Come see the sweet and savoury side of Nonthaburi
Bangkok's suburban neighbour is home to orchards that grow several varieties of delicious dates and durian as well as public parks to burn off the calorie-dense fruits
Yellow, red and orange-brown are the colours of ripe dates available in Suan Inthaphalum Preecha, or the Date Plantation of Preecha, in Nonthaburi's Pak Kret district, a short drive from Bangkok.
"I am the pioneer in planting date palms in Nonthaburi. I've grown more than a dozen date varieties on a 50 rai area for seven years," said Preecha Thamchuchaowarat.
Preecha, 83, has green fingers. He planted many types of trees before expanding to date palms in 2014. On his 108 rai site today, he segments areas to farm chuanchom (Adenium obesum), or impala lily plants, date palms and frangipani trees for sale.
"After the palm trees started to bear fruit, my staff posted pictures on our Facebook. We received a lot of requests from customers to visit our farm. They wanted to see the real date palms and fresh fruits, so I decided to open my plantation for visits last year," he said.
From left: Bunches of ripe Barhi dates; Khunaizi dates; The sweet Um Ed Dahan dates.
Visitors to his orchard will see rows of date palms growing along both sides of the road leading to a visiting area. The trees contain heavy fruit bunches allowing visitors to take pictures up close. Inside an open-air hall, an L-shaped booth sells dates next to the rest area. Visitors can sample different varieties before deciding to buy.
"Among the dozens of varieties that we grow, four are popular. The most famous one is the Barhi date, which is yellow. The second variety is Khunaizi, which is red. The third one, Um Ed Dahan, has an orange-brown colour. I like it the most because it is the sweetest," Preecha said, adding that the last variety is G2. The fruits will be ripe soon.
Preecha's son handed me a sample bag that had been prepared for every visitor. Inside were six fresh dates, two from each of the three varieties. I did not dare to open my mask in public. I tasted them later and knew why Preecha and his son liked Um Ed Dahan the most. All the varieties were crunchy but the Dahan variety was the sweetest, while Barhi was the least sweet among the three. The Barhi and the Khunaizi dates have a little bitter taste at the tip of the fruits.
Ripe dates come in 500g and 1kg packages. Prices start from 250-350 baht for 500g.
"The sweetness of Dahan dates is about 40 brix," he said. This means a Dahan date has a high sweetness of 40% of its weight.
Apart from fresh fruits, the orchard offers various hot and cold drinks mixed with dates in its coffee shop. They serve brewed coffee and tea with dates, date smoothies and cold date drinks. They also offer date syrup, but not dry dates. Preecha says it is best to taste the fruits fresh.
Last year, the farm produced about 50 tonnes of dates. They plan to offer more this year.
Since tourism is still new to the orchard, it is still working on facilities such as a platform for visitors to be able to take pictures among date palms without getting their shoes dirty. The plantation also offers date seedlings as well as chuanchom or impala lily plants and frangipani trees.
I left the orchard and headed to Suan Ta Kan, one of the old durian orchards in the province. The site is open as a learning centre to preserve durian varieties that have grown in Nonthaburi for centuries.
A resident is exercising at Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park.
Locals relax in Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park. The park also has a walkway along the Chao Phraya River. It is a good place for taking photos of the Maha Chesadabodindranusorn Bridge during twilight.
The multi-tier structure built on the pond is Wiman Saran Nawamin, one of the landmarks of Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park.
The concrete road leading to the orchard was quite narrow and a little far from the Ratchaphruek-Nonthaburi road. I drove past farmlands flanked by big houses. While following Google Maps, I wondered if it really led me to the right place. Then I saw a little green signboard near the end of Bangkrang 63/1-3 alley, directing me to Suan Ta Kan.
Adisorn Shimnoi, the orchard owner, told me that he had visitors daily. Some people travelled from the North, Northeast and South. Most of them visit his orchard to buy durian seedlings. He has about 50 durian varieties. Apart from the well-known monthong, kan yao and chani, many varieties I had never heard of such as kampan ta phae, med nai yai prang, chorakhe, kob ta tao and kob phikun.
"I also give my customers advice. I want them to succeed in growing durian trees in their orchards," he said.
While I visited his farm in the late afternoon, visitors kept arriving. When a customer expressed an interest to buy monthong seedlings, he immediately asked them where they live. It was not because he would deliver the plants. It was for him to decide if he would sell the plants to the customers or not.
"If they live in some places that do not have suitable conditions for growing durian trees such as in Don Muang and want to buy my durian seedlings, I'll tell them not to. It is because the seedlings will die. Even in Nonthaburi, not every place can grow durian. The king of fruits can grow well only in four out of six districts including Muang, Bang Yai, Pak Kret and Bang Kruai," he said.
Some customers will not be pleased with his answer but he insists that he does not want them to lose money, although he sells his durian seedlings for 250-300 baht only.
Boonta Flowers and Cafe offers visitors refreshments. The shop also offers online orders for customers who want to buy beautiful bouquets from their nurseries. (Photos © IG/ Boonta Flowers and Cafe)
Adisorn is the fourth generation of his family that owns the durian orchard on their original farmland. He opened a 7 rai site, with a portion dedicated to be the learning centre. He can arrange workshops for those who want to grow durians for a living or as a hobby. The learning centre was built after 100 durian trees on the farm were destroyed during the great flood of 2011.
"Fortunately, I grafted all the Nonthaburi durian varieties grown in our orchard before the incident. I normally do that because our farm sells seedlings. They were planted on a farm in Chumphon. After the flood, I bought them all back and grew them here so I am certain that the durian varieties we have today originated from Nonthaburi," he said.
After the flood, he distributed about 10,000 durian seedlings to farmers in Nonthaburi for free to help preserve local varieties.
Durian in Nonthaburi are known as the most expensive in the country. (Two years ago, a kan yao durian in an orchard in Muang district made history when it was sold for 1.5 million baht.) Adisorn said Nonthaburi durians were so expensive because people give the value to their long history.
"Durians have grown in Nonthaburi since the Ayutthaya period. It shows that the area is suitable for growing the fruit tree. In addition, durians are harvested when they are ripe. The level of sweet and custard-like flesh is much better than making the fruits ripe in a warehouse," he said. Apart from the quality of soil and water, his durian trees are grown on an integrated farm, which helps improve the taste, he said.
Adisorn Shimnoi, right, and his son with dozens of durian seedlings in the family orchard.
Adisorn, right, greets a customer next to the learning centre. The structure was made from 100 durian trees lost in the 2011 floods. Each wooden plank is about 2.5cm thick.
A green bike lane inside Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park. The lane extends to the local street.
An expressway running over the edge of the pond in Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park. On the right is the futsal court built over the water.
Suan Ta Kan also has its own durian variety.
"Kob phikun is a variety that I'm proud of. It was created by my great grandfather. It has yellowish flesh like the colour of dok champa [Michelia champaca] flowers and the texture is very smooth," he said.
If you want to try durian from Suan Ta Kan, you have to wait until next May to June.
A short drive from the farm is Boonta Flowers & Cafe, a coffee shop that decorates its space with beautiful flowers. The shop is open for takeaway so I ordered a scoop of Horlicks ice cream, which is made of white malt. It had a pleasant fragrance and is creamy. The flavour is so popular that the shop launched a cold Horlicks drink. The shop also has pastries and cakes adorned with edible colourful flowers.
Before sunset, I went to two public parks. One is Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park in Muang district and the other is Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park in Pak Kret district.
The entrance of Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park is located on Chalerm Phrakiat 13 and close to Wat Chalerm Phrakiat. The park was built by the Treasury Department with a budget of 900 million baht. It aimed to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great in 1996.
Located on a 100 rai site along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the park is a showcase for local plants including durian trees. It is a popular park for locals and quite busy in the late afternoon.
My last stop was Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park. It was built to commemorate the 80th birthday of Princess Srinagarindra in 1980. The park however was constructed in 1983 and completed in 1993. It is located on a 102 rai site including a huge 69 rai pond. Two years ago, Pak Kret Municipality decided to build two connecting futsal courts over the body of water not far from Gate 2 of the park. It invested 59 million baht for the project. The facility opened last year but it is now closed due to the pandemic.
I walked around the park until the end of the day. The Sun was gradually disappearing. The blue sky turned orange. It was time for my last stretch before heading home.
- Date Plantation of Preecha is open daily from 9am to 5pm. There is no admission fee. Visit its Facebook at bit.ly/3hxKsBv or call 081-309-6086 and 087-320-5009. The fresh fruits will be available until the end of this month.
- Suan Ta Kan or the Learning Centre for the Conservation of Nonthaburi Durian Varieties is open daily from 8.30am to 4.30pm. There is no admission fee. For more information, visit duriannon.com or call Adisorn Shimnoi at 089-812-6539.
- Boonta Flowers and Cafe is open daily from 11am to 5am on weekdays and open until 6pm on weekends. For more details, visit facebook.com/boontaflowersandcafe or call 081-845-0018.
- Chaloem Kanchanaphisek Park is open daily from 5.30am to 7pm. Visit Facebook.com/ChaloemKanchanaphisekPark for more information.
- Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park is open daily from 5am to 8pm. Visit pakkretcity.go.th/ssd for more details.