The Great Durian Hunt through Thailand’s Floating Markets!

The hunt is on, everyone!

My mom is expecting me to pick her up in Incheon any minute, and I still haven’t found a durian to bring back to Master Sae for experimentation! Though not originally native to Thailand, durians are considered the King of Fruits here and come in 300 varieties. They are also so reviled that signs all over Bangkok say “No Durians Allowed!”

My trip to the jungle of Khao Yai and my expedition through the Cambodian countryside had yielded no durians. My last option was to go where there were lots of fruits for sale: the floating markets southwest of Bangkok!

Mu Sab, Pla, and I started off at the larger of two local floating markets, called Damnoen Saduak! Built in the late 1860s, this canal connected the Mae Klong and Tha Chin Rivers as part of King Rama IV’s infrastructure overhaul, since water transportation was more reliable than roads at the time! While roads ultimately made the canals obsolete, in 1971, Thailand’s Tourism Board made Damnoen Saduak a tourist destination, and boy, were there ever tourists!

The canal was jammed with boats, and the sides were packed with vendors! One of them had drugged a python and a loris for photos, which was horrifying! Before I could protest, Pla got us to jump on a boat to start pushing through the mob. There were noodle, soup, and fruit boats all around us, and then suddenly, I saw what I’d been looking for!

“One durian, please!” I called as the boat picked up speed, and quick as a flash, the vendor handed me a plastic container with a hunk of durian and two scoops of sticky rice! I’d only ever tried durian blended in a smoothie before, and I was surprised that fresh durian looks like a big, slimy, yellow grub! The smell is unforgettable, like a mix of old socks and rotten onions, but I was here for science! Since there was no way that this durian would last long enough to get back to Incheon, I took a bite.

Not for me! I struggled with the gooey texture and mix of sweet, savory, and pungent flavors that in no way reminded me of “rich custard highly flavoured with almonds,” as first described in 1856 by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Still, for the sake of science, I finished it off. The sticky rice made it much more bearable. Once it had gone down, I realized that I’d still failed to get a sample for Master Sae! The boats moved so quickly and the Floating Market closed so early that the durians were gone before we returned.

With Deadly Art #6 rumbling in my belly, we headed south to the next floating market on the Mae Klong River, called Amphawa, which stayed open much later.

Amphawa Floating Market market caters more to the locals, and unlike Damnoen Saduak, all shopping is done on the sides of the river instead of from a boat. Also unlike the larger Damnoen Saduak, which has a ton of souvenir stalls, Amphawa’s focus is on food: noodles, teas, spices, and tons of pla thu, the mackerel sold with its head bent down! Not to be confused with my friend, Pla One.

At last, I picked up a familiar scent. Lo and behold, a durian stall awaited me! In their whole form, the spiky durians were massive! I had no idea how I was going to get one back to Master Sae, especially since the smelly fruit wasn’t allowed on public transportation. Luckily, the stall keeper had some advice: freeze-dried durian is actually sold at the airport! That would be much easier! I gave her a “Kòp kun kráp” and a high wai, and we were on our way for the day.

To close out my final evening in Bangkok, I joined Pla, Mu Sab, Pakpao, Mr. Tung Ting, and Pla’s sister, Poo Pi (though she pronounces it like “toupee”), for dinner at the amazingly fancy Banyan Tree Hotel. Though Poo Pi showed up two hours late and Pakpao threatened Mr. Tung Ting with a fork if he didn’t behave, it was a lovely dinner with an excellent view and plenty of laughs around the table. I also learned a deep secret from Mr. Tung Ting:

“You know what ‘Mr. Tung Ting’ mean?”

I didn’t. He waved his hands like a bell.

“Ging ging ging ging ging!”

I was sad to leave this bunch, but they promised to come visit one day. The next morning, Mu Sab and Mr. Tung Ting took me to the airport for my return trip, first to Incheon and then to Los Angeles. Sure enough, there was durian aplenty for sale at the gift shops. Master Sae would be well satisfied, though I hoped he would use his newfound power of Durian Belch responsibly.

After a five-hour flight, I found them waiting for me at the Incheon airport. Mom was very excited to take her first international trip, and Master Sae was very excited to begin his studies on the magical fruit. Bidding Master Sae farewell until next time, Mom and I got aboard the plane for a trip to the faraway place I’d come to call home!

See you stateside!

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