In 2017, when I was still a single lady, I traveled with my friends Parisa and her boyfriend (now husband) Damien to visit the Sai Khao Homestay in Kok Pho District, Pattani, Southern Thailand. For me, it was one of the most exciting durian trips I’d ever taken.
Southern Thailand was, and still is, one of the regions of Thailand that is not often visited by foreign tourists. Due to the separatist movement, the US Department of State advises against traveling to the three far-southern states of Thailand.
See my 2017 post, Southern Thailand Durian and Monkeys Harvesting Durian
The mountain, the clean air, the wild fruits, and the quality of the sticky vanilla-flavored Durian of Pattani was burned into my memory, and so when Richard and I decided to take a wander through the Southern Malay States of Thailand, I insisted we stop in to see if our friends at the Sai Khao Homestay were still there.
After 5 years, Kareeya, my contact at the Agricultural Department, had moved to the Laos border in northern Thailand. Chanin had changed his phone number. But the family homestay was still there, and a quick Google later I was chatting with Chutima, who remembered me and my durian obsession very well.
“Can I come tomorrow?” I asked her.
“Can,” she said.
Chutima and Chanin’s Pattani Durian Farm in Tambon Sai Khao
Within minutes of arriving at the Sai Khao homestay, Richard was seated on the back of Chanin’s motorbike and I was with Chutima. Their 13-year-old granddaughter followed on a third bike, her 11-year-old sister seated behind. Both of them were little girls when I last visited.
The day was hot, the cloudy sky a dark blue but rain still far away.
Below the clouds the Golden Buddha sparkled on the hillside as we cruised up the small hill toward the Nomtok Sai Khao National Park, a distance of about 2km from the homestay. At the park entrance, we turned off onto a dirt road lined with small shops selling drinks and snacks. This was not there in 2017.
We crossed the bridge over the Sai Khao River, passing a new cafe blaring Thai pop music. The river had been dammed to create a deep swimming hole, where happy bathers floated in inner-tubes and perched on romantic swings over the water, dangling their toes and chatting.
This was not there in 2017 either.
Kaewkhwan Garden & Cafe (แก้วขวัญการ์เด้น &คาเฟ่)
Instead of parking by the road, as we did in 2017, this time we turned into the parking lot of the new Kaewkhwan Garden & Cafe.
Locals sipped iced rose-lattes munched rambutans and lounged on rattan platforms placed along the river, watching their kids splash in small shady pools.
Taking his machete, Chanin led us on a small winding path downstream until we reached their farm area.
As usual, there were no fences, no signboards, no nothing to mark the property as theirs. But everyone in the village would know which trees belonged to Chanin and Chutima.
At the farm, we feasted on Durian Baan. It was super sticky and thick, with the vanilla-like aroma I remembered so unique to this area.
Som Khaek ส้มแขก (Garcinia atroviridis)
While we were in the farm, we picked up a fruits of Garcinia atroviridis so that Chutima could show us the recipe for the lemonade-like drink I remembered from my first trip.
The fruits were scattered beneath the tree like glowing yellow-orange pie pumpkins. It was definitely the peak season!
We picked up a few buckets and poured them into a woven bag to carry back to the homestay so Chutima could show us how to make that delicious drink.
Ma Deua มะเดื่ออุ (Ficus, species not identified)
In the stream bed, we also noticed many trees of Ma Deua, a wild edible fig.
I asked Chutima if she could cook it for us, like she did in 2017. She laughed, amused that I remembered the figs as a highlight of my previous trip. For them, this is very normal and boring.
The figs were covered in fierce red ants that bit our fingers and crawled up my pant legs. Chanin quickly nicked them off the tree with the blade of his machete, then dropped them like hot cakes and shook his fingers, flicking and swatting at his arms and neck.
The best time to harvest these figs, Chanin told us, is when they are small and hard, the green just starting to get striped with red. He cut one in half to show us the fuzzy maroon interior, which looks like a heart.
I’ve never managed to find out what kind of figs these are, even after contacting some friends working in botany, who told me they couldn’t identify this fig. It’s probably not the Cluster Fig, F. racemosa, but it’s also not the Roxburgh Fig, F. auriculata. Identifying figs is hard.
So for now, it’s just an edible fig that grows in the boulder-strewn stream of the Sai Khao River.
Cooking Class at the Sai Khao Homestay
Across from the homestay is a new community center set up for catering meals and teaching cooking classes.
We parked the motorbikes and got ready to cook lunch. Several of Chutima’s sisters stopped by to see how things were going, and soon we were getting ready to have a family meal.
Eating together with your local host family is one of the best parts of staying at a homestay.
Cha Som Khaek (ชา ส้มแขก)
Everybody was thirsty after eating durian in the farm, so we started the cooking class so we started with the local lemonade, Cha Som Khaek.
Chutima showed us how she slices the Som Khaek fruits, and rinses them in salt water. After setting the freshly sliced Som Khaek in the sun, she got out a huge bag of the crinkled up, browned dried ones.
But she just took out a small handful of the dried slices and threw them into a pot with a lot of water and 3 big spoonfuls of rock sugar cane.
Within 10 minutes, the Som Khaek tea was done. She poured it over rice, and we had the most refreshing drink ever! It tasted something like lemonade, but with the umami of Japanese plums.
“It’s not lemonade,” Richard said, “It’s Garcinianade!”
Red Curry Coconut Milk Figs แกงเผ็ดมะเดื่อ
Sipping on the Garcinianade, Chutima next got to work on the fig curry.
The last time I visited, she had made a simple Coconut Milk herb soup with the figs, but this time, she knew we could eat spicy food.
“A little bit spicy?” she asked, raising her eyebrows teasingly.
The figs were sliced and washed in salt water to remove the bitter latex. While they soaked, she heated a small portion of coconut milk and dissolved the red curry paste, then added more coconut milk until it was like a soup. When the red coconut milk was hot, she dumped in the figs and some green beans and boiled them until the figs were soft enough to be poked with the edge of a spoon, like a potato.
It was honestly a surprisingly easy recipe, and super delicious!
Sunday Morning Market
The next morning, we followed Chutima to the Tambon Sai Khao weekly market, about 1km from her home.
The market happens only one day per week, on Sundays, and it goes all day. I was surprised that it seemed to start late, and when we arrived around 8:30AM many vendors were still just setting up. Many makrets in Thailand start at the crack of dawn and are over before most of us are rolling out of bed.
The market was tiny, but lively. People called to us, beckoning us over to talk, ask where we were from, and show us what they were selling.
There was durian aplenty, almost all of it Durian Baan.
Every vendor seemed to have a small pile sitting in front of their vegetables or cakes. Even the dried shrimp and dried fish lady had 4-5 durians sitting on a stool in front of her table.
We sampled one or two Durian Baan, each super thick, sticky and vanilla-honey.
Or maybe it was three Durian Baan. Once we started, it was hard to stop.
Many people were selling bags of dried Som Khaek, strings of sataw, and other goodies.
Hin Bananas and Nang Ya Bananas
I stopped to look at the bananas, because there was one I didn’t recognize.
I knew the Hin Banana (กล้วยหิน) which you can find all over Thailand as a cooking banana. It’s got a fat, stubby shape, squarish-sides, and a foamy, vanilla-like flesh that makes them one of my favorites.
But the one next to it I didn’t know. The locals called it Khluai Nang Ya (กล้วยนางยา), or Mrs. Ya’s Banana. We bought a hand of ripe ones, curious what it would taste like.
It reminded me a lot of a Barangan banana from Malaysia, with a crumbly, yellow-orange flesh that was very sweet and not at all like the familiar Cavendish banana. This banana is definitely something to look for when you visit Southern Thailand!
Daeng Suriya Jackfruit
There were a few people selling jackfruit, but this one caught my eye. That color was so vibrant, I wondered what it could be.
The vendor actually wasn’t sure, but after googling on her phone she told me it was a Daeng Suriya. This is a variety we are quite familiar with from Chanthaburi. Honestly, this one had a different flavor to me than the Daeng Suriya, which can have a sort of caramel-bubblegum flavor. This one was really fruity, and a bit more crunchy than a lot of the Daeng Suriya I have tried.
But it was beautiful and delicious anyway!
Across the road from the weekly market is a strip of Durian sellers who are here all day, from morning until night.
Chutima’s Sister was selling their Durian Baan, so we stopped in for a little bit more vanilla-cream durian.
But then a waft of something bitter, something strong, reached our noses. We looked around, and spotted three tree-ripe Chanees sitting on a stool under the table.
Tree-ripe Chanee at Sai Khao
The three durians were hiding because they were slightly damaged. One had a squirrel bite, the other had a small insect hole.
We blew into the hole, and feeling the air coming back out again, decided that the hole probably didn’t go all the way through to the flesh. It was a safe buy.
And my gosh. This durian blew us away, with it’s silky, smooth, drippy flesh that was rich and syrupy like bitter honey.
“This might be thes best durian in Thailand,” Richard said. I looked at him, hard.
“It’s true,” he shrugged, slurping up another bite.
The Chanee was messy, far wetter and creamier than the somewhat dry, cookie-dough like flesh of most of the Durian Baan here.
Chutima’s sister helped us wash our fingers with the durian shell, which she promised would remove the odor of the stinky Chanee.
We didn’t mind. The smell, like the durian in our tummies, was something small we could carry with us when we left Tambon Sai Khao.
With our tummies full of Chanee, we said good-bye once again to Chanin and Chutima.
But we promised we would be back again, and sooner than 6 years.
Videos from the Sai Khao Homestay
Getting to and Around the Sai Khao Homestay
There are actually several homestays in and around Sai Khao, all of them operated by Chutima and Chanin’s many brothers and sisters.
To book a night, you can contact Chanin at 0897379553 or add him on Line.
Kaew Khwang Cafe(Facebook) is 2km from the homestay
Tambon Sai Khao Sunday Market is 1.1km from the homestay