The King Of Ducks

Many is the time all y’alls have heard me opine – and right in this very blog-space, too! – that Thailand is the weirdest place god made. No, I understand: on these occasions you ever and always did muse to your own selves, “Well, he’s employing hyperbole there, natch.” And so.

Here, if you need it, is the proof in the proverbial pudding, sure. Thailand is the weirdest place god made – full stop. (Keep an eagle-eye out for the guy in the black and red shirt, at the :49 mark, with the shit-eating grin on his face: he knows it’s the absurdest, but he daren’t say as much.)

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That’s from the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Chanthaburi World Durian Festival. Frankly, I’d appreciate it if somebody would send this footage to the god damned Pulitzer committee.

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Have been here in Chanthaburi for only three nights, but it feels like a year’s worth of fun good experiences have already been crammed into these few days.

The fruit-eaters descend like vultures upon Chanthaburi for the annual Durian Fest. And it’s deuce deliciously wonderful to share a space piled high with the best Durian Thailand has to offer among those farang who appreciate it the most. But this year, a handful of cooked-eaters of various stripe have also fallen into the orbit, adding a well-played frisson to the pot. In addition to which, among the raw-eaters is one who eats raw eggs and occasionally raw meat.

The discussions have been lively, what I’m trying to say. Scintillating, like. You drop a group of misfits and weirdos from all points of the globe into Durian Disneyland, get them all hopped on on quantities of same, shake it good and vigorously, and turn them loose. It’s kind of like Ghost World does Thailand.

The only shitty part is some great wonderful friends have already left Chanthaburi, and more are leaving in the next day or two. Well…if I’ve learnt anything from traveling, it’s that as soon as the coolest people you know leave some place that you are, they’ll immediately be replaced be another cohort every bit as cool. (You could almost call it the First Law Of Travel, is how goddam reliably common it is.)

So how’s the fruit? As previously reported, the Mangosteens are outrageously delish, though a tad bit expensive – if having the Queen Of Fruit for fifty cent a pound, when it’s eight dollar a pound back home (and crap quality at that) could be considered expensive. Longkongs are good, though I’ve not been eating as many as usual. Lychees are actually coming down in price; if they get much lower, I may have to dive back into their pool, having kind of resigned myself to having eaten my last of the season just moments before leaving Chiang Mai.

And the Durian… Don’t know whether it’s that I’ve been lucky, or that I’m actually getting pretty good at knowing what I’ll like, but I’m on a really great roll right now selecting primo fruits. Will spare, for the moment, the Durian Porn photography, as I feel I may’ve overdone it a bit two years ago. But if current trends hold up much longer, I fear I shan’t be able to resist.

“All well and good,” you may be wondering. “But what about some more reporting from the Festival?”

Agreed! Let’s have some.

Here’s another shot from the Opening Ceremony. Love how the photographers look bored outta their collective gourd.

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In addition to being the Durian capital of Thailand, Chanthaburi is also the gemstone capital of Thailand. So…

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On this same stage, to close out every evening (if I understand it correctly) is a different Thai Superstar musical act. On Saturday night, it was 7 Day Crazy. Kind of a ho-hum Rock band…

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…but their fans are the greatest, dancing and singing along to every song like as though it were the frickin’ Beatlemania.

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Three words — Punk…Fucking…Rock:

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The floats are quite eye-popping this year.

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The endless aisles and rows of vendors selling strange and unusual foods and/or trinkets and clothings are predictably silly. No idea who the guy is on the shirt, but I might be in love with him.

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Sure, it’s all Lies and Propaganda and Brainwashing. But I could’ve stood watching this magnificent harangue all the live-long day. I don’t even want to know what she’s saying. Only reason I didn’t keep recording her for three or four hours’ time is that, as you’ll see at the end, I was kinda interrupting the flow of traffic.

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Sunday night’s entertainment was marred by a big Dinner Buffet happening right in front of the stage.

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But the warmup act looked a major treat. Unfortunately, only caught the very tail end of it. Good enough to share even the tiny li’l clip, I guess. The headliner was another Rock-ish band; not terribly interesting.

So there’s a guy here called “Nong”. He lives on a small island in the middle of the river, and his mom owns a farm a little ways outside of town. He’s a bit of a fruit savant. If it’s to do with fruit, and Chanthaburi, he’ll know about it. And he can pound the Durian with the best of us. (How I failed to meet him two years ago, I know not.) He’s a gem-ster by trade, but also a budding Tour Guide.

So to-day, Monday, he took a group of us – myself, an American name of “Damien”, an Italiano name of “Giacomo”, a Canadian name of “John”, a Frenchman name of “Philippe”, and a Swisswoman name of “Lena” – on a trip around and about to visit a secluded waterfall/swimming hole, his mother’s farm, the Horticultural Research Centre, and a place called “Buddha Land”. Fucking great fun day of supremely delightful company and wondrously delicious fruit.

Owing to the unusually hot/dry conditions, the waterfall was little more than a tricklefall. Swimmin’-hole was nice and refreshing, though. Hell, the fish were even biting, too…as in, biting our feet. (They’re the same fish, apparently, used in the foot-massage tanks one sees scattered around here in the well-known Southeast Asian tourist-trap towns. Basically as annoying as being licked by a dog.)

Here, on Nong’s mom’s farm, is an immature Mangosteen. Beautiful, ain’t it? Just love the two colours, there.

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It was kinda like Easter Sunday walking through the orchards, ‘cause there were always fallen Mangosteens underfoot. Pick ‘em up and eat ‘em down, and…may as well lace up the tenny-runners and quietly wait for the Spaceship to arrive, because it won’t get any better than this! Sofuckinggood!

Here’s the peerless leader, eyeballing a Sapodilla tree.

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Unfortunately, they’re not yet ripe. The Longkongs are booming, however.

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There was only one of them ready to eat, but the Eggfruit was scary fucking delish.

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Never heard of this fruit before now – Bilimbi. It tastes very much like Rhubarb.

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The Banana leaves on the farm are enormous and gorgeous.

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Nong thinks this is possibly a Thai Ginger plant. Looks like an Alien form.

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Durian? Yes. Here’s Nong, in front of a two-hundred-year-old tree!

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In addition to the Chanthaburi farm, Nong’s mom also has a farm in Trat — from whence came this Chempedak.

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John (a Chempedak freak) thought this one a tad overripe, but I figured it for the best thing I et all day. Here, Nong begins hauling out the Durian before the Chempedak has even been finished off yet. John, Lena, and Damien are looking on.

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At the Research Centre, we walked the Nature Path in and amongst the many different fruits’ trees. Who knew there are eight different varieties of Rambutan? We were busy devouring many Mangosteens and fallen Durian…

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…but then somebody yelled at us and told us to cut it out. (Gotta admit, I had been wondering whether we were supposed to have paid an entrance fee, as much fruit as we were sampling.) Here I am, in Nong’s photo, juggling three Mangosteens and a Sapodilla, as Philippe looks on.

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Also gotta admit, crap crap shit that the Rambutan may be, it’s an open question which is the more photogenic – Durian or Rambutan?

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There are a bunch of residences on the grounds, one of whose was this friendly lady’s. She was hosing down the same patch of gravel for going on twenty minutes (seemed like). But, yeah: she’s 104 years old. Second Rule Of Travel: You ever meet a 104-year-old lady, you let her hose down the gravel for as long the fuck as she wants to!

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2014-06-02 - 153302Last stop was Buddha Land: buncha Buddhas and friends in an outdoor/jungle setting. Nice enough place through which to walk…

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…but it’s really just a very kiddie-pool facsimilie of Nong Khai’s almighty Sala Kaew Ku. It’s like – you know how, once you’ve been Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, every other amusement-park experience feels like bullshit by way of compare? That’s more less what it felt like visiting Buddha Land after having seen Sala Kaew Ku. Still, kiddie pools can be refreshing enough to sit during a socrching-hot day (which this day indeed was).

And that was that. Looking for fun, in Chanthaburi, during Durian season? Talk to Nong. He’ll hook you the fuck UP.

  • My photos here and here (same pics, two locations).
  • Nong’s photos here.

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As if all that weren’t enough, Monday night’s festival entertainment was hella goofy. But also quite good. This clip is parts of three different performances – but they all ran one after t’other; so you could see that it was a pretty diverse programme. Also, the dancing motorcyclists (rejects from the Village People, one presumes) at the very end provide a nice little dollop of icing on the Thailand-as-weirdest-location-in-the-Universe cake. The way the onlookers were reacting, you’d have thought the Big Brothers back in Bangkok had declared a General Pandæmonium.

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This dude. Guess he was some sort of mystic, or seer, or what have you. Well, he seems here to be setting up some kind of a magic trick. But I wandered by several times over the course of a few hours, and he always seemed to be either setting up some kind of a magic trick, or fucking around with the snakes, dragging them out of and/or into those damned boxes he’d got them all locked up in. Actually, I would like to know the gist of what the son of a bitch is on about, if anybody reading this speaks Thai…

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Finally, I’ve not considered Chanthaburi to be the most beautiful of locales (that’s where Luang Prabang and Kanchanaburi and Pokhara come in…). But on this night, at least, it really pretty much was. What you won’t see here are the lightning bolts flashing up the darkening sky. Alas, the rains they’d portent never did arrive.

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Phew! Days and nights in Chanthaburi filled with friends, fruit, fun, and sun. Too great! One problem, though: my dimpled ass is in need of some sleep. We’ll have to table ‘til a future date the discussion of the follies and funnies of the local Chanthaburian townsfolk…

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