As dawn breaks, the sky takes on a glorious fiery hue. Birds on the wing dance through the air and water buffaloes make languid progress to their feeding grounds. Fishermen begin their toil for the day, tending to their traditional nets just as their father and grandfather before them did. For miles around there is nothing but water and marshland. And vibrant pink water lilies. Thousands of pink water lilies as far as the eye can see. Sitting on a longtail boat gliding through this beguiling landscape it’s impossible not to be moved by the natural beauty of Thale Noi.
Sometimes written as Talay Noy, the name translates as small sea. One of the most biodiverse sites in Thailand, Thale Noi is a vast freshwater lagoon located in the southern Thai province of Phatthalung just to the north of Songkhla Lake. The wetlands are home to more than 280 species of aquatic birds with some staying here all year round. The number of birds at Thale Noi swells in the summer months with hundreds of thousands migrating to the Phatthalung wetlands to feed on the floating marshes and carpets of lotuses and water lilies. Thale Noi is designated as a globally important wetland site (Ramsar site) and is a must-visit attraction for birdwatchers and anybody interested in nature.
Local life at Thale Noi
The natural wonders of Thale Noi make this a memorable location to visit. And when you can experience the traditional lifestyle of the area, it makes this magical corner of Phatthalung even more special. Locals at the village of Ban Thale Noi still adhere to the old way of doing things using the wisdom and skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. Each morning the fishermen attend to the giant square-shaped nets which are mounted on a wooden frame named ‘yo‘ in Thai. The nets are dipped into the water and then raised to catch the fish which can then be sold at local markets.
Farmers lead their water buffaloes to the grazing areas on the lagoon and, when dusk falls, housewives from the community row their small boats out to collect sedge stems and krajude. This grass-like plant thrives in the conditions here and for centuries has been used to make handicrafts. If you stay in Thale Noi you will notice the krajude (also written as krajood) being dried outside homes in preparation for being weaved into wicker-style baskets, mats and other handicrafts. The women from the community also collect edible lotus stems from the marshes which provide added flavour to regional dishes.
No trip to Thale Noi is complete without sampling some of the local delicacies like fermented catfish, giant river prawns and fried fish roe. Look out too for the mouth-watering southern Thai fried chicken served with crispy onion on top. And don’t miss the chance to try the local sang yod rice, a long-grain rice with a red tint which is famous throughout Thailand.
Make an excursion to the photogenic Sampaothai Resort in the rice fields and visit the local handicrafts centres like Varni Southern Wickery and Lung Prum Coconut Shell Village. Varni products can now be found in Bangkok shopping malls and King Power Duty Free Shops. The hats, bags and baskets make a thoughtful gift and help preserve traditional craftsmanship and support the local communities in Phatthalung.
Where to stay in Thale Noi
Located on the edge of Songkhla Lake and just a short distance away from Thale Noi, Sri Pakpra Boutique Resort is a comfortable and scenic option. For somewhere more homely, try the family run Chuanchom Resort located a stone’s throw from the boat pier at Thale Noi or a little further out from the village there is Varni Handicraft & Homestay. Wherever you decide to stay, be sure to hire a bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside and sample local life.
How to get to Thale Noi
Although there is no airport in Phatthalung, visitors can fly from Bangkok to Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat or Trang. Phatthalung is also on the mainline southern railway with services connecting the provincial capital with Hat Yai and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Fares on the ordinary service between Phatthalung and Hat Yai are only 18 Baht.
Mini-buses depart at regular intervals from Phatthalung town for the 45 minute trip to Thale Noi (around 70 Baht) and there is also a leisurely songthaew service (35 Baht) which takes 1 hour 20 minutes.
Good to know
Phatthalung is a laid-back town and makes a good place to stay with the added bonus of beautiful countryside all around. Or combine a trip to Thale Noi with the historic sites of Nakhon Si Thammarat or the beautiful beaches of Trang.
The lotuses and water lilies are in full bloom from January to March/April and this time of the year corresponds with the largest number of migrating birds. If you’re a keen birdwatcher, head to the observation tower at the northern-end of Thale Noi village (near the floating market) for fabulous views of the wetlands and wildlife.
Boat trips can be arranged from the villages of Ban Pak Pra and Ban Thale Noi. You can speak directly with the boatmen or ask your hotel or guest house to make arrangements for you. Get up early to join one of the 6am departures and enjoy the majestic sight of sunrise over Thale Noi and witness the wetlands springing to life. Long-tail boats can carry up to 7 people with prices depending on how long you want to stay out on the boat and how far you want to travel. Expect to pay at least 800 Baht to hire a boat privately for an hour.