The floods in Thailand have caused a lot of disruption in education, tourism, commerce, industry, agriculture and other sectors of society. As my neighbors have told me - it's been a once in a lifetime event. However, I am just curious as to what the implications could be on the district where I live now and the product it was once known for.
Pak Kret is one of the five districts of Nonthaburi. It's a commercial area with several furniture and garment factories, only 15 kilometers north of Bangkok. Travelling by bus, it's approximately 30-45 minutes on the expressway depending on the traffic. Pak Kret is noted for exquisite and unique pots but it's also renowned for its biggest exhibition arena and convention center - The Impact Arena. Another well-known place to tourists and local enthusiasts alike is Koh Ket Island. Anyone can take a two-minute boat ride to the island, visit the museum housing the relics of the province, see the temple, buy local food and souvenirs, dine at cozy restaurants overlooking the Chaopraya River, bike around the island, and if you are very lucky - catch a live open-air concert!
Although Pak Kret is noted mainly for its pots, it once had acres of sumptuous durian plantations and was known as the Land of the Queen of Fruits. My American friend who has lived in Thailand for more than 30 years and also my Thai friends who have spent all their lives in Pak Kret, all call it ‘The Land of the Durian'
An old Thai woman from Pak Kret calls the area The Fruit Basket of Nonthaburi. The district used to supply the entire province with its daily consumption of bananas, mangoes, oranges, mangosteens and pineapples. When modernization came, foreign investors and real estate developers offered millions of baht to orchard owners. Buyers turned it into a land of condos and housing estates. Land was swallowed up by real estate development and little remained for the traditional fruit growers.
When I visited Koh Ket Island recently, I had an opportunity to talk to an 80-year old woman who owned a reasonable size orchard growing mangoes, lychees, rambutan, and durian. She said she could offer me any fruit in season but not durian. I was puzzled. Why couldn't she give me even one durian? It turned out that her durians had already been pre-ordered. This means while the fruit is still young, buyers had already given money for down payment and some had been even paid in full. What a great way to earn money!
I thought it was only in the Philippines where a certain fruit called lanzones are sold while they are still hanging on the branches. This lady's durians cost 1,000 to 1,500 baht each depending on size. Who was paying that much I thought? My curiosity turned to disbelief. How could a smelly and spiny fruit cost that much?
In order to find out the truth about durian, I asked the Thai teachers at my school and they confirmed it was true. In fact, there are even durians that can sell for as much as 5,000 baht a piece. Who would eat a 5,000 baht durian? It must be so special and really tastes like no other durian.
The common durian comes from places as far afield as Rayong, Chantaburi, Thonburi, Trat, and Prachunburi. I really wanted to find outmore about this intriguing fruit, I searched on the internet and an article or two confirmed that there are varieties of durian that are really expensive. Kaan yao (long stem) the most delicious, costs 7,000 a piece and Monthong (golden pillow) about 5,000 a piece.
Buyers of these pricey varieties often give them as presents to their bosses or their boss' wives. To quote one expert - "Those who buy the most expensive durians don't eat them. Those who eat the most common variety do not buy them"
The 1985 floods are another reason why durians are not planted anymore in Pak Kret anymore. After the flood, fruit growers no longer planted durians because they don't grow in dirty water. Fungi in the water attacks the roots and affects the fruit. As one fruit grower told me - "It is cheaper to buy durian from the market than to grow it"
Now I know why there aren't durian trees in the place once known as "Land of the Queen of Fruits."
Before I end, let me share a joke which my American friend told me. A pilot in Bangkok was called by his boss to fly a cargo plane to Hong Kong the next morning. The cargo was pigs and durians. Although an unpleasant task, as a dedicated pilot, he agreed to do so. But on his arrival at the airport, his boss told him that the flight had just been cancelled. The pilot asked why, and his boss said. "Because the pigs refused to fly with the durians."
If you haven't tasted durian, give it a try. Look for the Kaan Yao or Monthong variety. Although they cost a fortune, they will be worth trying. Who knows? You might develop a taste for them. If you ask me if I have I tasted durian then the answer is yes.. I first tasted durian here in Thailand and now I love its succulent taste - despite its pungent smell.
Durians may well be banned on planes and in hotels, but I'll tell you this. Before I leave Thailand for good, I must taste the Kaan Yao or Monthong variety. If you've got one, ‘Pom chim dai mai?" (Can I have a taste?)