If you travel up the Kapuas River to the small city of Putussibau, you will find a place where durian is so abundant that no one knows what to do with it. Durian is boring. It’s everywhere. It’s not expensive. There’s really too much of it around. And it’s really good quality.
What a problem — too much good durian!
Putussibau is the city furthest upstream on the Kapuas River. Further upriver, you’ll find small longhouses dotting the brown snaking water, but that’s it. No more roads.
Putussibau itself has only gained roads fairly recently. When I visited in 2012, the bus ride from Pontianak was deeply and excitingly potholed and took more than 18 hours. The winding bumpy ride to Badau (the border city with Malaysia) covered me from head to toe in a fine gritty black dust kicked up by the gravel.
Last year (2018), a comfy tarmac road to Badau was finished and the road to Pontianak a year or two before that.
With easier accessibility, there will definitely be more tourists in Putussibau soon. For now, we saw none except ourselves.
Putussibau is a little bit of a strange place to land as a tourist.
Although there is a central market area along the river, there’s really no “central core.” The city stretches over 10km along the trunk road on either side of the bridge, a hodepodge of mosques, catholic churches, Chinese temples, coffee shops, Oppo cell service shops, salons, and surplus Padang Warung restaurants.
It’s a place where people live and work and there’s absolutely no infrastructure set up for foreign tourists or even an expectation that we will be there. Orang bule are a surprise.
When tourists do come here, they’re either Christian missionaries or on a packaged tour from KOMPAKH Adventure Tours.
Normal tourists fly in, sleep one night at the Grand Banana Hotel (see below ↓↓), and are whisked away to the Danau Sentarum on a very expensive private expedition to see orangutans.
But I know your travel type. If you’re reading this blog, you’re the independent traveler just here for the chill vibe and super cheap, abundant, and really tasty durian.
Pasar Pagi Putussibau
Your first Durian Stop should be the Putussibau Pasar Pagi.
This “morning market” in Putussibau actually lasts all day. There’s not a time, morning noon or night, when you can’t buy durian here, but the best times are 7-9AM and 3-6PM. That’s when the new batches of durian arrive.
The market itself is massive and sprawling, covering more than 4 blocks arranged in a messy square.
But the durian is out front and center, and you don’t really need to crawl back into the wet, slightly smelly alleys of the market if all you want is durian.
There aren’t any really big Putussibau durian farms like you might find in Malaysia.
It’s almost all backyard durian from a handful of trees behind someone’s house. People collect the 20 or 30 fruits that fall each day in baskets and motorbike them to the market.
They might set up with their own durians in piles for a couple of hours until they’re sold off, or sell the durians to one of the permanent durian sellers at the market.
Putussibau durians are sold by individual fruit or in piles called tompoks. No one sells by kilogram.
As of writing, a tompok sells for 3 large fruits for Rp50,000 ($3.57 USD), or if you insist on selecting just one super good smelling one, Rp20,000 per fruit (large size). A bunch of smaller durians is just Rp20,000 ($1.43 USD)
Because it’s all homegrown, the durian is almost all accidentally organic. You’ll see loads more of it sold along the roadsides in either direction exiting Putussibau, and any local person can likely take you home and show you their trees.
Nobody is bothering to spray pesticides and few people purposefully fertilize, although since many of the trees grow along the edges of rice paddies, other kinds of agricultural fields (like Kratom), and behind houses were people are throwing food wastes, there’s probably plenty of fertilization.
This might contribute to what is most amazing to me about Putussibau durian.
It’s so consistently fleshy, with thick white or ivory folds that hold together like smooth jiffy peanut butter. I rarely see Kampung durians (durian grown from seed) with this consistently thick flesh.
Some are sweet and very sulfurous, and these tend to have a slight yellowish hue.
The white/grey ones have that burnt-sugar intensity that I love, with a spicy kick or tingle that borders on carbonation.
Engkala (Litsea garciae)
One of the most abundant fruits at the market was this odd little pink acorn called Buah Engkala.
The fruit is a gorgeous dark pink when fully ripe. Sometimes they pick it when it’s a bit greenish, and these will never ripen properly and need to be cooked to eat. Unripe, Engkala can taste spicy and give you a sore throat.
Fully ripe, they become plump little sacks of green goo with a large seed in the middle. You squeeze out the seed, and then suck the cheesy, Italian-seasoning savory flesh out of the skin. You can also eat the skin depending on how ripe it is.
Buah Terap (Artocarpus sericarpus)
I think in online fruit communities, this super sweet jackfruit relative is called “Pedalai,” but the ladies at the market all referred to it simply as “Buah terap.”
The fruits break open easily between your fingers, but are covered in a sticky gluey latex that binds the hairs to your fingertips. The skin falls apart in chunks as you rip and the white fruitlets inside are kind of stuck to the skin, so it’s not as easy to open as a Marang/terap or cempedak-type fruit.
Inside, the white fruitlets are filled with a huge smooth seed. You have to pop several pieces in your mouth and suck, spitting out the seeds as you attempt to remove the flesh. Mostly you can’t separate the flesh from the seeds, so you just suck and spit. The flavor is really sweet and marshmallowy, so it’s quite a nice fruit, but I didn’t see anyone else eating them ripe.
The market was filled with unripe ones ready for cooking into a gulai lemak terap, sort of a stew with coconut milk, which was sold at most of the Warungs lining the market.
Unripe ones were cheaper than ripe ones. We paid Rp5,000 for unripe teraps, and Rp10,000-15,000 for ripe ones.
Velvet Tamarind (Dialium)
These fragile fruits have a thin crispy outer shell covered in a soft grey fur. They crush open to reveal a sort of mushy brown interior similar in both taste and texture to a tamarind, with a single seed.
There were two types at the market; one sour, and one significantly sweeter. Since there are two species of Velvet Tamarind ( D. indum and D. cochinchinense) floating around that looks basically the same, I’m not sure if these were two varieties or two species.
Kuini Mango (M. foetida x M. indica)
These funky wild mangoes are always yummy, but in Putussibau they were off-the-chart delicious. The mangoes were huge and round, generally unmolested by insects, and so sweet and perfumed and it was like eating Valencia oranges dipped in flowers.
I know it was durian season in Putussibau, but Kuini mangoes were so distracting.
“It’s sweet,” the market lady promised me. I didn’t believe her, because I’ve had this mangosteen relative before and it was sour.
But she was right. It was sweet and crisp and tasted sligh tly of citrus.
Jengkol (Archidendron pauciflorum)
Jengkol is a very bitter tasting bean that needs to be cooked to become meaty and delicious. It’s sort of a rarity to find it at markets as not everybody likes it, complaining that it’s slightly sulfurous aroma is off-putting.
You can find it in Putussibau at any of the Masakan Padang shops cooked with chilies and kaffir lime or in coconut milk.
Pisang Empat Puluh Hari: The “40-day banana” ended up being my favorite, even though it is the cheapest! I liked the crumbly texture and intense banana sweetness, almost like a banana dessert.
Pisang Kidang (Merah) These are the red-colored bananas you see in the picture. They are fat and dense and have smooth, almost juicy texture with plenty of acid taste.
Pisang Ambon or Hijau: These bananas stay green, even when fully ripe. They have a super smooth, buttery texture (no graininess or gumminess) and an almost apple acid.
Pisang Tanduk This massive banana softens like a plantain but doesn’t need to be black to be ripe, it can still be yellow! It’s so big you can’t really bite it off like a regular banana, so we ate it sliced in rounds like a biscuit. I loved the slightly crisp texture and flavor.
Pisang Kepok These are the squarish cooking bananas that reminded me of Sabas, but when allowed to ripen have a delicious white, fluffy interior with hints of vanilla and no sourness. I really liked them.
Pisang Lampung I thought these were Pisang Mas on sight, and they have a similar yellowish interior, thin skin, and that peculiar Pisang-Mas alcohol taste that I’ve never gotten used to.
Before I tried unripe durian curries in Thailand, I had stir-fried unripe durian in Putussibau.
Here, the unripe durians are sold all over the market as a vegetable to be cooked with coconut milk or just stir fried with some paku pakis and greens.
Cooked unripe durian has a texture like a potato, but is more buttery, soft, sweet, and overall richer.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa)
When I visited Putussibau in 2012, I’d never heard of Kratom and I never saw it.
Now it’s everywhere, drying in front of houses around the city and easy to buy in the morning market. It’s grown for the US-market, which has been growing since 2013.
Kratom is a leaf that is ground into a powder and sold as a supplement or health tonic to boost energy, enhance your mood, relieve pain and muscle soreness, and assist with withdrawal symptoms for opioid withdrawal.
Since the US is considering banning Kratom (and the Mayo clinic ranks it as “unsafe and ineffective”) I’m not sure how much longer it will be found in such abundance around Putussibau.
Where to Stay
The weirdest thing about Putussibau is that only one of Putussibau’s six hotels is located near the market area. The rest are dotted around the spread-out city, not really nearby anything remotely touristy.
Another weird thing is that all 6 of Putussibau’s hotels are owned by the same family. Except one (↓↓)
Hotel Amen Sentosa
This is the only hotel located in Putussibau’s “downtown” area by the river and the Morning Market. It is literally *right next to the market*.
The rooms are in a longhouse-like building with a wide veranda overlooking a spacious parking lot. The rooms are basic, but very clean.
Shown above is the cheapest option, the Economy Room, which has a fan (no aircon) and a bathroom down the hall. It costs just Rp110,000 per night ($8 USD).
Moving to the VIP Room with air conditioning and an attached toilet costs Rp275,000 per night ( $20 USD).
I stayed here on my first trip to Putussibau in 2012. In the economy room of course.
Grand Banana Hotel
This is Putussibau’s newest and nicest hotels, with rave reviews about how it’s nearly a 5-star. We didn’t actually see the rooms, but we did do laundry next door and visit with the very nice lady who sells Gado-Gado next door.
It’s located 1.7km away from the Putussibau Morning Market, and 800 meters away from the roundabout where durian sellers set up in the afternoons.
The Farm House Airbnb
The Farm House is an Airbnb located on the outskirts of the city, 5.5km from the Pasar Pagi Putussibau.
The house sits on a -acre farm that Mr. Apiang Mulyadi and his wife Lita started mostly because, as Mr. Apiang says, there wasn’t much to do in Putussibau and he likes gardening.
The farm now houses Mr. Apiang’s banana obsession, with x varieties including the giant-sized Pisang Tanduk. He also grows both hard and soft jackfruit, Matoa, durians, engkala, longans,
The house is 2-stories, with a large veranda and kitchen below and the 2 bedrooms up top.
From the top-level veranda, we could pluck Bilimbing fruits.
The rooms are small but made of the same peaceful dark wood. There is air-conditioning.
Mr. Apiang’s family made us very comfortable and we really enjoyed our stay at The Farm House.
The only downside was that there is no WiFi at the house, and no cell service either so we couldn’t use our Data package to work at the house.
Next year, there is a plan for a fiber optics cable to be extended to The Farm House.
When that happens, and Mr. Apiang’s durian trees are old enough to bear fruit, the house might need to be renamed “Durian Lover’s Paradise!”
How to get to Putussibau
The Pangsuma Airport is 3km outside of Putussibau, actually fairly close to The Farm House.
There is one daily flight on Wings Lion Air. If you don’t have an Indonesian credit card or bank account, you can’t book directly on the Lion Air website. You’ll need to book on Traveloka.
From Kuching, it would be much faster to cross into Indonesia at the Lubuk Antu/Badau Border. The Indonesian government is currently considering opening this route to foreign tourist, but as of writing (December 2019) it’s impossible to get a VOA (visa on arrival) at this border. You can exit to Malaysia, but you can’t go into Indonesia.
Instead, you’ll need to cross at the Tebedu/Entikong border. It’s easy to book a bus Kuching –> Tebedu or Kuching –> Pontianak on Easybook.com or Redbus.com, but for now you can’t make a booking online to Putussibau, so you’ll need to go to the bus station and old school ask around.
Indonesia Durian Map
Use this map to find locations mentioned in this blog post, or to navigate to other durian spots around Indonesia.
For an up-to-date information on the durian season in Putussibau, you can download our new Durian App, available on the App Store.