International tourists may not be familiar with Phatthalung, but this southern Thai province is home to one of Thailand’s most spectacular natural attractions. It’s also an area with a thriving handicraft scene which is helping to preserve local culture. If you’re seeking to explore off the beaten path destinations and see more of ‘Unseen Thailand’, check out Phatthalung on your next visit.
What to see and do in Phatthalung
The undoubted star attraction in Phatthalung is Thale Noi. The name translates as ‘Small Sea’ and is an apt description for the vast wetlands which make up one of the most biodiverse sites in Thailand. Birdwatchers and nature lovers will be in their element at Thale Noi. The expansive freshwater lagoon is home to more than 280 species of aquatic birds. The bird population is impressive all year round, but boosted in the summer months with hundreds of thousands of migrating birds stopping here to feed on the marshland.
The best way to experience the serene beauty of Thale Noi is to take a longtail boat ride. Boatmen expertly steer the boats slowly through the water channels so passengers can admire the colourful spectacle of countless lotuses and water lilies.
Thale Noi is Thailand’s first designated site on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Thai authorities are committed to preserve the wetlands in a sustainable manner.
At the village of Ban Thale Noi, the community is preserving the traditional way of life. Fishermen still use square-shaped nets. These are often mounted on a wooden frame known as ‘yo‘ in Thai. The nets are dipped into the water before later being raised to catch the fish in a simple, but effective manner.
When you travel around Ban Thale Noi you can’t help but notice straw-like bundles drying in the sun. This is krajude, a plant that thrives in the conditions at Thale Noi and has been used to make handicrafts for many generations. Once dry, the krajude is expertly weaved by local artisans into baskets, mats and an array of other products.
A road bridge connects Phatthalung with neighbouring Songkhla province. Bisecting the wetlands of Thale Noi and Songkhla Lake, it’s a pleasure to drive over this scenic stretch of tarmac with its views over the rice fields and wetlands. Although it’s a road bridge, there is a dedicated cycle lane and viewing areas. The bridge is officially called Chaloem Phrakiat 80 Phansa Bridge, but is also known locally as Saphan Ekachai (Ekachai Bridge).
Khao Ok Thalu
The small provincial capital of Phatthalung may not be overflowing with visitor attractions, but the scenic setting makes up for that. To the east of the city, the distinctive shape of Khao Ok Thalu mountain dominates the skyline. If you’re reasonably fit, a shrine, cave and viewpoint high up on the mountain are accessible via a set of stairs.
Wat Khuha Sawan
For a less arduous climb, visit the temple of Wat Khuha Sawan. This is the most important temple in Phatthalung and has been a place of religious significance since around the 8th century. Walk up the stairs behind the temple to enjoy views over Phatthalung. There is also an interesting cave here filled with Buddha statues.
Located in the rice fields, the Sampaothai Resort is a photogenic location with a wooden walkway, replica sailing ship and ‘King Kong’ drawing the Thai Instagram crowd. But it’s the local handicrafts centres like Varni Southern Wickery and Lung Prum Coconut Shell Village which are more rewarding places to visit. Purchases from here directly support the local communities in Phatthalung and help to preserve traditional craftsmanship.
If you’re staying in Phatthalung town, check out the night market near the train station for cheap eats. For something a little different, there are two excellent eco-friendly farmers’ markets around 30 minutes drive to the north-west of Phatthalung town centre.
Talat Pa Phai Sang Suk is open on the weekend from around 7am-5pm. The ‘Bamboo Forest Market’ is a photogenic location with plenty of tasty food to try and local souvenirs for sale.
A 10-minute drive away from the market at Pa Phai Sang Suk is Tai Not Green Market. This one is only open on Sunday (9am-late afternoon), but is another quality market where you can try local food and shop for handicrafts.
Where to stay in Phatthalung
If your main reason for visiting Phatthalung is to see Thale Noi, it makes sense to stay as close as possible to the wetlands. Wherever you choose to stay in Thale Noi, hire a bicycle to explore the quiet rural roads and sample local life.
Sri Pakpra Boutique Resort
Phatthalung town doesn’t see too many overseas tourists and the choice of accommodation here is limited compared to somewhere like Hat Yai or Krabi.
Sitthinard Grandview Hotel
Siva Royal Hotel
Travel to Phatthalung
Although there is no airport in Phatthalung, visitors can fly from Bangkok to either 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.
After spending a few nights in Thale Noi and Phatthalung, you could explore Hat Yai city and the charming town of Songkhla. The historic sites of Nakhon Si Thammarat are also close at hand as are the gorgeous islands and beaches of Trang.