It was Richard’s birthday, so for once I stopped googling “durian farms” and typed “coffee farm” into Google Maps to see what would come up.
Lo and behold, we celebrated his day with local artisan coffee, a 300-year-old ancient durian tree, and an abandoned communist camp.
Where We Stayed: ArmYa At Home
We were honored to be the first foreign guests at Armya At Home, a brand new farmstay by a young hipster and foodie couple named Arm and Ya.
They have a durian and snakefruit farm behind the house. Dragonfruits and herbs grow along the front fence. Coconuts rim the perimeters.
Arm’s passion is for artisanal coffee, while Ya used to work at an NGO to preserve local Thai rice varieties. She now specializes in sourdough and other breads using rice flour and runs cooking demos out of their airy, beautiful kitchen.
And Ya is, without saying, a phenomenal cook. And she loves vegan food. Um… score?! 🙌
They have two sleeping spaces; one inside the house and one in the a-frame above the adobe pizza oven.
We of course chose for the outside, and Arm built us a cozy mosquito net tent with simple mattresses to enjoy the night air.
If you weren’t expecting to find an Instagrammable, chic back-to-nature glamping-cafe in the middle of a very small, back-country mountain village, think again.
The area is definitely local, definitely rural – you’d definitely be lost without a host – and the blend of beatnik with boonies is an amazing way to experience Thailand.
About Baan Khao Pu Village & its Ancient Durian Tree
According to the Bangkok Post, in June, 2020, the Tourism Authority officially announced the opening of Baan Khao Pu as a historic destination because of the nearby abandoned communist camp, called Baan Khao Khaew.
Ya took us out for a day trek to see the village, visit the famous 300-Year-Old Tree, and see the Communist Camp – all on foot. It was a long day, but so worth it!
When we visited Baan Khao Pu, there were brand new signs everywhere pointing the way to the Communist Camp, to various Agricultural Stops (OTOP) and to the Ancient Durian Tree.
Despite the signage, we could understand how this area was a hotbed of communism in the 1970’s and 80’s. This place is Countryside.
It’s gorgeous. It’s isolated. It feels very far away from the city life.
The road ended after a kilometer, giving way to a long red dirt track that stretched between rubber farms, the gravel speckled with shade from the rubber trees.
In the early morning as we marched along, the aroma of cooking rubber wafted from small huts where women in boots gathered to dump the white latex.
In the afternoon, young boys gathered in a driveway to fight roosters.
Everywhere, we met looks of uncertainty. No one, it seemed, was actually prepared for tourists.
Rudraksha Seeds (Shiva Tears)
A number of houses along the walk had been marked as OTOP (One Tambon, One Product) and a place for tourists to stop and buy local products.
The first house we came to was offering these Rudraksha seeds collected in the forest from Elaeocarpus ganitrus trees.
Rudraksha seeds are often threaded into Buddhist religious bracelets and rosaries and are believed to aid in concentration during meditation.
Luk Yee (Dialum Indum)
We stopped at another house where the ladies were sitting in the shade pulling the fragile shells off the Luk Yee fruits to roll in salt, sugar and chillies.
In English we call these tiny fruits the “tamarind plum” or “velvet tamarinds” because of their soft and fuzzy exteriors feel like velvet.
They have very thin shells that crack easily, exposing the orange, powdery-paste interiors that taste like the Sweet Tart candies I grew up stringing into necklaces to munch on the playground.
The ladies gave us several large bunches to suck on as we wandered along the long road.
Stinky Bean (Parkia Speciosa)
Another delicious fruit common in Baan Khao Pu is the Stink Bean, known as Sataw in Thailand.
Here they eat them two ways: young when the outside skin of the bean is still green, and fully mature when the outside skin begins to turn greyish-black and inside around the bean turns into a bright orange, sweet paste that tastes a lot like canistel and is really delicious!
Since Sataw is usually harvested and sold at markets in its green form, finding a fully ripe one was a super treat!
The Story of the 300-Year-Old Tree
It’s not difficult to spot the 300-Year-Old Tree. For one, there are signs the whole way from the intersection next to Armya At Home.
Then there is the tree, which looms an immense, stocky historic destination by itself. A sign posted just in front announces its age – 300 years.
The tree belongs to the family of Uncle Chet (pictured). A few generations ago, someone named the tree Ey-Lao, which means a curtain or a draping cloth, a reference to the tree’s sweeping buttressed trunk.
According to family wisdom, the tree was planted by Lung Chet’s great, great grandmother.
Or his son’s great, great, great grandmother. Or his daughter’s great, great, great, great grandmother.
If we do the maths, the tree is around 6 generations old, which if you want to use the latest science (and some people have though very hard about how long is a generation), in reality Ey-Lao is probably around 170 years old, not 300.
Still, that places the tree’s birth squarely in the reign of King Rama IV, King Mongkut, in the era before Anna from The King and I musical arrived in Thailand (she was a real person. Here’s her diary).
The tree was alive before airplanes were invented, or even cars.
Before rubber arrived from Brazil and palm oil from Africa.
When people first began eating these durians, the world looked very different than now.
And it’s sort of amazing that we can experience the same fruit that they did.
But first we had to wait a month. The season here is late compared to the rest of Southern Thailand. So we told Ya to call us when the durians started dropping, and on August 22, 2020 we got the call.
Tasting Ancient Durian
Luckily, my friend Mark Wiens from Migrationology was passing by on his way north as we were headed south on a pilgrimage to the Ancient Durian Tree.
We met up at Armya At Home and headed out to see if the 300-Year-Old Durian Tree had dropped any durians for us that day!
The tree is so old it produces very few fruits per season. This year (2020) Lung Chet estimated there were only 15 fruits on the whole tree.
So we were lucky to find 2 whole fruits that day! Even if one had been nibbled on by a squirrel.
On opening it, the first thing we noticed was that several pieces had a strange, white and orange marbling on the flesh. Other pieces were a pure, luscious, pearly white.
They smelled amazing, with that gassy, cold, spearmint, back-of-your-face aroma that makes you know a durian is going to be tasty.
Or if you’re Pa Tin, foul เหม็น.
The flesh was very thick and sticky, almost like cookie-dough in texture, and not overtly sweet. They had a sort of brown sugar sweetness, more mellow, mixed with the intensity of the creamy-fattiness and a hint of alcohol.
Mark filmed a video that will be released at some point in the future. I’ll add that link whenever it’s ready.
Visiting the Abandoned Communist Camp at Ban Khao Kaew
The Tourism Authority of Thailand suggested that the abandoned Communist Camp at Ban Khao Kaew was a good way to visit history.
At the former CPT base, there are still traces of houses, a kitchen, a mess hall, a hospital, a political and military school, a football field, caves and booby traps.
So with curiosity, we set out on the 1.2km one-way trek through a gorgeous and relatively easy jungle trail to the former CPT base camp.
The trail was well-marked all the way with signs in the Thai language, so we knew we hadn’t wandered off trail.
Turning right lead to a limestone cave with natural stalagmites where the CPT fighters took shelter during bombing raids. On the way there was a sign that we had reached the old mess hall site, but we couldn’t see anything but trees.
Heading straight (left) led to swampy trail and down into some caves with a Buddhist shrine.
I’m not sure what I expected to find 30 years after the Communists had disbanded and gone home. Maybe some crumbling buildings, some red flags. Instead we mostly saw more super gigantic trees.
It was a beautiful walk, but I felt like we would have learned much more if we’d had a tour guide with us to translate and explain.
How To Visit Baan Khao Pu & the Ancient Durian Tree
There is no public transit to Baan Khao Pu, so you’ll need to either drive there independently or arrange transport with Arm and Ya.
The village is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Phattalung, a vibrant southern Thai city that is well worth a night or two as well (we loved the Mountain View Hotel).
We recommend booking at last two nights at ArmYa At Home through their Facebook Page so you have time to walk around and explore.
To find out when the durian season will be for the Ancient Durian Tree, make sure to download our Durian Season App.
Azhani Elias says
I reached your website via Durian Traveller Channel. I love reading your post!
Dag Hermellin says
Thanks for describing canistel to me. I will remain faithful to red butterfruit… if it is mexican mamei, which was a wonderful creamy experience more than a decade ago. The driver never explained to me weather his aunt consumed the 22 petai seeds in one or more meals during the day, nor if they where cooked or not. I would assume cooked, just to make sure they come without any surviving microbes. I think that chewed or otherwise crushed garlic (not cut) brings out the burning sulfurous sensation that very few people enjoy. It also makes you sweat with a strong garlicky smell. Horrible. But I still like chewing petai beans because of their mouth feel. Do ask Mark about possible methods to minimize the garlicky shock of petai other than trying to mask it with chili and fermented pastes or sauces.
I hope to be able to travel again in this life. Your accounts of durian from different places in SE Asia are mouth watering. Keep up the good spirit, Lindsay!
Dag Hermelin says
Dear Lindsay, to those of us who are deprived of canistel, how would you describe smell, taste and mouthfeel of mature petai been? I have used the green bean seeds in my cooking, making a point of serving them with generous helpings of chili and fish sauce and only to friends who might stand their sulfur compound. A chineese malaysian driver shared a piece of knowledge on (probably) green petai that I hereby pass on to you. It was after he kindly allowed me to stop him by a roadside vendor of kampung durian (with a wonderful white flesh full of brandy aroma and crème brulée taste and mouth feel). He let me put two fully ripe d:s in his boot for later consumtion and proceded to explain that his aunt had cured her diabetes by consuming 22 petai seeds a day. For two years. I was so impressed by her feat, that I forgot to ask if she had any friends left after walking about like a stinky bean godess.
Hi Dag! Canistel has the texture of a dry sweet potato. It’s pasty and kind of mealy but very sweet. If you like dry sweet potatoes you’d love Canistel!
Why 22 beans? That seems like an awful lot. Did she eat them raw? Personally when I eat them raw I get a burning in my stomach like after raw garlic. I am not a fan of raw petai…. not yet… maybe Mark will convert me!