Phatthalung’s Thale Noi Lake: A Visual Journey
Accompanied by the gentle hum of the boat’s engine, we ventured into the pitch-black depths of Thale Noi’s peat swamp forest. With only the glow of our headlamps to guide us, we navigated cautiously through the maze of vine-covered shallows, ensuring the propeller steered clear of any entanglements.
Our objective for this early morning expedition was clear: to reach the Pak Pra Canal, a freshwater expanse adorned with traditional Yok Yor fishing nets, just before dawn.
We wanted to capture the local fishermen in action as they raised these massive square-rigged nets from the water, revealing their bountiful catch of the day.
Having accomplished our mission, we paused to survey the scene around us. As the sun steadily ascended in the sky, its golden rays cast a warm glow, illuminating the entire panorama. It felt like a grand spectacle unfolding before our eyes, as if a theater curtain was slowly rising to reveal a vibrant tableau of busy fishermen engrossed in their daily work.
Over the next half hour, we leisurely cruised around the lake, savoring the breathtaking views and making sure we didn’t miss any photo-worthy moments with the fishermen. The tranquil waters reflected the azure sky and the surrounding lush vegetation, created a picturesque scene that felt like a painting come to life.
As we navigated through different parts of the lake, we encountered various clusters of fishermen skillfully operating their nets. Each group had their unique techniques and camaraderie, and it was fascinating to observe their age-old traditions at work.
Diverging from the typical Thale Noi tourist route, our guide led us to a lesser-known section of the lake, well beyond Ekachai Bridge. This off-the-beaten-path excursion promised a genuine and authentic experience with locals, away from the crowds of tourist boats.
As far as our eyes could see, only water and marshland canvassed the horizon. On this uncharted side of the Ekachai Bridge, nature reigned supreme.
Graceful white herons glided across the water, skillfully hunting for their next meal, while little cormorants stood as sentinels, perched on tall trees, ever watchful of their surroundings. Amidst the scenery, vibrant pink water lilies burst into bloom, their hues contrasting beautifully with the tranquil, murky waters beneath.
In the distance, we caught sight of a fisherman wading chest-deep in the water, immersed in his work. With skilled hands, he tended to his net using a traditional technique, just as his father and grandfather had done before him.
As we observed this timeless practice, our guide explained that the fishermen on this side of Ekachai Bridge steadfastly adhere to the old ways of their craft. They carry forward the wisdom and skills passed down through generations, honoring their ancestors and preserving their cherished customs.
During our conversation with the fisherman, a large herd appeared on the grassland nearby. Eager to get a closer view, our guide skillfully steered the boat towards them. Approaching the gentle giants, our boat gradually eased to a stop. Suddenly, we found ourselves eye to eye with one of the magnificent creatures – a wild water buffalo.
After witnessing the power of the water buffalo up-close, our curiosity was piqued, and we set out to discover more of the fascinating wildlife dwelling on the lake.
Regarded as Thailand’s largest waterbird park, Thale Noi Lake spans an impressive 285,625 rai, equivalent to ~176 square miles. During the dry season, this place is a birdwatcher’s paradise, housing a diverse array of over 287 exotic winged species.
However, our visit coincided with the rainy season, a time when the lakes’s migratory and resident waterfowl are a scarce sight. Undeterred, we were determined to make the most of our opportunity and photograph the birds that did grace us with their presence.
As we ventured deeper into the lake, in search of more birds to photograph, an intense commotion disrupted the otherwise serene surroundings. The sound of repeated thrashing caught our attention, compelling us to investigate the source of the commotion.
Driven by curiosity, our guide maneuvered our long-tail boat, speeding the engine to approach the origin of the sound. As we drew nearer, we were surprised to discover that the frenzy was caused by a masterful tilapia fisherman employing an age-old beating method.
With precision, the fisherman positioned a static gill net in the water and would startle the tilapia, prompting them to swim into the net with every calculated splash of his heavy-ended stick.
Despite the fisherman’s unwavering dedication and laborious efforts, the fruits of his hard work are disappointingly undervalued in the market. Each kilo (2.2 lbs) of his catch fetches a mere 30 baht ($0.82), a meager sum that barely covers his basic needs. Sadly, his daily payout ranks among the lowest in Thale Noi, despite the fact that his work is undoubtedly among the most challenging.
Amidst the fisherman’s struggles, it was clear why he chose to call Thale Noi his home. The lake offered a sanctuary, a respite from the world’s chaos, and a chance to find inner peace within its serene embrace.
One could easily lose themselves within the lake’s peaceful ambiance, with the gentle melodies of passing birds contributing to an almost meditative experience.
The tranquility of Thale Noi Lake had a contagious effect on everyone we encountered. Each fisherman we passed welcomed us with warm-hearted smiles, embodying an authenticity that spoke volumes. Their genuine love for the lake served as a poignant reminder that true happiness emanates from the richness of tightly-knit communities and the rejuvenation of mind and soul, that comes from harmonizing with the natural world.
The best time to visit Thale Noi Lake in southern Thailand depends on your specific interests and what you hope to experience during your visit. Below is an in-depth explanation of the different seasons and their characteristics:
Dry Season (December to April): This period is generally considered the best time to visit Thale Noi Lake. The dry season offers pleasant weather with lower humidity and minimal rainfall. The lake’s water level is relatively stable, and the lotus flowers are in full bloom during this time, creating a stunning visual spectacle. Birdwatching is also at its peak, as numerous migratory birds visit the lake during the winter months. You can witness various bird species, including herons, egrets, ducks, and many more. The dry season provides excellent opportunities for photography, nature walks, and boat tours, allowing you to fully appreciate the lake’s beauty and biodiversity.
Rainy Season (May to November): While the rainy season brings more precipitation and occasional storms, Thale Noi Lake still holds its charm during this time. The landscape becomes lush and vibrant, with the surrounding vegetation thriving. The lake’s water level rises, and the scenery transforms with the increased greenery. It’s a less crowded time to visit, and you may have the opportunity to witness local life and the traditional floating houses in a more authentic setting. However, it’s important to note that heavy rainfall may affect boat tours or limit outdoor activities, so it’s advisable to check weather forecasts and be prepared for potential changes.
Regardless of the season, early mornings and late afternoons are generally the best times of the day to visit Thale Noi Lake. During these times, the temperature is cooler, and the lighting conditions are ideal for capturing photographs or observing bird activity.
It’s also worth mentioning that bird migration patterns can vary slightly from year to year, so it may be beneficial to consult with local guides who can provide up-to-date information on bird species and their arrival times.
To get to Thale Noi Lake from Bangkok, you can consider the following options:
Flight: The quickest way to reach Thale Noi Lake is by taking a flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai International Airport, which is the nearest airport to the lake. From Hat Yai, you can hire a taxi or arrange for a private transfer to Thale Noi Lake, which is approximately a 1.5 to 2-hour drive away.
Bus: Buses operate regularly from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai) to Hat Yai. The journey takes around 12-14 hours, depending on the type of bus and traffic conditions. From Hat Yai, you can then take a taxi or arrange for transportation to Thale Noi Lake.
Train: Another option is to take a train from Bangkok to Hat Yai. Trains offer a more comfortable and scenic journey compared to buses. There are both day and overnight trains available, with the duration ranging from 12 to 16 hours. From Hat Yai, you can proceed to Thale Noi Lake by taxi or other modes of transportation.
Once you reach Thale Noi Lake, you can arrange for local transportation, such as a boat tour or a taxi, to explore the lake and its surroundings. It’s advisable to book transportation in advance or consult with local tour operators to ensure a smooth and convenient journey.
The Rich Resort is the best value hotel in town and it’s only 15 minutes away from the fisherman village by car. The rooms are clean, have aircon, and are very spacious for the price. Alternatively, if you’re craving a place with a bit more luxury then you can check out, Varni Homestay, which is located a stone’s throw from Thale Noi Lake.
Thale Noi Lake itself does not have specific opening hours as it is a natural lake and can be accessed throughout the day. However, certain activities or attractions around the lake typically have their own operating hours.
In general, boat tours tend to operate between 5:30am – 7:00pm, 7 days a week.
The longtail boats on Thale Noi Lake can accommodate up to 7 people and the cost per boat is 500 baht for one hour, 900 baht for two hours, and 1,200 baht for 3 hours (depending on who you book with). Entrance to Thale Noi Lake is free for all visitors – both Thai and foreigners.
The lotus season at Thale Noi Lake typically occurs during the dry season, which spans from December to April. This is the time when the lotus flowers are in full bloom, transforming the lake into a stunning spectacle of vibrant colors. The exact timing of the lotus season can vary slightly each year based on weather patterns and other environmental factors. Typically, the lotus flowers are at their peak from January to March.
During this period, visitors to Thale Noi Lake can witness vast expanses of lotus flowers covering the water surface, creating a picturesque and serene atmosphere. It’s a popular time for photography enthusiasts and nature lovers to capture the beauty of the lake and its surrounding lotus fields.
It’s important to note that nature can be unpredictable, and the blooming of the lotus flowers can vary from year to year. To ensure you don’t miss the lotus season, it’s recommended to check with local sources, such as the tourism office or local tour operators, who can provide up-to-date information on the timing and conditions of the lotus bloom at Thale Noi Lake.
Thale Noi Lake is definitely worth visiting for its stunning natural beauty and unique ecosystem. Located in southern Thailand, Thale Noi is a freshwater lake renowned for its picturesque surroundings, lotus-covered waters, and abundant birdlife. It provides a serene and tranquil setting, perfect for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers.
Exploring Thale Noi Lake allows you to witness a diverse array of bird species, including migratory birds, making it a haven for birdwatching. Additionally, the scenic landscape, with its floating houses, lush greenery, and lotus-filled waters, offers a peaceful escape from the bustling city and an opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.
Tip #1: Regardless of where you stay, we highly recommend booking a boat ride via your hotel to guarantee a departure time. Make sure to wake up early for a 6am departure, in order to enjoy the majestic sight of a golden sunrise over Thale Noi’s Pak Pra Canal.
Tip #2: If you book a 3 hour boat ride, confirm with your guide that he / she will take you beyond Ekachai Bridge. Most tours do not go beyond the bridge, but some of the best scenery is located there. For an extra tip (100 baht), your guide might be willing to spend an extra hour there.
Tip #3: To help out the local community, make an effort to visit the Fisherman Village’s morning market. Not many tourist visit this market, but there’s a variety of food and handicraft stalls that sell inexpensive dishes and locally-produced goods.
Tip #4: Thale Noi lake is best-visited as combined trip with either Trang, Songkhla, or even Nakhon Si Thammarat – both Trang and Songkhla are only 90 minutes away by car.
After being immersed in the natural beauty of Thale Noi Lake, we highly recommend visiting Wat Khao Aor in Phatthalung.
Perched atop a hill, this magnificent temple offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The journey up to the temple is an adventure in itself, with a scenic drive and a climb up the steps leading to the sacred site.
Once there, exploring the temple grounds will unveil a blend of architectural beauty, intricate carvings, and ornate decorations that reflect the rich history of the area.