About Sam Khi Lek Village
Sam Khi Lek Village is located in the famous Khun Han District (ขุนหาญ), the district closest to the lump of eroded volcano (Khao Phu Fai) that gives the area its famous iron red soil and the durian its nickname “Lava Durian.”
The houses of the village line the road in a curved line around 400 meters long.
The Thongmanee family home is in the middle of the village, a small house setback from the road with a Hu Krajong tree out front.
During the season, almost every house in the village puts durians out front on the porch. Someone is always at home to help customers who come poking around looking (like us).
On the hot late morning we visited, Khun Joy (Ms Joy) was opening durian for customers on the small table under the tree in their front yard.
The customers had brought their own Tupperware containers and sat and munched at the table while they waited for Joy to prepare their takeaway.
It was all very casual and relaxed.
This Durian Life is relatively new for people in Sam Khi Lek.
This is only the 7th or 8th year that the Thongmanee family has been selling durians at the front of their home. Previously, they grew longans and corn for export to China like everyone else in the region.
Durian was not well known and only a few people had a tree or two for fun – maybe a seed brought by a cousin from Chanthaburi – and no one considered durian as a possible cash crop in this dry flat corner of the Isaan.
But around 2008 things changed.
Video Farm Tour
Phu Ngaam Durian Farm
Although you can drop by the Thongmanee home to snack Lava Durian anytime, we texted ahead on Facebook to ask to visit the family farm.
The farm, called Phu Ngaam Durian Farm, is located a quick drive away from the house, down a red-dusted cement road lined with infant durian trees and a wide-open blue sky.
The family farm stands out as one of the only mature farms, a deep green oasis in all that red and blue.
Luckily Joy’s daughter Pinya พินยา was home to help with the durian season. She’s usually based in Chiang Mai, where she has her own shops and has picked up perfect English.
She explained to us when longan prices slumped to just 7 baht per kilo, her mom started considering cutting down their longan orchard to plant corn, which has a more stable price.
But then the Sam Khi Lek village leader suggested that everyone start planting durians. They did, focusing on Monthong since that’s the durian they could export to China.
A few years later, people started noticing that for whatever reason, Monthong grown in Khun Han district was different.
For one, the shape of Monthong here is different. It has a longer, pointier shape.
It’s shape is created in part by a slightly thicker shell, which means that Khun Han Monthong is less likely to break open by itself when it nears ripening, or smash open when it hits the ground.
While we we were walking around the orchard, a Monthong fell and smacked the ground. Pinya picked it up and showed us that the husk was still intact, without splitting open.
Most importantly, the texture of Si Sa Ket “Lava Durian” is stickier and pastier than normal Monthong, even when fully ripe.
Whereas a Monthong in Chanthaburi becomes a slushy mess when allowed ripen on the tree and hit the ground (delicious for a tiny window of time before it sours), the Monthong Pinya shared with us had a similar texture to a fully-ripe Musang King.
It had actually ripened fully, without copious crunchy spots along the skin, which is unusual for Monthong. And it was thick, pasty, and sticky, like a cookie dough.
It was really, really good.
Truly an exceptional Monthong.
But, it may have been an outlier for quality too. This Monthong was so good we decided to go for another.
Hey – when you find something special, why not splurge?
The second Monthong did not have the same pointy shape as the first, and when we opened it, it did the Monthong-thing by sticking to the sides of the durian and ripping itself apart.
This one had some ripening issues, so while it was great in the parts that were ripe, it also had plenty of crunch in the parts that weren’t.
Unfortunately, there were only the 2 tree-ripe Monthongs that day, sowe didn’t have the chance to test out a 3rd Lava Durian.
We’d need to go back and eat more to find out if this area really does tend toward sticky, vanilla-y, Musang-King textured Monthong, and if the 1st is more common than the 2nd, Sam Khi Lek Village is one of the best places to eat Monthong in the world.
How to get to Phu Ngaam Lava Durian Farm
Phu Ngaam is one of many houses in Sam Khi Lek Village selling durians in their front yard. You easily make them part of your morning Durian Hop, but if you want to taste their tree-fallen Monthong or eat a fully ripe Monthong on the spot, make sure to go early. On weekends they typically sell out by 11am.
To visit the farm or make a booking, contact Pinya via their Facebook Page:
Anthony Anderson says
Super inspiring! Many in the Isaan area say that durian doesn’t grow well, maybe it’s the heavier soils or rainfall pattern? But this shows that it is indeed very possible. Very excited to see what the next decade brings for durian growers in the area. Great post!
Thank you! I do think that durian seems to prefer drier weather as long as there is plenty of irrigation. I think the flatness of the land may cause some issues as we did see Phytophtora, but that could be due to other management practices too. I’m curious to follow these farms as the trees get older too!