Durian Hunter

May - June 2018
Because we were unable to get away last winter, we decided we would head back to Thailand at the height of their fruit season. Durian, mangosteen, mango, papaya, rambutan and lychee are beckoning and we're going to answer their call.
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  • Day 1

    On The Road Again

    May 16, 2018 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Vancouver is so beautiful and the weather is so perfect at this time of the year, leaving her is not an easy thing to do. Nonetheless, the lure of bountiful amounts of seasonal, perfectly ripe, tropical fruit is strong enough to draw these two vegans half way around the world to Thailand.

    Every time Brenda and I visit Thailand over the winter months, our friends who live there go on endlessly about how much better the fruit is in May and June. According to one of our acquaintances, the winter mangoes, which we find succulent and delicious, are so tasteless she refuses to buy them.

    Last winter we were unable to leave Vancouver while the renovations to our condo, which were scheduled to be completed by October 31, dragged on well into the New Year. Being deprived of our annual escape from Canadian winters, we decided we'd switch things up this year and do a warm weather getaway.

    The plan is to spend a couple of days in Bangkok, where we'll celebrate Brenda's birthday, then travel south to Koh Samui to spend a week on the beach and then slow travel north around the gulf of Thailand up into the area known as Thailand's fruit bowl. All the exotic tropical fruits mentioned earlier will be at the height of their season and we can't wait to gorge ourselves on the king and queen of fruit, durian and mangosteen. We're hoping that our hotel won't have any restriction on bringing the notoriously odorific durian into our room, as is often the case in many areas of Asia.

    So off we go to YVR for our 10:35 flight to Bangkok with stops in Seattle and Tokyo. We'll arrive in Bangkok Thursday evening at 11:00PM after losing 14 hours in time zone changes. A long trek, but it'll be well worth it.
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  • Day 2

    Next Stop Bangkok

    May 17, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    And just like that it's 5:00PM tomorrow. When you lose sixteen hours to time zone changes it's amazing how fast the day goes by.

    A three hour layover in Tokyo before we fly off on the 6.5 hour last leg of this trip to Bangkok. Next time maybe we'll skip the $600 YVR deal and spend a couple of hundred more bucks for a more direct route.Read more

  • Day 1

    Hurry Up and Wait

    May 16, 2018 in Canada ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    International fliers have to show up at the airport at least two hours prior to departure time. Brenda and I arrived at YVR at 8:30 and, with our Nexus cards, breezed through customs in 15 minutes. By 9:00 we'd browsed through all the duty free shops, Desigual and Eddie Bauer and located the Timmy's. Now we're just sitting around as I nurse my large coffee and update my blog.

    I would have preferred an extra hour of sleep.
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  • Day 1

    So Lucky

    May 16, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    When we arrived in Seattle we thought we'd ask if there were any exit or bulkhead row seats available for our long flight to Tokyo. Not only did we get bulkhead seats, we didn't have to pay anything extra for them. I love it when a plan works out. And so we decided to celebrate with a cup of the local brew.Read more

  • Day 2

    One More Stop

    May 17, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    And just like that, it's 5:00 PM tomorrow. It's amazing how quickly the day goes by when you lose sixteen hours to time zone changes.

    Now we have to sit around Tokyo airport for three hours while we wait to embark on the last leg of this marathon flight to Bangkok. I'm everything goes according to plan, we'll arrive there at about 11:00PM local time. That means we'll have been travelling fir a total of about twenty six hours when touch down.

    Maybe next time we'll forego the YVRdeal and spend the extra couple of hundred bucks on a more direct route.
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  • Day 3

    The Hunt Begins

    May 18, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Our flight touched down in Bangkok at around 10:50 last night, roughly twenty minutes ahead of schedule. By the time we cleared customs and made our way to our hotel, it was well past midnight and we both pretty much collapsed into bed and hope to sleep through until mid-morning. Unfortunately, despite the fatigue, our circadian rhythms had other plans for us and we had a fairly fitful nights rest with both of us awakening before 7:00.

    We had hoped to go for the fruit buffet at the Baiyoke Hotel, which we visited and quite enjoyed a couple of years ago, but they were all booked up today. Brenda had seen adds for a durian festival happening at the huge Central World mall, so we opted to go there instead. For 459฿ each (about $18.00 Cdn)we were offered all-you-can-eat-in-an-hour durian, mangosteen, rambutan, mango, langsat, sapodilla and young coconut. Because there were so many people at our 1:00 sitting, the organizers extended our time allotment to 90 minutes! Despite our best efforts, after seventy minutes of gorging ourselves, we had to call "no mas" and throw in the towel.

    We then explored the farmers market that was next to the event, where something we've never seen before occurred. We turned down almost all the store d'oeuvres we were offered!!! There was simply no more room left in our fruit filled bellies. We did, however see some of the largest and most beautiful mangoes ever. The Mahachanok variety was so vibrantly colored it looked like artificial fruit. The Red Mangoes were bigger than my hand.

    Now, nearly two hours later, I'm still stuffed, Brenda is sleeping off her gluttony and I believe I'll be burping durian until tomorrow morning.

    Today is Brenda's birthday and I had planned on going out for a nice dinner with her. But the way things are looking now, maybe we'll just go down to the hotel bar and have a glass of bubbly.

    The best laid plans of mice and men.....
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  • Day 5

    Koh Samui

    May 20, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    Both days we spent in Bangkok saw sudden severe, but short lived, thunderstorms pass through the city accompanied by torrential rains. I got caught out in one of them Thursday morning and had to hide under shelter for about twenty minutes while waiting for the rains to subside.

    Just before we left Bangkok, another storm came through so we decided we'd taxi to the airport rather than risk getting soaked on public transit.

    As a result, we once again arrived at the airport well ahead of our departure time and had lots of time to browse through the shops.

    The flight to Surat Thani is a short sixty five minutes, but it's followed by a ninety minute shuttle bus ride to the ferry, a 1:45 hour ferry ride to Koh Samui and a final 45 shuttle ride to our hotel. In the end, we arrived at our hotel at 8:30PM, tired and hungry. We went out for a bite to eat and I had the spiciest bowl of Jungle Curry I've ever eaten. Despite washing it down with a couple of bottles of Chang beer, I was sweating bullets and literally crying from the heat. That's the last time I request the spicy version of anything in this country.

    After the blistering in my mouth had subsided and my vision had returned, Brenda and I went to our favorite massage place, Golden Hands, for a one hour foot massage. It was so relaxing I dozed off a couple of times only to awaken myself snoring. Embarassing.

    Sunday morning we went off in search of fruit at the local fresh market and brought back some of our favorite Thai baby bananas, some succulent pineapple, some jackfruit and a bunch of mangoes. The durian here is still quite pricey at 160฿/kg (about $3.00 cdn/lb) so we passed on it this morning. But who knows, we may succumb to temptation by the end of the week.

    In the evening, two of the main streets were closed off to traffic for the Sunday walking market, which had all manner of stalls with the vendors selling food, clothing, knock-off electronics and handbags and every souvenir imaginable. We ended up filling our bellies on various local specialties, but, being good vegans, we gave the crispy crickets a pass.
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  • Day 8

    Does It Get Any Better?

    May 23, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    We're now into Day 5 on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui. We've settled into a nice little routine that starts with a good sweaty workout at a non-air conditioned gym across from our hotel. It's kinda like running on a treadmill in a sauna. Unfortunately, there's no safe place to run outside, but with no aircon this gym gives you pretty much the same experience. On the plus side, there's usually only me and Brenda and a British couple using the facilities so we have full access to all the equipment.

    Our hotel has been quite a treat. The air conditioner in our first room didn't work very well and the front desk very kindly moved us into the room next door which had an air conditioner with only two settings: Off and Antarctica. But with the heat and humidity outside, we were quite happy to walk into a frigid room and snuggle up under the covers at night.

    When Brenda booked this hotel she asked me if I wanted to spend an extra $10.00 a night and get the upgraded room with the balcony and sitting area. I figured we'll only spend a small amount of time in the room, so we should go with the cheaper room. As it turned out, two days ago we were told we were being upgraded to the superior room because some plumbing repairs had to be performed to the room we were occupying. Score! The new room is much nicer, larger an has a big balcony complete with a patio set and rocking chairs. Next time we'll pay the $10.00 extra.

    The weather has been quite unpredictable. The only constant is the temperature which is always anywhere from 28°-36°C and the high humidity. But the winds can pick up quite quickly and blow in big black rain clouds in a matter of minutes.

    To avoid getting sunburned, along with SPF 40 sunscreen, we've been staying away from the beach until 3:00 PM, when the sun begins to lose a little of its strength. Sadly, the last two days have seen very cloudy afternoons with sporadic rain, which has kept us off the sand. Today we decided to get out early and were laid out in the bright sunshine by 10:00AM. And it's a good thing we did because by 11;30 the wind picked up and blew in a storm from sea. We just had time to pack our things and barely make it back to the hotel before the skies opened.

    We've been gorging ourselves on some very delicious fruit including luscious mangoes, juicy lychees, bright red watermelon (complete with seeds) and Brenda's favorite, jackfruit. We've also had three or four different varieties of bananas, one small but perfect papaya and one decent durian. The best price we've seen for durian is 130฿/kg ($236/lb) so even a smallish one cost us about $13.60. We've decided that the pleasure bang for your baht is much higher with mangoes, so we're going to wait until we get to Rayong to buy any more of the king of fruit.

    We've dined at three really good vegan restaurants in walking distance to our hotel. The best by far is Vegetarian Time, which is run by a little old Buddhist Thai lady. When we first went there she was seated at a table and explained she had been away for a while and had only returned to Koh Samui that day. There was no menu and she proposed a few dishes before she declared, "I order for you!". OK then. Well, we weren't disappointed. A huge plate of corn fritters was placed in front of us, followed by a mound of rice for each of us, a gigantic serving of stir fried morning glory and another of mixed stir fried vegetables. The entire time we were eating, the owner, Tim, chatted away to us and kept us thoroughly entertained. There was so much food we literally could not finish it all. I only thought to take a photo of all the dishes just as we were finishing up, thus the empty plates in the picture. The whole feast, including two bottles of water cost us 200฿ ($8.00CDN). We returned yesterday and had an equally good veg stir fry and rice for the same price. I suspect that no matter what or how much you eat, Tim will charge you 200฿. During her discussion with us yesterday she offered to drive us out to see the Big Buddha on the next sunny day. It looks like we won't be able to take her up on her offer today, but maybe we'll be luckier tomorrow.

    We've also been frequenting our favorite massage parlor, which is just around the corner from our hotel. While we were there yesterday the owner invited us to attend her birthday party tonight. She also owns a restaurant and has invited thirty or forty friends to celebrate there with her.

    Koh Samui is much quieter at this time of the year than it is during the winter months. The beach is uncrowded and there's always room in restaurants, bars and massage shops. Despite the less than perfect weather, it's actually much more pleasant under these circumstances.

    Wonderful food, fabulous fruit and delightful people. And, oh yeah, really cheap beer. What more could you ask for?
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  • Day 11

    Goodbye Samui

    May 26, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    On our last day on Koh Samui how could we do anything but return for one more meal with Mama Tim? As on our two previous visits there was no menu offered, but Mama Tim informed us she had soup available, so, of course, we ordered a bowl along with a plate of Pad Thai. The noodle soup was a vegan version of Tom Yum filled with noodles, vegan fish balls and tofu. The Thai flavours were all there in perfect balance and the spice level was enough to satisfy my desire for some heat, but mild enough that Brenda could also enjoy it. The Pad Thai was good, although I have had better. Mama Tim even admitted it's not her number one dish.

    While we were eating, the skies opened and, uncharacteristically, the rain persisted for about two hours. Normally these downpours last less than half an hour yet this one just kept on coming. Torrents of water were rushing down the street in front of the restaurant and, faced with a two kilometer walk back to our hotel, we waited around for the rain to subside. In the meantime Mama Tim chatted with us, gave us tea and coffee and basically made us feel like family.

    When the rain had let up enough for us to leave, Mama Tim offered to drive us back to our hotel. We declined her generous offer, said our goodbyes and promised to visit her again the next time we come to Samui.

    Oh yeah, for the record, our bill for a great meal and a wonderful afternoon with this delightful woman was 120฿.
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  • Day 12

    Buses, Ferries and Automobiles

    May 27, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We left our hotel at 6:00 this morning to make our way to our next destination, Ban Krut. Getting there has turned out to be a fairly complicated process.

    The first thing we did was book our rail tickets from Surat Thani train station to Ban Krut through a travel agent. Strangely, no one we spoke to on Samui seemed to have ever heard of Ban Krut. The travel agent actually tried to sell us a ticket to Hua Hin, a larger city about 140 kms north of Ban Krut and suggested we bus back down. Fortunately we knew the train stops in Ban Krut on the way to Hua Hin and, in the end, she got us our booking on the 10:40 train.

    Samui is an island and so one must ferry to the mainland before going anywhere. The ferry leaves on the hour from Nathong pier, about 25 kilometers from our hotel. To ensure we got to the pier in plenty of time to buy our tickets for the 7:00 am ferry, we booked a 6:00 taxi through the hotel.

    The ferry ride to Donsak pier takes ninety minutes which, if it arrives on schedule, will get us there at 8:30 and leave us two hours to make our train.

    Of course, the ferry docked about ten minutes late, so we rushed into the station and learned there is no means of transport to the train station. The clerk suggested we bus into Surat Thani town and take a taxi to the train station. So we bought bus tickets to take us the 69 kms into town. According to Google maps, we should arrive by 10:15. The pressure is definitely on.

    This is beginning to feel like an episode of the Amazing Race. I want to be screaming at the bus driver, "Fast, fast! Go fast, fast!"

    Please don't make me eat monkey brains when I get to town.

    Our coach arrived at the bus station at 10:00, but we still had to make our way to the train. Of course, we had no idea how far that might be and, in keeping with Murphy's law, my offline maps app I downloaded stopped working. The dispatcher at the bus station told us we have to hurry if we want to make our train and offered to provide us with a taxi for 400 baht, which we thought was outrageous (even though we didn't know where we were going). In the end, we negotiated a tuktuk ride for 300 baht, which got us to our train with 15 minutes to spare.

    The train pulled out of Surat Thani at 10:42 with an estimated arrival in Ban Krut of 2:19. The coach was comfortable enough and very well air conditioned, except for the loo, whose window was wide open. Good for ventilation, but a little strange to have the wind blowing in your face as you go about your business.

    Unlike our national airline that doesn't even serve peanuts on a cross-Canada flight, every passenger was given a hot meal of rice, spicy mackerel and stir fried chicken. Ok, not much there for us vegans, but the thought was nice.

    Despite Thai Rail's reputation for unreliability, we arrived in Ban Krut at 2:21, only two minutes behind schedule. Shortly after we got off the train a motorcycle with a large side car pulled into the station's parking lot and brought us to our hotel for only 60 baht.

    After checking in and unpacking we explored the surrounding a little and had dinner at a restaurant just in front of our hotel. Unfortunately, the view was much better than the food, but I'm certain we'll find some hidden treasures before we move on to Rayong.

    All in all it was a pretty good slow travel day and we're both looking forward to exploring the town in more depth tomorrow.
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