Vagabond Tales: Please check your durian at the door

I recently witnessed something strange while checking into a Bangkok hotel room.

In a city that’s infamous for its sex tourism and is one of the undisputed party hot spots of Asia, there are any number of hotel activities I’m sure you would consider forbidden. Having fruit, however, probably isn’t the first one you would have guessed.

While checking into a room not far from Khao San Road, I witnessed a man being sternly told that he could not bring his fruit into his hotel room. Seemingly preposterous, this wasn’t just any old fruit, it was a durian, and not everyone in these parts is particularly fond of the durian.

Though we have recently reported here at Gadling on one blogger’s process of learning to love the durian, I never before had witnessed someone actually being turned away from a hotel room for mere possession of the fruit.

Native to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, a durian sort of looks like a coconut–if a coconut were to be used for torture. Covered in horrific looking spikes, it’s not the look of the durian that has turned people away from it, but rather, it’s the smell.

While there’s no arguing the exquisite taste of durian meat, the smell of this “forbidden fruit” is so unbelievably rancid explorers for hundreds of years have been commenting on its malodorous flesh. The 19th century British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace commented while in Borneo “there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes.”

Cream-cheese and onions? Yeah, I don’t want that in my hotel either.

Ultimately though, although it may be stinky, it’s not like the durian is actually dangerous or anything.

Or is it?

While many Southeast Asian vendors claim that the durian meat is exceptionally healthy for you, some recent events seem to suggest there are numerous ways durian might actually kill you. In 2010, a Malaysian politician was rushed to the hospital and nearly died after consuming four different varieties of durian. Similarly, in neighboring Indonesia three people did actually die when they partook in a fatal lunchtime cocktail of durian meat and distilled liquor.

Meanwhile, it’s rumored that you can kill a man simply by throwing a durian at his head.

So what ever became of the man and his forbidden fruits? He was forced to check them at the door, lest he be levied a fine of 1000 Baht ($33) for infesting the room with his fruit. In a hotel lobby teeming with massage girls, prostitutes, drunk backpackers, and a hippie who you just know had drugs on him, I feel there may have been bigger issues at hand than one man and his stinky fruit.

But after all, this is Thailand, and the “King of Fruits” deserves to be taken seriously, for better, or for worse.

Love travel tales? Follow the rest of the Vagabond Tales series here.

[Photo: Flickr; Marc van der Chijs]