When national borders closed in March, 2020, we found ourselves suddenly trapped in very long and delicious Thailand Durian Season.
2020 quickly became The Year of Thailand!
It was not exactly what I’d dreamed up in my 2019 Durian Goals (I didn’t mention Thailand at all 😳)
But no kidding, we ended up eating Thai durians from March to October this 2020. That’s a 7-month-long season!
I learned SO MUCH about Thailand. We visited amazing new landscapes, nerded out on its history and culture, found so many other amazing wild fruits (especially Garcinias), and enjoyed a time when there were so few other tourists we had Phuket and James Bond Island all to ourselves.
We will be leaving Thailand in mid-December, so even though the year 2020 has not *technically* ended, I’m ready to close this durian chapter and open a new one.
But I’m leaving space for a *last best durian 2020* for our next destination, hoping this is what they call the Law of Attraction 😅
Here’s a re-cap so far of Our 2020 in Durian.
I should just say: I am not sponsored by nor do I receive payment from any of the farms listed here. These are just the durians that made the biggest impression on us in 2020.
January: Suluk Haji Lamat
Where: Limbang Durian Suluk Haji Lamat Mother Tree & Story | Limbang, Malaysia
The Suluks are always my favorite. They’re all hybrids of D. zibethinus x D. graveolens, a genetically diverse class of durians that are sticky, alcoholic, intensely tropical, and often downright nutty.
They have such great stories.
In January, 2020, we were hanging around in the sliver of Northern Sarawak, Borneo, waiting for a really cool durian tour group from Florida to arrive so we could take them to eat durians.
I was looking around for the mother trees of some of the Suluk varieties (Suluk Margaret Deli, Sionggong, Suluk Ah Hoe, Suluk Bukit Lalit…) when we stumbled upon Mr. Haji Lamat’s son-in-law.
Suddenly we were on an adventure to the orchard and a really old tree.
February: Tembaga (D118)
Where: Long Sebulu Homestay | Lawas, Malaysia
Richard and I were so excited to introduce super-bitter Tembaga to the group, as it’s one of the most classically alcoholic, bitter durians that anyone with a hankering for old-tree D24 or D17 would just die for.
The ones at Long Sebulu were planted by the gregarious Uncle Kading, the 90-year-old penghulu (community chief) of the village who still treks out to his orchard every day of the harvest.
In late 2019, the village decided to open for homestay tourism. We were delighted to be among their first official groups.
Fortunately for Richard, tour-guide Leroy and me, this group preferred sweeter-durians, like the Suluk Haji Lamat, so it was up to three of us to take care of the basket of numbingly fresh Tembaga. It was the type of Good Durian Day that goes down in history.
March: Otak Udang Galah
Where: Ziman’s Durian Stall (see Durian App) | Brunei
To remain among my top 3 durians forever and ever, Ziman’s Otak Udang Galah is something special.
My first bite was a moment of shock and awe. Like…What. Is. This?!
Zinal’s Otak Udang Galah is a tiny green durian with a mound of fiberless flesh inside so thick and dense it’s like biting into ice cream, the flavor like cherry-rum poured over lightly sweet vanilla ice cream, with most of the sweetness stemming from its intense liqueur.
It’s heavier, thicker, and smoother than other Otak Udang Galah’s on the market (which is a generic term for anything red and sweet)
I took one bite and knew we had to figure out how to share it.
Our Second Durian Mail Order Box was born while licking my fingers.
We’d sold out of our first mail order durian box, from the Philippines, in January, and hadn’t had any plans to do another one until Penang in the summer.
But this durian was just too good.
It was too beautiful, colorful and interesting.
So in the first week of March, we boxed up a ton of Borneo durians and shipped them to the USA.
I recorded the whole complicated process in this video, which ended up going viral on WhatsApp.
View this post on Instagram
The durian exited Malaysia on March 17, one day before lockdown.
When I think about this durian box, it still feels like a miracle.
Where: Art Amornochana’s Durian Farm in Chanthaburi | Chanthaburi
In the first week of April, Thailand instituted a lockdown between provinces and we skedaddled to position ourselves in a good Durian Location to wait it out.
On the way, we stopped by Art Armornachara’s collection of rare old varieties. His farm is located in Klaeng District, southern Chanthaburi, where the season is a little bit earlier than the rest of the province.
We got lucky, because our favorites Kampan Thong, E-Lip and Thongyip were all in season. All Tree-Dropped, and all outstanding.
But that Thongyip:
View this post on Instagram
Thongyip is one of the oldest durian varieties in Thailand, mentioned in the 1884 poem, Varieties of Flora and Fauna by Phraya Srisuntorn Voharn. It’s named after a Portuguese-Thai fusion dessert made with eggs.
It’s not a bitter durian at all, but heavy and sweet, with a pungent sulfur and burnt sugar that would make the most loyal Malaysian national drool.
It was the first of many older-variety durians that we were able to learn about in Thailand…and the start of a very long Thai durian season.
Where: Original Nuantongchan farm | Chanthaburi
In May we finally cancelled our Durian Tours for the whole summer, but realized that we were still busy conducting Virtual Durian Tours via the mail-order boxes.
With the durians, the tasting notes, and the video, durian lovers stuck at home were telling us how much they enjoyed the mini-escape to the tropics.
So on the day Thailand lifted the provincial lockdown, we scooted our way over the border just in time for the start of Nuantongchan season, intent on introducing people at home to some new Thai varieties.
Nuantongchan was created by Suttep Nopphun, who wanted something better than Monthong.
A hybrid of Monthong and Puangmanee, Nuantongchan’s got all the burnt-caramel, rosy sweetness of its mother and the hefty, fleshy, fattiness of its father.
Mr. Nopphun’s success was confirmed by all you durian lovers when we sent his durian to you.
Nuantongchan was voted the best variety from the box.
It was my favorite from this box too. We ate a lot of it while *ahem* “quality-checking” the durians we bought. It’s a job perk 💁♀️
June: Monthong | Pala-U
Where: Suan Thurian Pa Na Organic Farm |Pala-U, Prachuap Khiri Khan
In June, with the season ending in Chanthaburi, we gathered our things and migrated south to Pala-U.
And we were blown away. Pala-U is a small mountainous valley along the border of Myanmar with the best Monthong we’ve ever had.
Not to dis on Monthong but…you already know what I mean.
But this Monthong was a different animal. It had an unusual S-shape, and an underlying salty-bitterness even when it was harvested.
The tree-ripe ones had an unusually thick skin that made it look firm at a glance but ruptured under the slightest attempt to pick it up. It was so rich, buttery and yes – BITTER – that I could have sworn we were eating Tekka. Mind blown 🤯
July: Durian Baan
In July, we wandered further south along the peninsula into the empty heart of Thailand’s tourism; Phang Nga, Phuket, and Krabi.
It’s a fantastical landscape like nothing I’d seen before: looming limestone karsts looped with liana vines out of an Indiana Jones movie.
Or James Bond. Your pick.
And everywhere is growing old-tree Durian Baan. These are trees planted by seed eons ago, each with their own unique flavor and most of them bitter and intense.
August: Baan Durian
Where: Baan Mai Hom Khiriwong Homestay | Khiriwong, Nakhon Si Thammarat
In August we climbed into the snug little valley of Khiriwong in Nakhon Si Thammarat, and accidentally stayed 3-weeks.
It’s nice there.
And the durian is nice too.
We just didn’t want to leave.
We spent a lot of time hiking in the durian hillsides, visiting waterfalls, and of course, eating loads of old-tree Durian Baan.
It’s maybe one of my new favorite Durian Destinations in Thailand. Go check it out next time!
September: 300-Year-Old Durian
Where: 300-Year-Old Ancient Durian Tree | Baan Khao Pu, Phattalung
The orange-and-white marbling on these fruits were a surprise!
These unusual little durians fell from a truly massive old tree that may or may not be 300-years-old, but according to the owner at least dates back to the reign of King Rama IV, over 150 years ago.
History nerd that I am, I love standing next to a creature that has experienced such a rush of time.
We discovered the tree on accident during a visit to Baan Khao Pu in late July, but were too early for the durian season. So we asked the owners of the homestay, Arm & Ya, to text us as soon as the durians from this massive old tree started falling.
In the first week of September they did, and within three days we were back on the road heading south toward the tree.
Luckily, Mark from Migrationology was heading North on the same day we were heading South, and we were ale to meet up and share the experience.
He made a video about the tree and our experience tasting the durians which you can view at the above link, or visit the link below ↓↓ to learn how to visit this area ↑↑.
October: Ganyao Soon Huat
Where: Uncle Jun’s Koh Phangan Durian Farm Buffet near the Than Sadet Waterfall | Koh Phangan, Surat Thani
At the end of September, the pandemic Visa Amnesty ended and we headed to Koh Phangan Island to get a home-address and sort out our legal situation.
We were surprised to find an excellent durian season on the island! In particular, the Ganyao Soon Huat was amazing. Thick, nut-buttery sticky, and just slightly bitter, this bright orange and smooth Ganyao variety was definitely one of my favorite durians of 2020.
Half of Koh Phangan is densely populated with yoga shalas, vegan eateries, and beachfront cabanas, but the other side is almost entirely unpopulated; a steeply mountainous farmland plunging into the sea.
Sea air, steep granite mountains – it’s the same recipe for success you find on my other two favorite Durian Islands, Penang and Koh Chang.
In November, the 2020 Thailand Durian Season ended. And for the first time since I started this Year of the Durian project back in 2012, we reached the End of the Durian Season.
It’s been a little discombulating. All we have is some frozen Ganyao Soon Huat and a lump of leftover Durian Guan in in the freezer.
It’s been a whole month without durian.
But luckily, Indonesia has begun offering Business Visas. Since we do technically run a Durian Business, we applied and….
Where: Isnul’s Specialty Durian (De’Petruk)
I left December blank when I originally posted this blost post, fingers crossed we would find something epic in Indonesia 🤞🏻 Assuming of course we got into Indonesia in the first place.
We arrived on December 22nd, just a few days before Indonesia closed the border to all foreigners. It was a mirror of when we left Malaysia back in March, arriving in Thailand just days before the Thai border closed
Luckily, we now have 4 months of durian season stretching ahead into 2021.
And we found not 1, but 2 Best Durians of 2020 to add to this collection.
Where: Baba’s Durian, Jepara
This durian was a surprise at the end, just something a little extra to remind us we never know when Amazing will appear in our lives.
We thought Nenek couldn’t be beat, but then our new friend Kholiq from Baba Durian Jepara introduced us to Semut, the heftiest, fleshiest durian I’ve ever seen in Central Java with a beautiful swollen, tender pods that burst on touch, exploding a heavy, fatty deliciousness with the rich cashew flavor of a lot of vegan-wannabe whipped creams.
It’s a good start to the beginning of our 2021 in Indonesia.
As we get back on the Durian Trail, it’s the closing of an unusual chapter in Thailand.
I don’t think without the pandemic we would have had the time to travel to so many different places in Thailand. We would have run away to Penang or the Philippines before it was the season in Khiriwong or Koh Phangan.
We also would not have had the time or incentive to focus on making the Durian-Tour-In-A-Box experiences.
Which means, we might not have had the opportunity to meet you.
Find Your Own Durian Adventure
Here are maps of Thailand and Malaysia for you to explore on your own, hopefully in 2021 🤞🏻.
We highly recommend renting a car and exploring the whole peninsula! It’s gorgeous. My favorite website for renting cheap cars is QEEQ.
If you’re curious about the Durian Seasons, download the Durian Season App for iOS for Free.