Black Thorn is not expensive on Suling Hill.
When the rest are selling at Rm65 per kg plus (in 2019, prices reached Rm115 in some places) Mr. Ong has stuck his price at an impossibly low Rm40 per kilo and is sticking by that decision.
Because making money is not the intention of this small back-to-nature resort on the top of Suling Hill.
Meet Mr. Ong Chin Chye
Mr. Ong made enough money manufacturing incense sticks to be used in Chinese temples.
Although he could have made a durian fortune, instead he had a dream of creating a place with a peaceful environment.
A place you could sit outdoors watching the sunsets, and families with small children could bond over learning about local fruits and vegetables.
He felt sad that the more urbanized younger generations were growing up without getting the chance to experience nature.
Then around 2000, he discovered Suling Hill.
Back then, the old durian orchard was overgrown jungle.
He cleaned it up, and took stock of which varieties he already had growing.
There was Red Prawn, Hor Lor, D101, Tekkah and Green Skin.
He kept the durians he liked eating most – Red Prawn, Tekkah and Green Skin – and converted the durians he didn’t like eating to Black Thorn by topping them and grafting the new buds on to the old trees, but kept
And today his 6 acre farm is one of the most popular spots to eat Black Thorn.
Black Thorn at Suling Hill
The trick is that you can’t make reservations for Black Thorn.
And you can’t take it away with you. All Black Thorn purchased must be eaten on the premises of Suling Hill.
The reason is that Mr. Ong wants everyone to be able to taste Black Thorn, no matter how sky high the price is in the cities.
That’s why he keeps the price for his old-tree Black Thorns artificially low. The Black Thorn is a small taste treasure to share.
When people first found out he was selling not just any Black Thorn durian, but old-tree Black Thorn durian, at such low prices, many people came to try to fill their cars.
Some were just being gluttonous.
Good quality Black Thorn is difficult to find, especially the kind with flesh that puckers with skin so fragile it ruptures under your most delicate attempts to pick it up, spilling a cream that melts like butter in your mouth .
It makes sense that anyone would want to devour a car-trunk load of durian like this.
Others were just being plain greedy-greedy. They wanted to buy Mr. Ong’s Black Thorn at a low price and flip it at 100% profit to the middlemen around George Town and Bukit Mertajam.
So to make sure there’s enough for everyone, Mr. Ong instituted rules that you won’t find from any other durian seller.
It can make it a little awkward if you’re trying to organize for large groups, or just have some security that our Durian Tours will get fed.
But that’s why you have to eat Black Thorn at Suling Hill and not take it away.
And if you stay the night, you get first dibs.
Glamping at Suling Hill
The accommodations on Suling Hill are rustic. It’s intended as a form of glamping.
There are toilets and showers. There is a restaurant and cafe where you can get coffee, Chinese tea, and Steamboat.
But you’re meant to be spending as much time in the great outdoors as possible.
The tidy lawn has been flattened to make way for camping tents.
The several small chalets provide protection from the elements, but there is no air-conditioning and you have to bring your own mattress and sleeping bag.
It’s a place to come and teach your children about sleeping outside, under the wide net of stars.
There is also a meditation hall, where groups seeking respite from the stress of urban life can practice.
There are benches dotting the orchard where you can seek some quiet personal time to think, or dream, or just stare out over the distant skyline of Bukit Mertajam.
On a clear day, you can see Komtar Tower.
It’s very quiet, unless of course you are with a rowdy group.
Plan to spend at least a few hours wandering the trimmed gardens, or drinking Chinese tea in the breezy cafe.
How to get to Suling Hill
A warning: finding Suling Hill is not easy. You’ll need to follow GPS, so either use the map below or our Durian App to get directions on your phone.
From Penang Island, it’s about a 1-hour drive across the bridge to Suling Hill. Take the Butterworth-Kulim Expressway until Exit 1505, Tasik Mengkuang.
After that you’ll need to look for a small road to the left wit a signboard for Suling Hill. The road will lead to a deforested moonscape with many possible junctions. Luckily, at this point you can see the hill in front of you, so continue straight onwards until the red dirt path turns back to concrete and tilts steeply upwards. Take the last turn carefully, as it’s both steep and sharp.
At the top of the hill, you’ve made it.