A Yala Durian Trip: With the Sea of Mist at my feet and a plate of intensely caramel, moist-brownie-dense durian on my lap, the curious desire I’d had to drive around and explore this southern-most province of Thailand faded. I looked at my list of waterfalls, vista points, and markets and went “nah.”
I was contented right here.
We then proceeded to eat almost nothing but tree-ripe durian baan for the next 4 days, and were very, very happy.
About Than To, Yala Province
Durian Garden Home is located in Amphoe Than To (อำเภอ ธารโต), a sparsely populated district in the middle of the province of Yala.
Like Italy, Yala Province is shaped like a boot and Than To is the strip of mountainous lacing at the ankle, just to the south of the large Bang Lam dam.
The area is famous for its cool highlands weather with foggy sunrises and mist that evaporates in the mid-morning sun in undulating rising waves.
Yala is also one of Thailand’s problematic southern Malay-States that is more culturally aligned with Malaysia – and has a track record of violence against the Thai government and against Thai Buddhists.
Than To District’s population of 60% Thai-Muslim and 40% Thai-Buddhist population has had its share of shocking events, including bombings and beheadings over the years. This why many countries (including the USA) don’t recommend their citizens travel here, and few foreign tourists visit the area.
But Durian Garden Home was full of Thai tourists who apparently didn’t have warnings from their Department of State, and who didn’t seem worried at all.
As we breakfasted durian Puangmanee and Durian Seng Thong on the cool verandah and watched the mist rise, we saw motorbike after motorbike and truck after truck stuffed to the hilts with durian winding down the road toward Betong Town.
Even though we’d already had one round of durian, we decided to go for a walk to the small village and see where all this durian was coming from.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been to Yala previously, but like most people we had just driven through this area straight to Betong Town.
Yala Durian Sellers at Mu Baan Pradeng Village (หมู่บ้านประเด็ง)
After walking about 1km from Durian Garden Home, we came to the village of Baan Pradeng, perched at around 1500 feet elevation.
It’s a small Thai-Chinese village. I’d noticed that in Satun and parts of Songkhla, I could throw in words of Bahasa Malayu and people recognized the language. But not here. I heard people speaking Thai or Chinese, but not a word of Malaysian.
The weather was cool and pleasant even though it was getting close to noon. The road snaked along the side of the mountain through durian farms, with occasional openings allowing us to marvel at the view.
We saw many durians in people’s yards or on motorbike’s parked haphazardly in the driveway. But no one was around to ask about them.
Finally we arrived to a closed-up shop next to a Chinese noodle restaurant. There was a huge pile of durians here.
The woman serving noodles told us that the owners of the durian, the middlemen, had already gone away to Betong with the good durians. These were the leftovers – the ones with insect damage, squirrel bites, or other characteristics that are deemed undesirable.
She didn’t want to sell to us at first. “Mien,” she kept saying, which means like bitter/smelly. Not good.
But our noses had a different opinion.
We picked out three of the best smelling durians in the pile and we were rewarded with sweet, alcoholic, vanilla-honey durians with a super sticky, dense and creamy texture. More like cream cheese than whipped cream.
Curious about what we were doing in Baan Pradeng, one of the villagers sat down to chat.
“Come back tomorrow morning, earlier,” he told us. “You’ve already missed the durian, it’s gone away to Betong Town.”
So come back the next morning we did.
This time, we walked down to the village at around 9:30AM.
There were three trucks busy getting filled with durian to take to Betong. As we waited to inquire about buying durian, two new motorbikes cruised up and unloaded.
The boss noticed us, and having heard about us from the day before from others, began instructing us which durians we should try.
It was all durian baan, but the boss knew which durians were which and pulled out a few epic ones from the pile.
“Big tree” he said, pointing at this long green one with incredibly thick, frosting-like flesh that was a dreamy mixture of rum, menthol and caramel, with the coldest aroma and strongest numb sensation I’d experienced in years.
He pulled out two more for us to try that weren’t quite as good, but still on the super thick-textured, vanilla-menthol vibe that seems to be specific to this area.
Both of these had issues with Seed Boring Caterpillars.
We don’t mind finding little friends like this in our durian, since you can just eat the pieces they haven’t and the majority of the durian still tastes fine.
But if you’re in the durian industry, these little wormy-worms can be really problematic in terms of the value of the durian, and the majority of these scrumptious durians will end up as either durian paste or cooked durian guan.
About Durian Garden Home in Than To, Yala
Tummies full, we wandered back to enjoy the view at the Durian Garden Home.
This small resort is set within the family’s No-Spray durian orchard. They grow a lot of Monthong, a little bit of Puangmanee, and a few trees of very old Durian Baan.
But their best durian, and perhaps the best durian we had in Yala, is their yellow-fleshed Seng Thong.
Before we’d had a chance to consider dinner options, Chay, ชาย, the owner’s son and manager of the family orchard, brought to 2 Seng Thong and more Puangmanee for free.
I can’t think of a better Durian Homestay than one that includes no-spray durian!
The Seng Thong was definitely my favorite.
Yala Durian Seng Thong
This durian’s name means “conch shell,” referring to the circular way the dense, moist, cookie-dough-like flesh wraps around a tiny seed. The durians are small, but surprisingly thick flesh and a little seed stuck in the middle.
This durian was surprisingly filling, but with its flavor like brown sugar cookies right out of the oven, with that special melted-sugar bakery aroma with a little hint of rum, this duiran will definitely be a highlight of 2023.
Staying at Durian Garden Home
Because we booked late, and then decided to extend our stay, we ended up playing Musical Rooms and got the opportunity to stay in a few of the cabins.
The view is amazing in all of them.
If I had to choose, though, I would choose this corner room because it has the best view from inside the room.
In this room, you can lie on the bed and just chill while watching the clouds float by, or wake up early to watch the sunrise over the sea of mist from the coziness of the covers.
The other rooms had a similar view that was only visible from the private patios, so you have to actually get out of bed to enjoy it.
As of 2023, room prices vary from 700-1200 baht per room, but it’s best to check directly with them for current prices.
How to get to Durian Garden Home
Durian Garden Home is located 6km or a 15 minute drive from the main north-south road from Betong to Yala Town. To get there, you’ll cross this narrow bridge over one of the fingers of the Bang Lang Dam lake, then wind your way up and up to the ridge where Durian Garden Home has views over the lake.
Despite their remote location, Durian Garden Home is very very popular and was almost fully booked every night we were there. Make sure to book early via their Facebook or WhatsApp.