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OUR FIRST TASTE OF DURIAN, THE WORLD'S SMELLIEST FRUIT, ON DURIAN ROUNDABOUT IN KAMPOT, CAMBODIA!

Updated: Apr 3, 2023


Welcome to Cambodia! We're starting here, in Krong Kampot - a small city in Southern Cambodia. Kampot was not actually somewhere we had planned to travel to: when Typhoon Noru hit Vietnam we had to change our route at short notice, which gave us a few extra days to spend in Cambodia. There were a few places to choose between, including beach resorts and more famous tourist hotspots, but in the end we went for a bit more of a wild card. We were drawn to Kampot for several reasons: its stunning lily pond; Climbodia (an outdoor climbing and caving centre); the world-famous Kampot Pepper plantations; and most of all, the monument in the centre of it all... Durian Roundabout!


So what actually is durian? Why the big fuss about this fruit?

Durian is a large fruit that grows in a prickly-looking green-brown husk, and is very popular throughout Southeast Asia. Once you've cut open the husk (or, if you're as unskilled as us, once you've had a professional slice it open for you), the creamy yellow pods inside are easily removed for and ready eating. Now, this fruit is legendary for its smell, and this was the main reason I had made it this far into the trip without eating any. The husk itself makes the fruit look pretty unappealing (it is actually named after the Malaysian word for 'thorn') but when you couple that with the legendary stench that it emits, you'll understand perhaps why I had so far steered clear.

The front of a restaurant with wooden signage and counter and the words 'greendot: eat green, feel good' illuminated in green and white
Durian! Banned on most public transport!

This is the very reason that the fruit is banned - in fresh and dried form - on most public transport and enclosed spaces in Southeast Asia. Even though durian is beloved by many in the region, its smell is potent and lingers long after the fruit has been whisked away. And how does it smell? I'd compare the scent to a mix of sour milk and rotting flesh; some people describe it as smelling like sweaty gym socks or sewage - just like the flavour, the smell seems to be that little bit different for everyone.


Regardless of this, durian is everywhere when you are travelling through Southeast Asia; you'll often smell it before you see it! It's so legendary that you'll see plenty of durian souvenirs too, from ornaments to cuddly toys, even coin purses (which I actually bought!)


How did we feel about trying durian?

Mike, who had actually tried durian before, was playing it very cool! But you have to remember, Mike also has no sense of smell. I have a very strong sense of smell, so let's just say I that was a little apprehensive about trying durian. Generally if something smells bad, I don't have a good track record of enjoying the taste (taste is approximately 80% smell after all!)


We had decided that we would try durian in the name of a) research, b) the blog and c) the cultural experience, but it was going to have to be somewhere special. When we saw durian roundabout, it was decided. If the fruit was so beloved here that there was an enormous, iconic monument to it, then this would have to be the place. This conclusion did not make me any less apprehensive though!


After deciding that we were going to try durian at Durian Roundabout, we thought we were all set... then ran into a bit of a problem. There seemed to be no durian in Kampot. We went to greengrocers, supermarkets, street stalls... everywhere we could think, and there was no durian, not even any durian flavoured things! This was so unusual, since almost everywhere else we had been in Southeast Asia there had been durian in abundance - the fruit itself, durian sweets, durian ice cream, durian smoothies... but in Kampot it was nowhere to be seen. We concluded that because the tourists were less prolific here, and it wasn't in season, it wasn't really profitable to get it shipped in.


A woman cuts a durian fruit open and places on weighing scales
Our durian being prepared

As a last ditch effort, we went back to the fruit and veg stall and (with the help of google translate and plenty of mime) asked the Cambodian shopkeeper if there was anywhere in Kampot where we would find the fruit. He deliberated for a while, then consulted with some friends... and eventually pointed us towards a stall that was about a half an hour walk away, near the hospital. Really - a half an hour walk for this stinky fruit?


After about forty minutes we found the stall - and paid an extortionate fee for a whole durian! Of course, if we had found it in a supermarket we would have been able to just buy a couple of pods but here we had to buy an entire fruit! Of course, we picked the smallest one but it was still huge! The price we paid was likely inflated significantly because firstly we were tourists, and secondly this was the only durian in Kampot! We should have haggled more, but honestly we were so relieved to actually find it (having spent most of the day searching), and even more relieved that she was willing to cut it up for us, that we paid it... and were suddenly the proud owners of a heavy box full of durian flesh. And my goodness, you could smell it.


So come on... tell us about the durian! How did it taste?

We've said a lot about the smell, but let's just take a moment to appreciate how weird this fruit actually looks. Once it's out of that big prickly husk, it the fleshy pods themselves look kind of like little aliens or some kind of big pupae or something. They're not exactly inviting to look at... but they must be really popular in the areas they grow in for a reason right? Certainly you get a lot of fruit from one durian, so if we liked it, we'd have fruit for the next few days! This was a heartening thought.


In a brave moment, I bit into the durian. The flesh itself was soft and kind of waxy, maybe even a little mushy, sort of like the texture of raw dough. The flavour though - it is strange to try such incredibly new and unfamiliar things in adulthood, and usually something I very much enjoy. But usually you can relate flavours to things you know. Durian was not like that. The best I can come up with, when it comes to relating the flavour of durian to the kind of tastes we find in the west is as follows. It tasted a little like custard, with a sweetness and a hint of vanilla, if that custard were to have a lot of garlic and raw onion flavour added to it. It really confused my senses: it was sort of sweet, but almost bitter and savoury at the same time. It was pungent and definitely packed full of flavour. The combination of flavour, texture and aroma were unlike anything I had ever even imagined before. It definitely won't be a part of my regular diet in the future, but knowing how legendary it is in Southeast Asia I am so pleased that I tried it - and in the right circumstances I would try it again, maybe in a dessert or as an ingredient in a dish, in the future too.


How much did this durian cost - and what did we do with the rest of it?

A green square of bánh cốm with the mung bean paste centre visible
A final look at our leftover durian before we donated it to a man and his son

We paid around $7.50 for our durian (approx. £6.22 or €7.05). This is pretty expensive; as mentioned before, the price is a combination of how big the fruit is, the fact that they were out of season, and that we didn't barter for it. It is always a pretty expensive fruit though: it takes some time to grow, and is quite a luxury item. If you only want a couple of pods, these are available in season and in more touristy areas for less.


When we decided that durian definitely wasn't our thing, we didn't want it to go to waste. So we spent some time on Durian Roundabout approaching locals to see if they wanted it to take the rest of it off of our hands. For a while there were no takers (whether this was because they didn't like the fruit, or whether being given free durian by two Brits was a little too strange) but eventually we came across a man and his son who gladly accepted our large quantity of leftover fruit. We hope they enjoyed it much more than we did!


If you want to see this iconic landmark for yourself, Durian Roundabout is located at 43, Krong Kampot, Cambodia.


Have you tried durian? Where did you try it and what did you think? Let us know in the comments below.



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The centre of Vienna with tall, historic buildings all around
Cambodia is full of magnificent views

Where should I stay?

When we were in Kampot we stayed at Monkey Republic hostel, in one of their private rooms. We found the hostel to be a really hip and peaceful - though there is a bar with a great menu, a pool table and a yoga studio, so you won't be stuck for things to do. It's cheap and conveniently located, and their newly renovated rooms look great!


For an even more relaxing experience, soak up the sun at Bohemiaz Resort, Gym and Spa. Situated a little outside of the city, Bohemiaz has pools, a Jacuzzi and sauna, spa treatments and a juice and cocktail bar. They offer private rooms, and have a restaurant on site offering some vegetarian and vegan options of Khmer and Western food.


Tours & Experiences

One of our favourite things we did in Kampot was our visit to La Plantation, a Kampot Pepper plantation that aims to improve the lives of local people through funding to education and housing.

If this isn't for you, or you'd prefer to see more in and around Cambodia, why not check out the top rated Viator trips below.


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