In 2019, I turned 30, launched the Penang Durian School Tours, imported durian to the United States, and celebrated one full year of traveling non-stop for durian with a boyfriend, which actually changed everything about my travel style, expectations, and durian-munching habits.
Two of us can eat a lot more durian!
Also, now we have to compromise on which durians to eat. Luckily, we have pretty similar tastes! So we chose these 10 “Best Durians of 2019” together.
“Best” durians in general because durians are so dependent on the weather, which changes from year to year. The best durians this year are not necessarily the best durians next year.
Also, taste is super subjective and me and Richard have a tendency to like a very specific flavor in durians — the ones that tingle, taste spicy or intense on the tongue, anything deeply burning bitter or richly alcoholic. I’ll also accept anything numbing — sweet or bitter or eggy — I just like the numb.
So with the fickleness of weather and taste in mind, these are the 10 Durians that really stood out to us, as well as 10 Durian Destinations that we really enjoyed visiting.
BD1 – Siunggung
I love the alcoholic weight of this hybrid between yellow D. graveolens and D. zibethinus that originated in Brunei. For a Muslim country, they like a durian with a kick!
This is a very fleshy durian with very smooth, silky, but heavy flesh and a flavor that has such an effervescent alcohol the aroma can make your eyes water. It’s not that sweet, but fruity in flavorful, satisfying way, maybe like raspberries and cream.
This hybrid of D. graveolens orange and the regular D. zibethinus has every good quality of Graveolens (densely sticky like soft cheese, nutty, somehow rummy-alcoholic) with the thicker flesh and sweetness of the D. zibethinus. And the fruits are huge!
This variety originated in Limbang and is not uncommon, but it is rare to see the fruits get this large, fleshy and filling.
Got to shout out Mr. Lo twice for this year, his Tekka was one of the best durians I ate this year. The group could not get enough! It was so buttery and rich, sloppy bitter and strongly alcoholic, everyone left buzzed and very full but would not have said no if Mr. Lo had found another.
We LOVE Tekka and eat it everywhere we can!
Mr. Lo’s might be tied with the Tekka at Ah Lek’s Farmstay in Sauk, near Kuala Kangsar, which was so numbing it tasted cold like ice cream! He insisted the Tekka was too fresh and we needed to wait a day, but the smell was telling us NOW and we insisted too. Glad we did, because it was a highlight of 2019!
Richard loves thick, egg-custard, burnt-sugar toffee durians and we both admit that the Chanee in Koh Chang is vegan egg custard. It’s amazing, especially if it’s been allowed to drop off the tree, when it’s like someone poured sweet rum all over vegan egg custard.
The two really great things about durian in Koh Chang is that it’s mostly old-tree Chanee and people in Koh Chang either let their durians fall or cut them just a day or two away from when they would fall naturally, letting the durians develop into the delicious fatty egg tarts.
Also, I think there must be something about islands and salty air, but the quality in Koh Chang always reminds me of Penang.
Red Prawn from Song Hai
Where: Song Hai’s Durian Farm, Penang
This hill-top Red Prawn at Song Hai’s Durian Farm was reliably alcoholic and numbing. Not all Red Prawn are — in fact I would say *most* Red Prawn is disappointing, despite the hype. It takes a special farm, and a special person, to grow really the soft, fiberless whipped-cream-n-wine puffs that is an old-tree, high elevation Red Prawn.
I was stoked to find Song Hai this year to add to our network of good Red Prawn.
Where: Tupai King Durian Stall, Penang
I had low expectations for this very expensive durian, which at Rm60/kg I thought must be a lot of hype. We first bought an early-season fruit for a Durian Tour Group, which was pretty terrible — not yet ripe even though it was bright yellow, fibrous, like a really bad Musang King (and Musang King can be bad).
I was convinced to try again by our durian-whacking Singaporean friend Alfred, who proclaimed it his new favorite. If he thought it was special, then fine, I *had* to fork over the Rm120 and check it out.
Worth. It. This one was plummy rich, the fruitiness level musty and musky, like concord grape wine. There was no bitterness at all to speak of, but that heady alcoholic syrupy-ness rounded out all the flavors and gave it an earthiness that made us return again and again despite our wallets wincing.
Where: Raub Durian Orchard
This is an old durian variety, first registered with Malaysia in the 1930’s. In 2018, I got to taste it for the first time at Raub Durian Orchard and it became in my Top 10 for 2018. I love it’s strawberry caramel cream, a very simple but delicate flavor.
But to get a real ID on this variety, we needed to find it growing at other farms. Luckily we were invited to an old Agricultural Research Station in Bentong with the Malaysian Department of Agriculture, which let me get a positive identification on D7. Thank you so much to the guys at the DOA!
Where: Ah Heng’s D145 Durian Beserah
Visiting Beserah and tasting this durian was a dream come true. I’d wanted to go for YEARS but always somehow missed the season of this very rare and precious durian, which may remain one of my favorites from here on out.
Just look at that COLOR. No need for Photoshop! It seriously out performs Musang King (MSK) in the color department, as well as in the taste. Rich and waxy/dry, just like MSK, but with a rounder, more alcoholic flavor.
I had a great time in Beserah overall and would love to go back for some more beach & durian.
Where: Sonnen Berg Mountain, Marilog, Philippines
Arancillo was my first true love in durian, back in 2010 when I first tasted fresh durian in Davao City. But it’s so hit or miss, sometimes fibrous and plain-Jane sweet, sometimes watery, sometimes half potato.
I was half delighted and half horrified to find *numbing* milky, whipped cream and coffee Arancillo during a run up a mountain. Yeah, the running part was over. If you find good Arancillo like this, count your blessings and dig in!
Where: Online on Year of the Durian
This is half cheating, but this was a durian that made me really, really happy.
I was whispering prayers when we sliced through the tape and into the styrofoam boxes that had just arrived to San Francisco from the Philippines. My bank account was empty and my credit line full, all my fingers crossed 🤞🤞🤞
The plume of ice fumes let me know my prayers were answered. Our first import of durian to the United States had arrived, unscathed and unthawed!
We grabbed a few packages before we left the cold storage warehouse and ate them on the way back across the Bay. We ate them in order — Arancillo first, then Duyaya, then Puyat.
I was so pleased with the texture — my biggest pet peeve in frozen Thai durian — that Richard and I high-fived.
But it was the Duyaya that let me know we had achieved something. It sparkled and made me feel warm and excited, just like I felt on that day in the Philippines when the baskets of durian arrived to the processing facility to get chopped up and blast frozen — and we of course had to taste test for quality assurance, for you 😋
Where: Is DURIAN, Jepara
I went back to Jepara hoping to find the famous Petruk variety, the durian reknown and misnamed all over Indonesia that originated in this tiny coastal city.
It was my third attempt, and I still have never eaten a true Petruk in Jepara. But we didn’t leave Jepara hungry at all! The opposite. Durian in Jepara is so different than other places, so sticky and nutty and sweet, but the Ketan was stickier than them all. It was stickier than a D. graveolens, so smooth and dense I could barely to tell Isnul how much I liked it. I might as well have put a spoonful of smooth almond butter in my mouth.
10 Favorite Durian Hunting Destinations
In 2019, we were really on the move! We mostly returned to places that I’d been before, but we did visit some new spots too.
Here is a list of places that, besides having great durian, Richard and I just really enjoyed being there and look forward to going back again.
Brunei is a gorgeous place, with almost untouched rainforest and the greatest diversity of fruits and durians in Borneo.
Yes, you might be politically opposed to Shariah Law and a non-democratic Sultanate, but the result is a country that is pristinely clean, with far more primary forest than in neighboring Sarawak, beautiful road systems and infrastructure, and really friendly, warm local people who are still excited to meet a tourist.
Our Swede really appreciated the cooler temperatures of this highland area, with misty sunrises between the mountain crags and wide, nearly empty landscapes. We loved the feeling of SPACE, how clean the air feels, and how cozy it is to nestle into a bungalow in the hills.
Not to mention you can get Durio kinabaluensis, Durio oxleyanus, red-fleshed D. graveolens (Marahong and Otak Udang Galah) and plenty of highland durians.
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
We rented an apartment for several months in KK and I ended up really enjoying this city’s slow-moving, oceanfront vibe! This city shocked me when I first arrived to Borneo.
It’s definitely metropolitan, with plenty of hip artisan coffee spots for Richard. I love the ocean-front cycling/running paths on both sides of the city, plus there’s a farm that grows KALE, and a lovely beach for sunset walks. All this, plus as much wild durian and mountain-durian at Durian Street. If we ever settle down, KK is definitely high on our list.
The flat, red rice fields around Battambang with golden spires and pinnacles were such a contrast to the jungles where we usually hang out, and really beautiful! The city is located near the border with Thailand and lots of French architecture and a surprising number of expats, most of whom seem to have set up chic little cafes and coffee shops.
Battambang is one of the main durian growing regions in Cambodia, with plenty of Thai varieties. We were there in early season, so mostly found Kradumthong and a bit of Chanee.
Koh Chang, Thailand
Still one of my favorite destinations in Thailand, we were blessed to spend more time on this quiet, beautiful island! The key is to avoid the developed Eastern half (which looks like Koh Samui or any Thai beach strip) and head West — to where the jungles tumble steeply into a turquoise sea, island time is real, and my favorite Chanee in the world line the roads.
We ate almost exclusively Chanee — because it’s just the best here — but we also stumbled into some Puangmanee and older Kop varieties.
Balik Pulau, Malaysia
This is still the place I consider my “base” in Southeast Asia — the place where I have so many friends and community, where I know all the roads and don’t need Google Maps to navigate, where we have all the creature comforts of the Western world in George Town but can live in the quiet kampung areas along the mountains — and the durian is just….out of this world.
This year we started running the weekend Penang Durian School to share this place that we love, and we’ll be running three more sessions in June/July 2020. Sign up now for an early bird price.
I’d wanted to visit Kuantan for years, both to see the East Coast of Malaysia and to taste the D145, Hijau Beserah. I’ll be honest, I had low expectations for Kuantan, which I’d heard was a conservative Muslim industrial area surrounded by kilometers on end of palm oil.
I was so surprised to find a beautiful, quirky and modern city with great beaches! We did have terrible air quality while we were there (so I didn’t take many photos of the beach), but that might have had to do with the burning in Kalimantan.
The durian was also in my top ten of the year. More blog posts to come for sure.
This very rural part of Davao was both eye-opening and breath-taking. The air was so crisp and clean the colors of the plunging river valleys were super vibrant.
Marilog district also had outstanding Arancillo, one of my favorite varieties, and when you have good quality Arancillo and a landscape like this, I could stay and stay and stay (Check out Sonen Berg Mountain Villas)
Jepara is a small city on the northern coast of Central Java, with red soil, red brick houses, and a sky so blue the color contrast kind of hurts. For an Indonesian city, traffic is pretty quiet and chill, and it definitely has a beach vibe. The durian farms are just 20-minutes out of the city, and the quality is pretty kick-ass sticky, nut-buttery, and somehow savory.
Spending a few days on Karimunjawa Island, just 2 hours away by speedboat, was also definitely a highlight for us this year, even though there are no durian trees there.
We ended up loving this chill beach area just south of Kuching. The market is open daily from 6AM to 6PM with local kampung durians, cempejaks (a hybrid of jackfruit and cempedak), and plenty of buah crystal (matoa), as well as mempalam mangoes and kuinis.
The beaches are about 8km out of town, so you’ll definitely need to rent your own car to fully enjoy the chill-out vibes, but there’s a national park *in downtown itself basically* where you can see rafflesia flowers and hike to 3 of the 7 waterfalls (the others are closed due to trails not being maintained).
We didn’t meet any other tourists the whole time we were here, and the ladies at the market were really nice to us. Thank you Lundu!
Favorite Travel Toys
As full time travelers, we do live out of our backpacks, so we carry what is important to us and discard the rest. Our collection of things obviously changes from year to year, so I thought it might be interesting to share some of the odds and ends we kept with us this year and which might give you some insight into our life on the road.
Apparently this was what was important to us in 2019:
Lindsay’s Hugger Mugger Yoga Mat — I’ve been carrying this same mat since 2013. I use it every morning and every evening before bed! It’s starting to get a little dog eared, but I think it will last me through the end of 2020 or 2021!
Richard’s Aeropress — Richard has never adjusted to Kopi-O 😂. He picked this guy up in Singapore in 2018 and uses it daily. We just ordered our first batch of artisan coffee from Perk, a Malaysian mail order coffee company.
Lindsay’s Popbabies Travel Blender — This is a new toy for me, but I’m really enjoying being able to have smoothies, even veggie smoothies with beets or greens, even when I’m traveling! What a treat!
We both have Luna Sandals — Thanks to @Fitshortieeats for turning me onto Lunas, which are the best all-terrain sandal I’ve had so far.
We both have Altra Running Shoes — These are minimalist (Zero drop) shoes and I love how tough the uppers are. I use these everysingleday. No excuses.
Athletic Greens — We sometimes struggle with eating non-oily vegetables in enough quantities while on the road (I love fruit, but I also need me some minerals). Athletic Greens is a new addition for us but I can say that I’m already feeling the difference .
Note: Some (not all) of these are affiliate links, and thank you very much if you think one of these things would improve your travel and choose to support us by using the link.
Going into 2020
Looking ahead into 2020, I can’t say that we will be slowing down our travels at all!
If anything, there are more durians I’m chasing. This last year, 2019, gave me some valuable clues, and if I get my way in 2020 we will be munching our way through some serious Durian Check Lists!
Here are some of the places I’m excited to explore in 2020:
- Brunei — Small country, lots of durians! This year I want to explore more of the uninhabited parts of Brunei where all the durian farms are.
- Vietnam — I haven’t been back to Vietnam since 2012! It’s about time.
- Pailin, Cambodia – This is an easy hop over the border from Chanthaburi, but we didn’t have enough time or money to get out to the durian farms last time.
- Philippines — I have visited Philippines every year, but only Mindanao and once to Los Baños. This year I’d like to return earlier in the durian season so we can explore Los Baños, Kidapawan, and Matte/Tagum areas.
- Pahang, Malaysia — Continuing to explore for my next book, The Durian Tourist’s Guide to Pahang 😊
- Indonesia — I love Java every time I go back, but in 2020 I want to try out Bali again (have never fallen in love) as well as dive into the heart of Kalimantan.
Where do you want to travel to in 2020? Any durians caught your imagination?
Please share you travel inspiration, tips, leads, durian clues, as well as any requests for places you’d like me to share resources on this coming year!
Thank you for following along on all our durian adventures. We can’t wait to meet you and see you in Durian Land.
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