Diaries of a Durian Smuggler
This was not so much about me sharing the sweet custardy delight of durian with my loved ones back home. But more for the challenge and adventure of travelling with this notoriously stinky fruit, which is pretty much banned from public transport, hotels and airlines in Thailand. “No Durian Allowed”. And I really just thought it would be fun. So I guess it’s a bit like smuggling drugs, only a lot harder, given humans as well as dogs can sniff out its infamous stench. Although there is at least a lot less consequence if I get caught. Otherwise it’s more of a half-assed and haphazard attempt, with no real research or knowledge, other than knowing that durian stinks, and the longer it exists, the stinkier it gets. So through 5 days of travel, from Thailand to the U.K, things do get quite interesting.
The World’s Stinkiest Fruit
Travelling with durian is kind of stupid, to be honest, and people are generally wary of even short-trips along Bangkok skytrain lines, given it’s banned on most public transport. There there are the threats of fines which go up to $500 at times in some parts of Southeast Asia. Although never really heard of them being enforced in Thailand before. But the smell really is horrendous to some people, hence the saying “Durian Tastes Like Heaven but Smells Like Hell”. At the same time, I’m not so bothered by the smell of durian, as there’s much worse in Thailand, like dried squid, cha om, pla ra etc. However, I’m well aware of how pissed I’d be if someone sat next to me while stinking of stinky tofu (my Asian food nemesis). So I do plan to dump the durian as soon as it becomes overly offensive to others.
A Chanthaburi Monthong
There are various varieties of durian, each with different (although similar) seasons, and the fruits tend to be farmed only in certain provinces of Thailand. So, in this instance, I am travelling with probably the most common durian in the Kingdom, a Monthong (Golden Pillow) from Chanthaburi Province in Eastern Thailand. And you can see us buying bags of them, and opening them, in the video below. Only this time we had just grabbed one from a trusted durian seller nearby in Nang Rong town (Buriram). Anyway, I opted for a small durian, partly because it’s easier to pack, but it was also coming to the end of durian season (17th May) and durian were becoming more expensive in the area (120 Baht per Kilo).
Packing the Durian
Again, I had no real plan other than to keep it in its shell and to wrap it really well. So I was more or less aiming to seal it airtight, where, in theory, if air cannot get out, then neither can the smell. But first I would keep it cool in the fridge at our home in Isaan, until the night before travel (28 hours later), which is when I wrapped it. So first it was with the thick plastic bag it came in, then with an old t-shirt, to ensure the spiky exterior doesn’t tear through the rest of my wrapping. Then with roughly 5 more layers of plastic bags and sellotape. And the durian was sealed, the cabin bag was packed, and I had no plans on seeing it again until back in the U.K., 4 days later.
The Journey to Bangkok
This first stretch was going to be the easiest, when the bag goes into the undercarriage storage of the bus, for a 5-hour journey to Bangkok. And there’s really no worry up until Bangkok. But there was slight panic in the Bangkok taxi when I’m sure I smelt a whiff of durian along with the scents of the air freshener in the car. At the time I didn’t say anything, but then Fanfan whispered to me “I already smell durian”, and I am ready to dump it in the street before hotel check-in. But when opening the car boot, expecting a trunkful of stench, there really was no smell at all. So I guess the driver had his own durian stash somewhere in the car. Or maybe paranoia is getting the better of us.
“No Durian Allowed”
Many hotels impose fines on durian smugglers, or at least they deter them with signage and potential cleaning fees, alongside smoking and prostitution. “No Durian Allowed”. So I made sure to check the lobby, the lift, and the in-room rule book thing of our boutique hotel in Thong Lor. And there was no mention of durian. So we felt relatively safe for now. And we were able to go about our days without worry. At the same time, to be safe, I left the cabin bag in the bathroom, surrounded by the aromas of toiletries, and the buzz of the extractor fan. Note, we are only travelling with 1 cabin bag and 2 small backpacks, as we can easily travel light on long-hauls these days, with bases on both sides of the world. Also note, the cabin bag will be going as checked baggage.
2 Nights in Bangkok
So we had 2 nights in Bangkok, meaning we had to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door through our stay, while we were out exploring the newer attractions of Bangkok city. But, possibly through paranoia, or her acute sense of smell (she always knows when I’ve been on the booze), Fanfan was sure she could smell durian through the first night in the hotel. And I admit there was a smell, but I continually ensured her that it was the unnecessarily potent air freshener in the bathroom. But it was just obvious on the 2nd night, and we were in fear then of losing the security deposit at the hotel, or, at least, getting a call to our room complaining about the smells through the extractor fan. Otherwise, it was always the fines that worried me throughout this whole pointless adventure.
An Unfortunate Taxi Driver
I was still uncertain about whether or not the bag stank by now, as it had been masked by the fancy stinks of bathroom toiletries in the hotel. At the same time, I was kind of fighting Fanfan on the issue, because she thought the whole thing was dumb. So I admit I was stupid when I threw the cabin bag into the front passenger seat of the taxi, in a moment of laziness, so I wouldn’t have to ask the driver to open the boot. This journey was thankfully shorter, as we were more or less just moving to a more convenient hotel by the Ramkamhaeng airport express, ready for travel the next morning. So now it was in a confined space, with the air-conditioning blowing against it, and the driver did crank the window a couple of times along the way. Then Fanfan insisted on giving the poor guy a tip for not complaining.
So now I was certain the bag stank, and I had to be careful not to let people catch the smell for the remainder of the journey. But I was fairly sure it was all over at the 2nd hotel when realizing that the check-in doesn’t open until 15:00PM. Which meant I could either trail this bag around Bangkok for 3-hours, or to risk stinking out the hotel storage. But I am a risk taker at times, so I handed over the bag to storage, and we headed out for 3-hours. And while I expected to see the bag slung to the kerbside on my return, the hotel is fortunately relatively ghetto, and the must of the carpets probably outstank the durian. So the bag was delivered safely to the room. With no fuss.
One Last Night
So again the bag stayed in the bathroom overnight, inside the bathtub, with the air extractor on full blast. But there was no way now to get rid of the inevitable stench. At the same time, there was no big worry for the journey onwards that I could see. And while I never planned on opening the case before reaching the U.K., I realised my hoodie was inside, and I needed it for my flight and arrival at my first stop in London. So I opened the bag, and I messed around with the durian a bit, poking it and stuff. But there was no obvious stink from the wrapping, and it’s just the surrounding aroma that I can smell. So I let it air a bit in the bathroom before closing the bag again. And I was kind of thankful that my hoodie didn’t stink, given it was pretty much the only clothes I had for the U.K. weather ahead.
The Airport Express
The smell really wasn’t too bad the next morning, and I had no real worry on the Airport Express Train to the airport, knowing the staff don’t really care. At least they’re not going to start tearing through passengers luggage just to find a rogue fruit. And I have brought durian onto Skytrain lines before, opened and in loose bags, with no real bother at all. Because people buy and eat durian all the time in Thailand. But this was when I first started research durian on flights, and the first article I found was about a flight being grounded from Indonesia because of the stink of durian from its cargo. So it’s kind of exciting now. “Maybe I could ground a plane”. Although this is very unlikely/impossible with only one durian on board.
There is always the option to have luggage sealed and wrapped in cling film at Suvarnabhumi Airport, which I ignore, as I like to live life on the edge. But there are otherwise few ways of getting caught now, where Thai customs have very little interest of stinky fruits going out of the country, and the only point of interaction ahead was leaving the case at the baggage drop. And the chance of being pulled at luggage drop is next to none. So the only risk now is more on the opposite end, do customs and excise even allow durian for example (I still don’t know), and onward travel in the U.K. But I at least know there is no ban on durian on public transport in the U.K., simply because there is no durian there in the first place.
So I had 2 connecting flights, the first to London, and the next to Dublin, before I would take the bus up north to Belfast in Northern Ireland. And there is a fair journey still to go. But it otherwise felt complete at Dublin Airport, when the bag rolled around on the baggage carousel, and even more so when I stepped through the gates into the arrival hall. As the durian only had to go into the underneath baggage compartments for the final 2-hour bus journey to Belfast. But, at the same time, I did keep thinking “do I smell durian”. Anyway, I had my nephew pick me up in Belfast “bring some scissors”, and I made him close the car windows because it’s cold back home. But really to stink out the car with durian.
A Stinky Surprise
I remember my brother mentioning durian recently in random conversation. So I thought it would be nice to leave one on his doorstep in the middle of the night, with a message to his phone letting him know it had to be eaten it asap. As the durian had been on the road 5 days now. Anyway, the scissors I asked for from my nephew were to cut through the plastic bags. And when I did, the stink was so bad it had me dry heaving over the car bonnet, and the smell was like durian x 10. But the entire case also stank by now, and then my family home as well when I opened it in the front room. So all my clothes were straight into the wash, and anything else from the case was dumped into the garage. “Here’s your present dad. A durian stenched Buriram United shirt”.
Cheese and Onion?
I guess the durian itself was not so bad in the morning, because my brother brought it into his house, and he left it out in the kitchen. Despite me saying multiple times to leave it outside. He didn’t even put it in the fridge. So it took a day or two to air out his house. He also told me that the bottom of the durian is open, which is actually a sign that the durian is ripe, and it needs to be eaten. And of course it also makes the fruit much easier to open. So he did taste it, and, apparently, it wasn’t too sweet, and it tasted of cheese and onion, and my guess is the durian had gone off. But I did see it at a party 2-days later, and 7-days after it was bought in Nang Rong, where it had been left in a Tupperware tub on a windowsill outside. With a pail complexion and a weird liquid at the bottom. At least Lao Khao rice whiskey doesn’t go off so easy.
- ^ are various varieties of durian (www.yearofthedurian.com)
- ^ Eastern Thailand (www.live-less-ordinary.com)
- ^ Buriram (www.live-less-ordinary.com)
- ^ Bangkok taxi (www.live-less-ordinary.com)
- ^ attractions of Bangkok city (www.live-less-ordinary.com)
- ^ Ramkamhaeng (www.live-less-ordinary.com)
- ^ a flight being grounded from Indonesia because of the stink of durian (www.bbc.com)
- ^ final 2-hour bus journey to Belfast (www.bangorni.com)
- ^ Lao Khao rice whiskey (www.live-less-ordinary.com)