ANN/THE PHONM PHEN POST – Cambodia’s first durian buffet, at Prey Lang farm in Sandan district of Kampong Thom province, opened for three days from June 17-19.
Customers could enjoy durian and explore the farm. The opportunity was obviously attractive, as it attracted more than 500 people, said farm owner Ros Sophal.
Each customer paid KHR30,000 for the durian buffet. In addition, Coca Cola and water were offered. Most importantly, visitors sampled natural durian in the cool surroundings of the six-hectare farm in the 99 village of Meanrith township.
Sophal explained to the Post the goals of hosting the buffet at his farm. “When I look at the market price of Cambodian durian, I was doubtful that I could make much profit. It was really important for me to let people know that even though it is grown locally, we produce quality fruit. “It was also a great way for the public to learn about Kampong Thom’s farms. Kampot’s durian farms are better known than ours, but now that people have had a taste of ours, that may change,” said- he declared.
“I also wanted people to recognize that farmers don’t just need to know how to grow produce, they need to know how to market it,” he added.
The plantation owner, who currently works for a foreign organization related to natural resource conservation, said the idea of hosting a durian buffet was his own idea.
He was inspired by the seafood buffets he had seen in Phnom Penh. Another reason was that he knew the difficulties faced by farmers, due to imported durian.
Sophal said farmers often complain that they cannot compete with imported durian which can be sold at a lower price. The local durian was generally of higher quality, but was not as popular with customers. He thought having a buffet at the market would make it difficult to convince people they valued the local produce, so he decided to hold it on his farm.
“If we held the event on the plantation, people could see exactly where the fruit came from, so that’s what we did. The important thing was to make sure they believed in the quality of our durian. It was also a reminder to farmers to try new ways to attract customers,” he said. He explained that he harvested durian and prepared a cozy seating area. The durians were whole and customers could open them themselves or have a staff member help them.
Due to limited seating, he only allowed 40 guests at a time. Visitors were invited to explore the farm before enjoying a durian feast, or immediately delving into the “king of fruits” and then viewing the plantation.
He said adults paid KHR30,000 for the buffet, while children paid less. Children who were no taller than 0.6 meters could gorge themselves for free.
Kol Pisey from Kampong Thom province is a big durian lover. She visited Sophal and his wife Kieu Sokhanha at their farm. She told the Post that she really appreciates him for coming up with such an original idea. Visiting the farm and tasting the fruits in the very fields where they grew was an amazing experience.
Pisey added that she had eaten durian in many different places, but it never gave her the same feeling. Sophal’s farm made him feel relaxed and refreshed, thanks to the beautiful green views and different types of fruits growing all around.
“The taste of his durian is delicious. It doesn’t have a lot of fiber and is sweet, which makes me want to eat more of it. I hadn’t heard of his plantation because he’s only been harvesting for three or four years, so I bought my durian at the market.
“To me it tasted normal, but now that I’ve tasted his, I know how good Kampong Thom durian can be. I won’t buy any other style as I’m afraid it won’t be not so good,” she said.
“The price of KHR 30,000 to eat a whole durian in his field is very reasonable. In fact, I don’t even know if he took advantage of the buffet. I think he just wanted to give customers the opportunity to learn about his plantation and taste his fruit, which he says is grown naturally without chemical fertilizers,” she added.
Sophal said many customers came to enjoy the buffet — or take home durians — over the three days the farm was open. Some people, of course, came out of curiosity and wanted to visit the farm. In all, more than 500 people passed, he estimated.
“Most of our visitors came from the provinces of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom, as they didn’t have a long way to go. Some people from distant provinces called to reserve seats in advance, and he reserved seats for them. I admit that I was disappointed by the people who came but did not eat,” he added.
Their farm was open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for three days and Sophal harvested 300 to 400 kilograms of durians.
He said he received many compliments from visitors and enjoyed seeing them relax and explore new surroundings. He recalled a group from Thailand telling him that they were growing better fruit than they could find in their own country, and also claimed to have new ideas for further development.
“We focus on agriculture – which is important – but if we rely too much on brokers to sell our products, it can lead to lower prices. I want farmers to learn how to market successfully and give customers confidence in our products. Whatever farmers plant, they should think of new ways to sell it to customers,” was his final message to fellow farmers.