Happy New Year again, Durian Munchers!
This is our review of the 12 BEST durians of 2023, of the ones that we personally consumed, with a few personal shares about our year along the way.
Add these amazing durians and durian destinations to your travel goals for 2024!
Need more inspo? Here’s our lists from previous years:
- Best Durians of 2017
- Best Durians and Durian Destinations of 2019
- Best Durians of 2020
- Best Durians of 2021
- Best Durians of 2022
Taiyuan (Black Pearl)
MyLoh Durian Garden, Damak, Pahang, Peninsular Malaysia
We celebrated the New Year in Damak, Pahang Malaysia, where we met new friends Frankie and Clint Loh who have a small 3-generation farm they are taking over from their octogenarian father. We had interesting talks with them about what it means as modern Malaysians to own and tend a farm, and how best to monetize the old varieties that aren’t as appreciated in the local markets but are still amazingly delicious.
One of those precious old varieties is their Tai Yuan, or Black Pearl, which astounded us with its alcoholic numbness & vanilla kahlúa. Definitely in the top 5 durians of the year in terms of intensity!
We filmed a YouTube video together (to be published in 2024)
Hin Hin Durian Farm in Kuala Klawang, Negeri Sembilan, Peninsular Malaysia
As the season wound down across peninsular Malaysia, we traveled one more time to a region we have completely fallen in love with – Titi, in Negeri Sembilan – to pursue a durian we are convinced is one of the most lovable. D28, with it’s fleshy folds and huge pieces, is a rich, egg-custardy durian with a volcano of caramel-berry flavor. It’s insanely delicious!
We were determined to buy this durian to send to you durian lovers in the USA in 2023. It’s just that good. We know you guys will love it.
So we went back to the farm to talk with the owners about their summer season. Then with fingers crossed for a heavy flowering, we headed to Thailand.
Life milestone: Our first car
In February 2023, Richard and I became the proud owners of our first vehicle. Neither one of us had purchased a car before, but it was time. Renting cars are expensive even in SE Asia, and with our durian shenanigans, we felt it was only a matter of time until the car rental companies started getting wise to our activities
Plus, who doesn’t dream of cruising over the border to Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia on your own wheels? Finally an excuse to visit our favorite places in Southern Thailand every time we transited from Chanthaburi to Penang! Freedom!
After a lot of research and visiting several used car dealerships on the fringes of Bangkok, Richard settled on a 2007 Toyota Hilux – four doors for all our friends, four-wheel-drive for all our adventures, and enough space to haul stuff. Owning our first car has definitely changed the way we travel, and now nearly a year later we’re still very excited about it!
Art’s Farm in Klang, Chanthaburi, Thailand
Thailand had a slow start to the 2023 season. We had our first durian of the Thai season on March 20th, but to be very honest, it was lousy.
By the Songkran Festival in mid-April, we were still waiting with baited breath for the start of the main season, but we managed to get some really epic, maple-syrupy slurpy E-lip when Rebecca Rosman, a freelance audio reporter who is sometime featured on the American news radio NPR, came to visit for her first serious durian experience.
Have I mentioned I love E-lip? 🤣 soooo good.
I was stoked that Rebecca got to try this one both tree-ripe and cut-harvested. It’s good either way, but of course tree-ripe it’s ooey-gooey creamy syrup to the max.
Trip to Cambodia
In April, we spent a week in Pailin, Cambodia waiting for our visa to update. While the durian season was still running late, we did find a translator who traveled with us to Samlout (សំឡូត), a district halfway between Pailin and Battambang that is famous for durians. There we met with some durian farmers to see what durian farms look like in Pailin.
Lucky for us, the farmer we were visiting had only 2 early-season durians that were ripe and ready to try! The farmer explained that he picks them at a riper stage than in Thailand, so they are buttery and rich – delicious!
He asked us to please send his durians to the USA. If you would like to try Samlout durians, make sure to comment below!
Durio Dulcis in Thailand???
May’s Specialty Ancient Durian Nursery & Delivery, Chanthaburi Thailand
When we got back to Thailand, our friend May surprised us with a durian she wanted us to identify. “It’s red,” she said.
We were of course skeptical, because the term “red” in SE Asia can mean refer to any shade between dark yellow orange and firehouse red. But this durian was really, really red. It was actually a Durio dulcis, a wild jungle tree from the island of Borneo.
She told us the tree was growing in Nai Yai Am district, Chanthaburi, and that next season (2024) she would take us to see the tree. So things to look forward to in 2024!
2023 Thailand Durian Tour
The most exciting part of the spring was meeting the durian enthusiasts who flew out to Thailand to learn about durian farming and durian eating in Thailand!
This is a highlight for us every year, because as durian lovers ourselves, these people are typically “our tribe” and we really enjoy spending time with them over the next 10 days (and usually through friendships that last years!) This group was a particularly good one, so kind to each other and always sharing durian and stories, that we just appreciated them all so much.
This was one of the best days of the trip, when we had so much tree-dropped Puangmanee, Kob Lep Yiew, and a few others from the original Puangmanee Garden that the group could barely finish them. But finish them they did! This was a group with strong love for durians.
It was a good trip 🙂
At the end of May, our Thailand Durian Tours complete, I waved goodbye to Avis and the other car rental companies as we soared over Bangkok and on the road to Malaysia – on our own wheels!
For our very first road-trip in the old/new truck, we chose to detour from Highway 4 and drive along the coast of Ranong to visit friends in Phang Nga. Although it rained heavily during our day in Ranong, the roads were lined with small stalls selling old-tree Durian Baan and the quality was EPIC.
We ate until we were stuffed silly, taking the whole day to travel the 3-hours through Ranong and arriving to Phang Nga late in the evening.
Best Durian Day of the year.
See everywhere we stopped in the blog post Ranong Rainy Durian Road Trip.
In Phang Nga we stopped for a few days to see our friend & interview her grandfather about the history of the Salika Durian Tree at the Kapong Tin Mines.
Salika is an old durian variety that originates in Kapong Town around 100 years ago, when tin miners brought the seeds from an unknown location – maybe Penang, maybe Indonesia.
We met and interviewed with Lung Sin, who is turning 90 years old this year.
He is such a good story teller! We really enjoyed hearing about what Kapong Town was like when he was young, before the town was connected to the outside world by roads and almost all traffic went by boat.
Plus, he had saved both tree-ripe and cut-harvested Salika for us to taste! It has an ultra soft-smooth texture – very fragile – and a sweet buttery flavor that hovers somewhere between the cookie-dough flavor of Ganyao and the berry-caramel of Puangmanee.
If you like Puangmanee and Kradumthong durians, you would definitely love Salika. Put it on your list for next year! The season is late May and early June.
Sungai Ara Cottage, Penang Island, Peninsular Malaysia
In June our friend Sigit from Durian Traveler came to visit us for Durian Tours in Penang. His one request: really really good old tree Tupai King.
Tupai King is a newly famous old variety from the Sungai Ara area of Penang Island. It was almost unknown, then around the time I posted this interview with the owner it suddenly shot to fame.
It’s a noteworthy durian! Perfectly ripe, it’s one of the most luscious, syrupy, mulberry-wine durians that sends a shock of alcohol straight to my cheeks, making them burn. I’ve rarely had a durian that was so shocking on the first bite.
It’s also famous for the mysterious grey-black spot or “tiger stripe”, which appears rarely and only in the best ones.
It’s now been registered as D214, and is on a trend. Everyone wants to plant Tupai King, but prices for both fruits and trees are high because there’s still not enough around for everyone to get a taste.
We do try to taste this one on the Penang Durian Masterclass if I can get my hands on a good one.
Calang, Aceh Sumatera
In June, our friend Sigit had a special birthday gift for me: an invitation to fly from Penang to Aceh in the northern tip of Sumatera to attend the first ever Calang Durian Festival. We’d been pumped about Aceh for years thanks to Sigit’s enthusiastic endorsements, so even though we had just finished the Penang Durian Masterclass four days earlier and had the 10-Day Malaysia Durian Tour coming up, we quickly said YES to a Durian Scout in Aceh.
The Durian Festival was a 2-day absolute smorgasbord, and competition was fierce. The long roped-off judging tables held over 100 durians and were lined with throngs of cheering fans rooting for their durian, more like a football match than a durian festival.
In the final minutes it came down to two teams: those who had come to cheer for Durian Bola, and those who were cheering for Durian Lobster.
I threw my vote to Durian Bola: a small, personal-size durian with very thick golden flesh and a delicious caramel sweetness similar to Kradum Thong but a stronger numbing gassiness.
But in the end, the ultra-fleshiness of Durian Lobster won out, and Durian Bola took second. Travel to Calang in June to try them both!
2023 Malaysia Durian Tour
A sudden shift in the durian season in late June left us scrambling to reroute our July Durian Tour group to make sure our group stayed in the peak season – and I think it was mission success!
This was one of the group’s favorite days, a day visiting an Orang Asli where they fed us top quality Kampung durians from ancient trees, each durian more bitter and numbing than the next. It was an impressive day, I couldn’t quite believe our luck!
Again we were blessed with an awesome adventurous group of super troopers who trecked to waterfalls, fended off leaches, and explored the jungle all in the name of Delicious Durian.
Durian Seng Thong
In early August, we drove north from Penang to the province of Yala, just over the Thai border from Malaysia, smack dab in the middle of a bumper crop. Heaven on earth!
I drove through Yala with friends in 2017, and was amazed by the beautifully misty, hilly landscape almost devoid of people. I’d intended to return ever since, but it was difficult to obtain a vehicle that could cross the Thai-Malaysian border. Enter my own truck: no problem.
We ended up staying a week at Durian Home in the Sea of Mist in Yala, one of the most delicious and restful stays.
There isn’t much around except a busy durian wholesale within walking distance of the resort, which suited us just fine 😁
We breakfasted daily at the durian wholesaler, but the stand out durian was a variety called “Seng Thong.”
It means “sea shell” referring to the way the flesh rolls around the seed, folding over itself on the edges. It’s a drier-flesh durian, similar with Musang King, but sweeter, nuttier & more caramel-y. The majority of the seeds were tiny, and despite how quickly we started to feel full we could not get enough of this durian!
We ate as much Seng Thong as we could find, which unfortunately wasn’t much. But almost all the durian in this village was fantastic, so we didn’t go hungry at all!
In September we attended the Keningau Durian Festival, where we were judges at the Durian Competition. That was fun and delicious, but the best durian at the festival arrived as a surprise in Wiu Kong’s trunk.
In the past we’ve taken Durian Tour groups to Wiu Kong’s old farm up on one of the ridges of the Kimanis-Keningau road, the dauntingly steep single-lane road that sweeps over the Crocker Mountain Range from the coast to the Keningau valley.
I mentioned to Wiu Kong that we were attending the festival, but didn’t know he was coming until he spotted us at the festival and waved us over with something very very special.
It was a beautiful durian and we ooohed and aaahed when we opened it, admiring the taut skin & fragile wrinkles just wanting to explode with the smooth bitter cream within. This is definitely one I will be looking for again!
Isu Orange (D. graveolens)
Saratok, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
After the Durian Festival, we drove south to Sibu to start scouting for our next big secret project.
We were a little disappointed in the quality of the durians we were finding, until we hit upon these epic Isus at Stanley’s Stall on the road to Sri Aman.
These were fleshy, each tiny durian stuffed with a huge pod of sticky peanut-butter with a minty aroma. I cannot describe that unique flavor of the orange D. gravoelens, it just hits you in the back of the nasal cavity and
Otak Udang Galah
In early October, the mildly and cherry-alcohol Otak Udang Galah finally came into season in Limbang. This durian is just amazing, with the sticky, cream-cheesy texture of Orange Isu but with a strong aroma that is fruity & smoky like it’s been aged in an oak barrel! 😱
We were so grateful this one had a short season! We quickly made a dash for Limbang, filled up our transportation and rushed it back to the facility to prep it for sending to America.
After we waved good-bye to our secret durian project, it was time to wait for our epic Christmas surprise to arrive.
So we went to the Philippines, to reunite with Duyaya, Puyat, Mamer, & Kob Yellow – as well as our friends and people we truly care about!
The Philippines only fully opened for tourists in July, 2023, and we hadn’t seen our friends since 2019. that’s almost 3 seasons lost! Although we’d kept in touch online, it’s just not the same as being there, and we were starting to worry we had forgotten what these durians taste like.
While we were there, we attended the first ever Philippines Durian Summit. I was honored to take part as a participant, giving my presentation on Durian Tourism that you can now see on Youtube.
It was amazing to reunite with both friends and durians. Our favorite this season? Puyat – reliable bitter honey Puyat! We love the super soft, syrupy texture of this durian as well as it’s mead-y sweetness and hint of metallic bitterness. Such a satisfying one!
Definitely put the Philippines on your travel list for 2024 – we will too!
Our New Durians Finally Arrived to the USA
Our secret durian project sure took it’s time in arriving, but between Christmas and New Years our durians from Titi, Negeri Sembilan, and Sarawak finally arrived to us in the USA. We spent the last few days of 2023 scrambling to get them organized and ready to publish on New Years Day, 2024!
Yes, there is D28 from Hin Hin Farm. Yes, there is Otak Udang Galah from Limbang. Yes, there is some super epic Kampung durian from old trees.
These boxes are a taste of our 2023!
So that’s how we start 2024 – a new year, some new durians for you, and a
Our best durians of 2023 tells about how this project guided our whole year. Moving into 2024, durian will to continue to guide us!
Since we’re here in the US, we’ve decided to do some meet ups and Led Tasting Events. Here’s the tentative schedule, with more details to come.
- January 14th: A Taste of Borneo & Local Cuisine | San Francisco (Sold out!)
- January 20th: A Taste of Borneo Fruits | Miami
- January 27/28th: A Taste of Borneo Fruits | Los Angeles
- February 4: A Taste of Borneo Fruits | Maui
Hope to meet you in 2024!
If you have any upcoming durian or fruit-hunting plans for 2024, make sure to comment below!
Happy New Year Durian Munchers! To an Epic 2024!