These days, you can make a lot of money from planting durian.
But farmers who are in the durian business for love, and not money, grow better tasting durian – I swear there’s something to it. Maybe that’s why Suan Khun Paitoon is one of the few places you can get a Monthong durian buffet with Monthong so good even I want to eat it.
About Suan Khun Phaitoon
You should know this about some commercial-scale durian farms in Thailand: the durian trees do not lack tender loving care.
Suan Khun Phaitoon is a family-owned durian farm in Trat, Thailand, a small province on the border with Cambodia, currently owned and operated by 63-year-old Khun Paitoon Vanichsri, his oldest son, Nick, and Nick’s wife Karin.
They’re a durian family for sure. Khun Paitoon’s grandfather started them in durian over 80 years ago, making him the third generation and Nick the fourth.
His father (2nd generation) also loved durian, and expanded the farm slowly, rai by rai. He was one of the first in the district to purchase a diesel-generated tractor, now an ancient relic that the family keeps on their other property.
You might be surprised to learn that the farm upholds healthy farming practices – it’s not all chemicals and tree exploitation.
The trees are fertilized regularly with a mixture of sugar cane fibers, eucalyptus, and a sprinkling of conventional NPK fertilizer (Nitrogen-Phosporous-Potassium)
We can classify the farm as “commercial” for three reasons:
- It’s size: At 250 rai (nearly 100 acres), the farm is one of the largest you’ll find in Thailand, where most farms are around 10-20 acres.
- It’s emphasis on one variety: the family has decided to focus on growing Monthong durian, the main variety for export, although they do grow small amounts of Puangmanee, Chanee, and Ganyao.
- They know how to market their brand: Unlike many small farms, which sell only at local markets, this family has a strong brand presence and sells their durian both in high-end supermarkets in Bangkok and also to export companies.
About The Durian Buffet
The family doesn’t need to open their farm to visitors for the money. They are busy enough selling for export and managing shipments to supermarkets.
But Khun Paitoon LOVES sharing durian with visitors. Picking out the perfect durian is one of his favorite things. In fact, the price of their Monthong Durian Buffet — just 250 baht per person — means they just about break even.
Consider this: During the peak season, the market price for Monthong is around 120 baht per kilo. Averaging 3kg, a single Monthong durian sells for around 260 baht each!
There’s no profit in the buffet, just passion.
Sharing durian directly with visitors makes Khun Phaitoon really happy.
As soon as we showed up, he asked us how we liked our durian. More ripe, or less ripe? Puangmanee, Chanee, or Ganyao?
What he wanted to pick for us was Monthong.
Because Monthong is his farm’s specialty, and picking the perfect Monthong is an art he has honed over 60 years of durian farming.
So I knew that Khun Paitoon would be the perfect farm to host a Monthong Degustation for our Durian Tour groups.
Monthong Degustation: 4 Levels of Ripeness
Half the fun in durian is that not only do varieties taste wildly different, a single variety can taste wildly different depending on how it was harvested.
And in Thailand, there is a lot of variety of how durians are harvested! Knowing how to pick a good durian in Thailand is 50% knowing which stage of ripeness you like best.
That’s why we do multiple Single Variety Degustations on the Thailand Durian Tours.
Few people actually eat Monthong durian in its “chip” stage. At this point, the durian is so hard, waxy and crispy it’s like eating vanilla carrots. It actually tastes kind of good, if you can let go of what durian *should* be.
This is the unfortunate famed “crunchy” durian that gets such a bad wrap when exported abroad.
Firm ripe Monthong durian has a dense, thick texture like a whole-wheat banana bread, but with an exterior that is distinctly crispy like some kind of jicama. This discrepancy of textures can be really off-putting for some people, but a lot of Thai people like it this way and this is what you will most often find being sold in Bangkok’s night markets.
So far we’ve only met one Westerner who really went wild over Monthong at this stage, an Austrian durian fan. I’m waiting for him to notice this shout out and message me 💜
The flavor of Firm Ripe is mild and starchy, but with an intense, sweet artificial candy flavor. It’s a lot like a pastry.
The unfortunate thing about this stage is that if frozen and exported, the bready, pastry-like texture kind of “melts” and just leaves behind a soft, soupy, fibrous pulp flaked with vegetal crisps and the whole thing becomes a bit flavorless.
Perfect Thai Ripe
This is the perfect Monthong durian — even to my tastes this is the best way to eat Monthong.
You’ll notice it has a firm outer layer or skin that’s smooth and has a slight crunch when you bite through, your teeth then gliding through a butter-soft interior. It’s something like eating an eclair, or a Twinkie.
The flavor is mild but very sweet and rich, with a strong vanilla flavor. If it wasn’t cut too early, the texture should be buttery and not watery. Good ones will have a slight salty sulfuric taste as well, that lends a bit of caramel or toffy to soften that piercing sweetness.
From the exterior, this one may look a lot like the Firm Ripe Monthong. It looks smooth and hard, but an expert Durian Picker will know the difference.
Tree Dropped or Very Ripe
Many durian fans uphold tree-fallen as the Superior Best, Always.
Here’s what happens when you eat tree-fallen Monthong durian:
It’s often a sloppy, gooey, burned caramel and onion mess.
When Monthong drops naturally from the tree, its enormous flesh goes really soft and also develops a stronger onion taste than a lot of durian varieties. It can have almost a burning or chili-pepper sensation that some people love — or not.
But the texture is not soft the way you’d expect.
Monthong durian seeds often stick to the inside shell of the durian, leaving you tugging at the seeds or giving up and scooping up the soupy flesh with your fingers.
Even within this pudding-like texture, tree-fallen Monthong doesn’t ripen evenly, leaving little bits of chewy or crunchy fibers.
Some people like the textural treat. If you like Nata de Coco for those weird little rubbery specs of white coconut meat, go ahead and enjoy a tree-dropped Monthong. For some of us, the texture is cringey.
On this one, believe it or not, my vote goes with Khun Paitoon’s perfect Thai-ripe Monthong.
Monthong has its lovers and its haters. As the signature Thai durian, Monthong is about as controversial as the Cavendish banana – and is often dismissed as readily.
But like Cavendish, Monthong is a naturally occurring variety. There’s nothing unnatural about Monthong or intrinsically “chemicalized.” It’s just a durian.
And if grown by a family, with love and attention to the trees and ripening stage, it’s a chameleon that durian lovers can appreciate in all its stages and possible textures and flavors.
So next time you’re planning a trip to Trat, put a Perfect Monthong Durian Buffet at Suan Khun Paitoon on your must-do itinerary.
How to get to Suan Khun Phaitoon
To visit Suan Khun Paitoon, drive to Khao Saming district on the border of Trat and Chanthaburi. From Highway 3, turn left onto Highway 3159. After 3.5 km, you will see the Khao Saming Market on your right. Look for the green Agritourism signboard on the left just before the bridge. This is their road. Just go straight, straight and straight, past where the pavement ends and into the durian orchard. At the end of the road you’ll find Suan Khun Paitoon.
In 2020, the farm is closed to visitors due to Covid19 restrictions. You can order durian online via their social media.
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