Sing Buri fruit festival

While we often hear of fruit tours to Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat, seldom is Sing Buri, just 142 kilometres north of Bangkok, mentioned in the same vein. Its Tha Chang district, in fact, is full of fruit orchards and farms.

From July 2-3 it is inviting visitors to come and sample santol, longan and other fruits that Tha Chang is noted for. To make the most of the trip, travellers should also visit other places of interest, like the Wat Phikun Thong temple that houses the highly revered image of Luang Pho Phae, Wat Phranon Chaksi in Muang district famous for its Reclining Buddha, and Wat Sawang Arom and its Nang Yai Museum.

Singhburi province its noted for its delicious freshly-harvested seasonal fruit, particularly santol, lychee, longan and other fruits native to Thailand such as 'ma fai', a fruit in the langsat family.

In July, the orchards and plantations that are a constant feature of this rural landscape bustle with activity as the peak of the harvest season approaches. This is a perfect time to be visiting.

A vast selection of fresh fruits come into season at this time of the year hence it's the season for provincial fruit fairs and the perfect time for agrotourism with many orchards and plantations offering orchard tours. As part of the experience, visitors are also treated to a delicious fruit feast in the form of a fruit buffet or a hand-on 'pick-and-taste' excursion through the orchards.

Although a variety of fruit crops are grown in Sing Buri, the province is famous for its santol -- a round brownish fruit with sweet pulpy flesh with a fluffy appearance surrounding its seeds and an outer layer of pulp. There are several varieties available, of which the 'Sweet Santol' and 'Golden Santol' are the most popular choices. Size depends on the variety and ranges from a fruit that is the size of a tennis ball to prized strains that measure almost 10 cm in diameter.

Perfectly matured and ripened santol is mildly sweet and fragrant. The fruit needs to be peeled before it can be consumed. The thick fleshy inner pulp surrounding the seeds never disappoints; the delicate pulp with its mild sweet taste and fragrance is the most sought-after part of the fruit.

The outer layer of pulp can be somewhat tart. Enjoying this part of the fruit can be an acquired taste. To neutralise and disguise the inherent tart taste of the outer flesh, slices, served fresh, are dipped into a mix of sugar, salt and pounded fresh or dried chilli. Served as a light dessert, the entire santol fruit is pickled in syrup and served with crushed ice.

The outer flesh is also often pickled in brine, or a combination of brine and syrup, and flavoured with a sweet and savoury chilli dip called 'nam pla wan'. Alternatively, it is served as a variation of papaya 'som tam' salad. Sweet, sour, salty and slightly spicy, the harmony of flavours neutralises and disguises the tart taste of the outer flesh, transforming it into a piquant, flavourful delicacy favoured by Thais.

Seasonal fruit fairs are the highlight of provincial communities; a 'place to meet' and forge new friendships or re-new old ties. It is also customary for a number of contests and competitions to be held; this adds a carnival-like ambience to the fair.

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