Tag Archives: durian

Review: Year of the Durian’s Malaysia Durian Appreciation Tour

I love durian. It is probably my favorite food in the world. And so when I heard that there would be a Year of the Durian tour around New Years in Malaysia and I didn’t have any other travel plans, I jumped at the opportunity.

If you’re a durian fan, you may have encountered Lindsay’s blog Year of the Durian. It is, as far as I know, the number one English-language resource for durian out there. It started as a project where Lindsay went on a year-long trip following the durian season around Southeast Asia. More recently, Lindsay has started organizing and leading durian tours of Thailand and Malaysia, in addition to organizing a durian festival at the Bao Sheng durian farm.

Now, durian season in Malaysia is typically during the summer, but because of the strange weather this season, there was a pretty sizable second durian season around New Years. And so Lindsay organized a New Years durian tour of Malaysia.

The tour lasted 9 days, started in Penang, and ended in Kuala Lumpur. Here’s the outline of a typical day:

  • Light breakfast (usually lots of fruit like mango, rambutan, soursop, melon, etc. and something savory)
  • Drive to a durian farm and learn about durian (e.g., about a particular variety such as Blackthorn or Musang King; about strategies for selecting fresh durian)
  • Feast on durian for lunch (there were always non-durian foods available for lunch, but I mostly ate durian for lunch)
  • Drive to some sort of fun activity (e.g., hiking, rafting, visiting elephants)
  • Eat a delicious dinner (if you have any room for more food)
  • Feast on more durian after dinner

In other words, the tour was absolute heaven for a durian lover like me.

A selection of durian from the very first durian tasting of the tour–one of my favorite varieties of durian from the entire tour was D2, which is pictured in the bottom left

Typical fruit selection at breakfast (that’s a cempedak, not a durian)

Feeding elephants durian

Enjoying a waterfall swim

In terms of the durian, we tasted over 30 varieties of durian over the course of 9 days. If you’re not familiar with durian, you can think of the different varieties like you might think of different varieties of apples (e.g., Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Fuji) or wine. And it really was all-you-can-eat durian at every meal. The non-durian food was awesome as well–easily the best food I’ve ever had on any sort of organized trip. As Lindsay said during the tour, the tour is largely about managing your appetite, since there’s so much good food and durian available.

Besides the durian, the best part of the trip was the other people. Because we were essentially driving around Malaysia in a van, we spent a lot of time together. And the sorts of people who love durian enough to come on a durian tour are pretty awesome. Lindsay was also an incredible source of information–she knows so much about durian, and she knew exactly where to take us for the best durian (e.g., durian can be very finnicky, so two farms right next to each other can have vastly different yields or quality of durian).

All in all, this was an incredible trip. Lindsay said that she’s planning on expanding and doing tours of Borneo and Indonesia in the coming years, and I definitely want to go on more of these tours. If you love durian, you should definitely consider going on one of these tours! Make sure to sign up for the Year of the Durian mailing list so you can get the inside scoop on when tours are upcoming, as they can fill up fast!

Staying at Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Penang, Malaysia

So I’m not going to lie, the main purpose of this trip was to stay on a durian farm and gorge myself on durian. The durian farm that I chose was Bao Sheng durian farm in Penang, which has been blogged about pretty extensively by Lindsay at Year of the Durian (which is I think the best English-language resource about durian out there).

In order to book this part of the trip, I contacted the durian farm a couple of months before the trip. It’s slightly hard to time in that the durian farmers only know when the durian is going to drop a couple of months before once the durian trees start to flower, but many of us need to plan trips much further in advance than that, so essentially I based on my trip on a time frame that worked with award availability and that I thought would overlap with the main durian season. Last year’s (2016) durian season wasn’t great in Penang, but I still had an amazing time.

To reserve my room, I had to transfer money to the durian farm’s bank account. For this, I used TransferWise (affiliate link). TransferWise seemed like the best way to transfer money to a foreign bank account with minimal fees, and I’m not aware of a better method today.

To get to the durian farm, I took an UberX from Georgetown. Even with the driver keeping the meter on until he got to Batu Feringghi (i.e. he wanted to keep the meter on after he dropped me off, which I was fine with), it ended up being around $10 USD instead of the much, much higher rates I was being quoted by taxis and the hotel.

Sign on the way to the durian farm

At the top of the hill

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this place, but I had a great time. Essentially, you can eat durian whenever you want (i.e. there are bins of durians where you can just pick one up and crack it open if you desire), and the durian seng (the “master”/father who owns the place) will periodically host tastings where he or his son chooses durians for you to sample and puts them in a specified order. It’s similar to a wine tasting, as there are tasting notes (e.g. this durian should taste like X, this durian should taste like Y), and there are different ways to eat durian. There are also tours of the farm, there’s a waterfall not too far away, and there’s a plunge pool. But I mostly chilled in my air conditioned room and emerged to eat durian, which was great.

Most of the people who visit this farm are Chinese tourists (not necessarily from China, as there are lots of Malaysian Chinese people). But the durian seng and his family also speak Mandarin, so some of the tastings were conducted mostly in Mandarin. Many of the people volunteering on the farm, though, are Australians or Westerners who love durian.

Eating area

There are also plentiful coconuts. For people staying at the farm, you can get coconuts for free whenever you’d like. They also make fruit smoothies and juices, and sometimes even durian candies/pastes.

Counter to get fresh coconuts

Below is a picture of the durian seng getting ready to serve us durian. He chose a variety of durian from different trees of different ages. I think this was the amount of durian he chose for 6 of us.

Durian tasting #1

I stayed in one of the standard villas. There are a couple of different sleeping options, and the standard villa is the middle option. But you can expect basic accommodations with air conditioning. It’s not fancy, but it’s worth it for the durian.

View of a villa and plunge pool

Plunge pool and villa

Standard villa

Bathroom

Durian!

Views of Penang from the eating area

Durian dogs

If you get tired of durian (which I’m not sure is possible), there are other things to eat on the farm. As stated before, there are coconuts everywhere, but other fruit pops up like cempedak (which I had actually never eaten before). For dinner, you don’t have to eat durian (although you can!). They generally get someone to bring in food cooked from elsewhere and serve it as a family-style buffet (and a durian tasting often follows). As someone who generally doesn’t eat meat, the options for dinner were slightly fewer, except that I could always just eat more durian.

Cempedak (not durian)

Nightly dinner buffet

Durian tasting #Ilostcount

It was cool going on a short tour of the farm and hunting for durian that have dropped. One thing that I didn’t quite understand is how high up durian grows on the trees. Like these massive, spiky fruits grow on these seemingly tiny branches very high up in the air. Nature is amazing.

Durian trees

Anyway, if you love durian, I highly recommend staying on a durian farm as an experience. The Bao Sheng durian farm offers basic but comfortable accommodations and lots of delicious durian. The family all speaks English, so it’s easy to book via email, and Penang is a cool place to visit generally if you like food.

Where to Find Durian in Ubud, Bali

I’m currently in Ubud in Bali, and whenever I’m in any Southeast Asian country, I’m on the lookout for durian. I absolutely love durian, and I don’t think it smells bad–it just smells like durian to me.

After not finding much information on the internetz and following multiple false leads (probably because it’s not durian season in January), I finally found someone selling durian at Ubud Market. In the mornings (pre-9am), Ubud Market is primarily a market for locals looking for produce. During the day, it transforms into a market for tourists looking for souvenirs.

My initial mistake was looking for durian at Ubud Market in the mornings when the locals shop. I couldn’t find anyone selling durian the first time I came to the market around 7am (note that I have since found that you can occasionally find fruit vendors selling durian in the mornings, but each time I found someone they only had one durian for sale, so it wasn’t very obvious).

But at 11am, a woman sets up some fruit on the side of the road and has durian for sale. She’s there from 11am until whenever she’s done, which is usually around 6pm. She’s located at the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Karna, or the first road on the right if you start walking along Jalan Raya Ubud from Ubud Palace.

Looking down Jl. Karna into Ubud Market

Looking down Jl. Karna into Ubud Market (can you spot the durian?)

Not really a stand, but more some fruit on the street

Not really a stand, but more just fruit on the street

Durian! And other fruit, but really, you just need durian.

Durian! And other fruit, but really, you just need durian.

The previous day she was on this side of the street

The previous day the durian was on this side of the street

You can expect to bargain for your durian (and anything else you want to buy in the market). Today, she asked for 80,000 rupiah (about $6.50 USD), but I ended up getting a whole durian for 50,000 rupiah (about $4 USD). I later came back to the market and gave her more money just because I want to make sure that she keeps selling durian.

Looks disgusting, but tastes great

Looks disgusting, but tastes great

If you want, you can ask for the vendor to open up the durian and put the fruit into a plastic bag, or you can do it yourself later (the durian here are already cut open so you just have to pull it apart). I ask for mine to be opened on the spot because I can’t wait to start eating it and I can eat an entire durian on my own, but be warned that once it’s open it starts to smell more.

UPDATE: From asking around, there is apparently another fruit seller that occasionally has durian during the off season. She is located on Jalan Raya Nyuh Kuning. Walk west along that road from Jalan Raya Pengosekan (the road that Jalan Hanoman becomes if you keep walking south), and you should see her stand. Depending on how much durian she has on hand, prices are significantly cheaper than those in Ubud market (like 10k or 15k rupiah per durian). I have not verified this personally as it’s quite far from where I’m staying, so I’m happy to pay an extra couple of dollars for convenience.

UPDATED UPDATE: My durian lady did not have durian today, but she assured me that she would have durian tomorrow. So I guess even she isn’t a sure thing.