Thale Noi Introduction
Thale Noi (Little Sea) refers to the northernmost part of Songkhla Lake and it is located in Phattalung province. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and an important wetlands ecosystem containing several varieties of plant, animal and birdlife. The area was surveyed in 1974 and the Thale Noi non-hunting area has been a protected environment since 18 February 1975.
It is not in the direct vicinity of Hat Yai so maybe its inclusion here is surprising but it is close enough to Hat Yai to make a day trip or, better, a short trip involving an overnight stay.
This page contains photos, information and observations from my visits to the Thale Noi Waterbird Sanctuary since February 2005. Opinions and photos are mine; the facts and figures come from a brochure I collected at the Thale Noi visitor centre on my first visit. I am not an expert on Thai flora and fauna so please excuse my use of generic terms such as bird and flower when I don't actually know what species of bird or flower it is.
Thale Noi won't suit everyone because different people want different things from their visits to Thailand. It isn't Phuket or Pattaya.
If you want to see a piece of Thailand at its beautiful best and you enjoy spending time in tranquil, natural environments with wonderful displays of plant and birdlife then it might just be worth a visit.
Return to top of page
April 2009 Update
I am pleased to report that Thale Noi is now looking a lot better than it has done for the last three years. At one point I was getting very concerned.
My first visit was in February 2005 and I was extremely impressed. It was a wonderful experience and I suspect that the Thale Noi I saw then was the same as it had been for many years. The environment was stable and the bird and plant life was thriving.
On my second visit in April 2006 there was quite a lot of construction work in evidence, notably the road going straight through the wetlands area. There weren't as many birds or plants and overall it was disappointing.
I went back again in January 2007 and was horrified. Work had begun on the new visitor centre but it was ugly. Everywhere I went, all I saw was the natural environment being ripped up and replaced with concrete. As Joni Mitchell said, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
Huge swathes of lotus flowers had been removed and the unsettled environment had obviously upset the birds because there weren't many at all.
I tried to find out what was happening, and who was behind all this development, but the locals either didn't know, or weren't saying. Everyone told me that January was the wrong time to visit and that I should come back later.
I went back again in April 2007 bit it still looked like an ecological disaster zone. Around the old visitor centre the water used to be carpeted with lotus flowers but in April 2007 you could only see them in the specially built enclosures.
Work had apparently stopped on the new visitor centre and it was just a mass of unfinished, grey ugly concrete. What a mess. Maybe they had run out of money? The concrete posts were all there and the basic buildings were in place but it was a long way from being finished.
One of my ex-students studied Thale Noi formally (and it is a popular subject with many of the students at the Prince of Songkla University) so I asked her what was going on. She had heard something about the management of the area being transferred from the government to the local people. If this was true, then the local people weren't doing a very good job or didn't have sufficient knowledge and experience.
It was at this point that I started to get really worried and I wrote here that I could no longer recommend Thale Noi to visitors.
In 2008 I didn't bother going back. From what I had seen the previous year it didn't seem worthwhile, and also it was quite upsetting to see what was happening to the area.
When I visited in April 2009 (my fifth visit) it was such a relief to see Thale Noi starting to resemble its former beautiful self. The new visitor centre still wasn't finished but it was looking better. The walkways still did not have safety rails erected and some of the buildings were being completed. However, some buildings were finished and the visitor centre was open for business.
It had started to look good and the natural environment had started to settle as well. I saw the most lotus flowers I had seen since I first visited over four years previously. Unfortunately, I didn't see a very good variety of birds but this has a lot to do with luck.
Some more private guest houses had also appeared since my previous visit and they are welcome additions (I have added details below). I was happy to recommend visiting Thale Noi again.
Return to top of page
March 2010 Update
I have just returned from my sixth visit to Thale Noi and a lot has been happening since my last visit almost a year ago.
On the positive side, the environment is looking good. It's now back to how I remember it was on my first visit. The lotus flowers look healthy and there seem to be more birds compared to my last few visits.
On the negative side (in my opinion), commercialism has started to rear its ugly head. The new visitor centre is still being worked on, and it still looks as if there is a lot to do. I get the impression that when it is ready, the Thais will really go to work promoting Thale Noi to tourists.
A new massage shop has opened and someone has started renting two and three-seater bicycles. When I returned from my boat trip this time there was a woman waiting to sell me framed souvenir photos - the kind that you see at many tourist attractions. This has never happened before.
A little way out of town they are building a viewpoint on the hill that looks out across Thale Noi. I went up, even though it is only half built. How long now before the first Go-Go bars and bar girls arrive?
Since I first visited Thailand in 1987 I have seen many beautiful places completely destroyed by Thai greed and tourism. I wouldn't be surprised if Thale Noi looks completely different 10 years from now. I hope I'm wrong. Time will tell.
Return to top of page