are suggestions. You definitely can haggle.
We observed that the prices started more expensive on the Northern end of Yaowarat, and got cheaper heading south, and immediately dropped to most reasonable on Soi Texas.
Monthong was cheaper than Ganyao, usually in the 300-400 baht/package range.
Kradumthong was cheaper than Monthong, usually in the 200-300 baht/package range.
Ganyao was hella expensive — like 800 to 1,000 per package — but on Soi Texas it was in the 400-500 baht range.
When should you go durian hunting in Chinatown?
Based on what durian sellers told us, you can go durian hunting in Chinatown 365 days of the year the year after 10AM and before 1AM and expect to find durian.
- Many vendors close on Monday when Bangkok actually regulates illegal street food selling
- More vendors show up on the weekends, when they expect the tourists.
- Many vendors close during the 6 month “low season” between August and February.
- Many vendors are closed until 3PM.
- Most vendors closed at midnight.
So the Peak Ultimate Bestest time to go durian hunting in Chinatown would be sometime in April or May, on a weekend evening around 7PM. There ya go.
Where: Bangkok Chinatown Durian Stalls
The Roving Durian Carts
Each cart kind of has a small territory where they like to set up. This cart with the red sign and the WeChat Pay bar code sets up in front of the 7-11 across from Soi Texas every night, although with a different seller.
While Nuan and Surachai have specific posts at different times in the day:
The couple have been selling durian every day on Yaowarat Road for over 15 years, and on the nights we visited had a good mixture of Kradumthong, Monthong, and Ganyao for not too expensive prices.
They say their main customers are either Chinese or Vietnamese tourists– who like really ripe squishy durian — but they still have some less ripe, Thai-style for the locals.
You can find them on Soi Texas from 10am-4pm, after which they trundle around the corner to Yaowarat Road and the front of the Scala Restaurant (see map pin) to sell durian until midnight.
Bua Loy Gold Finger Durian and Sticky Rice
The most famous durian seller on Yaowarat Road is definitely Mr. Rungrhoj, the Gold Finger Durian Man.
Mr. Rungrhoj started off selling a dessert called Bua Loy, but switched to durian around 25 years ago.
His signature tool is a slip-on golden shield for his finger, like an oversized solid gold thimble, which he uses to tap the durian shells and check for ripeness.
But I’m not sure tapping is even necessary, because all of their durian was ripe to super ripe to icky ripe. They are definitely trying to cater to Chinese tourist tastebuds rather than local Thais.
In fact, their motto is “Need Durian With High Maturity? Think of us.”
If you like overripe durian, they also had some boxes on discount as low as 300 baht for a box of Ganyao. Personally I wouldn’t.
Duan’s Gan Yao
Turning off of Yaowarat Road, you can elbow your way down Soi Texas. Just under the enormous sign for Texas Suki Restaurant, the alley’s nickname namesake, you’ll find one of the largest stalls with the biggest selection.
The nights we visited, we found Kradum, Monthong, and Ganyao all coming from Rayong. The prices seemed significantly cheaper — although again, the packaging made it difficult to quantify exactly.
The stall is owned and operated by Duan and Pochikun, a friendly young couple who don’t speak much English but took the time to try to teach me about their durians anyway.
OPEN HOURS: 12PM – 1AM every day, including Mondays, open 365 days of the year.
Awesome Durian Auntie
Last but not least, you’ll find the Awesome Aunties waiting for you at the end of Soi Texas.
The mother-daughter duo are actually the most senior durian residents of the Bangkok Chinatown durian scene.
Pa Non began helping her own mother sell durian on Soi Texas more than 30 years ago. Back then, she says, they bought and sold durian from Nonthaburi as well as from Chanthaburi and Rayong
The nights I visited they were selling only whole Ganyao — no open packages — and I didn’t see any prices posted.
OPEN HOURS: 3PM until 12AM every day, even Mondays, but closes 6 months of the year (December to August is the off-season).
Chinatown is a really easy place to buy durian any day of the year, even when it’s not durian season, and an unusual amount of really ripe durian is sold here. The prices are not cheap, but really not that awesome, especially on Soi Texas.
ON MONDAYS look for Duan’s Ganyao Stall
BEFORE 3PM look for Nuan and Surachai roving cart or Duan’s Ganyao Stall, both on Soi Texas.
FIND THE RIPEST at Bua Loy’s Goldfinger Stall.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE CASH someone has WeChat Pay.
DON’T THROW AWAY STYROFOAM.
Happy Durian Hunting, Durian lovers! Please tell me what durians you find on your trip and whether or not these tips were helpful in the comments below 🤗🤗