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Lotus flowers carpet the water at Thale Noi

Lotus flowers carpet the water at Thale Noi

 

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Thale Noi in Phattalung Province

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.

 

Local fisherman at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Local fisherman at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

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.

 

Empty lotus flower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Empty lotus flower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

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.

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Private Accommodation

Baan Taweesuuk

The Great Hotel, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Address: Thale Noi Waterfront
Telephone: +66 (0)74 685492
Mobile: +66 (0)87 466 4842
E-mail: pure_do_191_123@hotmail.com
Room Rate: Bt600

Latitude: N 07° 46' 45.7" (N 07° 46.761')

Longitude: E 100° 07' 22.1" (E 100° 07.369')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Baan Taweesuuk (Thai: บ้านทวีสุข) opened in 2008 and it is a really nice place. The accommodation isn't at all like a guest house, but more like a comfortable house. It's like a classic British bed-and-breakfast establishment. When I first looked, everything was brand new and the Bt600 rate seemed a real bargain. There are four rooms upstairs and one downstairs.

There are also some separate buildings behind the main house in which there are guest rooms, but these aren't as comfortable.

Upstairs at the front of the house is a large verandah overlooking the water.

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Important - Please read the following carefully before sending me your comments: Do not use this form for availability or rate enquiries. I am not a travel agent, and neither am I affiliated with any hotels or guest houses in Hat Yai. Contact the establishment directly using the information given above. Use this form only if you have stayed at this particular establishment and wish to give some feedback.

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Baan Laan Buweh

Baan Laan Buweh guesthouse at Thale Noi, Phattalung - Click for larger image

Address: Thale Noi Waterfront
Mobile: +66 (0)81 368 3081
Room Rate: Bt500 to Bt700

Latitude: N 07° 46' 45.7" (N 07° 46.761')

Longitude: E 100° 07' 22.1" (E 100° 07.369')

Comments: In my opinion, this used to be the best private guest house option in Thale Noi but it has now been overtaken by Baan Taweesook.

At Baan Laan Buweh, they have rooms for Bt500, Bt600 and Bt700. The number to call is +66 (0)81 368 3081 and the proprietor is a teacher who goes by the name of Ajarn Wootipong.

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Baan Puk Soy Daaw

Soy Daaw guesthouse at Thale Noi, Phattalung - Click for larger image

Address: Thale Noi Waterfront
Mobile: +66 (0)89 974 7498
Mobile: +66 (0)81 273 5767
Room Rate: Bt500

Latitude: N 07° 46' 46.4" (N 07° 46.774')

Longitude: E 100° 07' 22.4" (E 100° 07.373')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: Baan Puk Soy Daaw (Thai: (บ้านพักสอยดาว)) isn't as plush as Baan Taweesook but cheaper, with rooms for Bt500, or Bt450 if you ask for a discount.

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Promngern House

Prom Ngern guesthouse at Thale Noi, Phattalung - Click for larger image

Address: Thale Noi Waterfront
Telephone: +66 (0)74 685225
Mobile: +66 (0)81 748 8064
E-mail: s3945204@yahoo.com
Room Rate: Bt400

Comments: Promngern House run by a Mr. Chern Promngern. It is a traditional Thai style building with cheaper rates than the other places.

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Taworn Porntip

Taworn Porntip guesthouse at Thale Noi, Phattalung - Click for larger image

Address: Thale Noi Waterfront
Room Rate: A/C Bt500, Fan Bt350

Comments: Taworn Porntip (Thai: บ้านพัก ถาวร พรทิพย์) is closer to the new visitor centre than the old visitor centre.

It's a decent place: very quiet, peaceful, and clean. There was no hot water in the bathroom when I stayed. Rooms with A/C are Bt500 and with fan are Bt350. It's a bit of a hike to the old visitor centre and restaurants, but you can get a motorbike taxi for Bt10.

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Lampam Resort Hotel

Lampam Resort Hotel, Phattalung - Click for larger image

Address: 88 M.6 Tambon Lampam, Apaiboriruk Road, Amphoe Muang, Phattalung, 93000
Telephone: +66 (0)74 604525
Mobile: +66 (0)81 957 3437
Web Site: Lampam Resort and Hotel
E-mail: lampamresort@hotmail.com
Room Rate: Bt500 to Bt1,800

Latitude: N 07° 37' 31.0" (N 07° 37.517')

Longitude: E 100° 09' 14.3" (E 100° 09.238')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: There aren't any hotels in Thale Noi but if you would prefer to stay in a hotel the Lampam Resort and Hotel is only about a 15 minute drive from Thale Noi.

It's a comfortable looking place with several different room types to suit your preference and/or budget. The rooms are priced between Bt500 and Bt1800.

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Thale Noi, Phattalung

Visitor Centre Accommodation

The original official visitor centre appears to have 'free' accommodation but it isn't always available. The accommodation consists of traditional wooden houses raised above the water on stilts. The location is great and you will see lots of birds without having to make a special effort.

 

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

The deal seems to be that there is an entrance charge which is the standard National Park fee. It is Bt20 for Thais and ten times that for foreigners. However, once in, you can then use the bungalows for no charge. There are a few catches though.

Firstly, Thais book a long way in advance so if you just turn up you will probably be out of luck. Secondly, these are very basic places and you need to bring your own towels and sleeping bags, etc. In fact, you will have to bring everything you need. It's just like camping without a tent. The phone number is +66 (0)74 685230 and office hours are between 08:00 and 16:30.

 

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

There is also an e-mail address, but I should warn you first that Thais are notoriously bad at replying to e-mails, especially if the e-mail they received isn't written in Thai. E-mail: Thalenoi_2518@hotmail.com

When I visited Thale Noi in 2007 I saw that work had commenced on a new visitor centre and when I visited in February 2015 I saw that everything had been finished.

I spoke to a member of staff briefly, who told me that there were six rooms that accommodate five people each. There are bedsheets, but no towels. There are fans, but no A/C, and I don't believe there is any hot water. The cost is Bt500 per room. The rooms may not be all that luxurious, but if you are travelling in a group it's a cheap way to see Thale Noi.

The contact details for the new visitor centre are not the same as the old visitor centre. Tel. 074 685599. E-mail: talenoi_center@hotmail.co.th

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Getting There

Thale Noi is located in Phattalung province. The actual location is Phanangtoong village in the district of Khuan Khanoon. From Phattalung town it is about a 33km sawng-thaew ride north on highway 4048. The journey by sawng-thaew takes approximately 45 minutes and costs Bt30 (it used to be Bt20). The sawng-thaews go right to the water's edge where you can find the visitor centre, private accommodation, and you can hire a boat for a tour.

 

Purple swamphen at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Purple swamphen at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Everyone in Phattalung main town (Amphoe Mueang) knows where the sawng-thaews to Thale Noi depart from and 'Thale Noi' is even written in English. From Hat Yai you can get to Phattalung town (about 90kms away) by bus, minivan or train. It's an easy and cheap journey from Hat Yai to Thale Noi.

By minivan it takes about 90 minutes. Big buses take a couple of hours but they are more comfortable and safer. The train is a lot slower but the journey is interesting and the train passes through some beautiful countryside. Both stations are on the main railway route that goes through the Isthmus of Kra. I have only taken the train once and it cost just Bt18.

 

Purple swamphen at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Purple swamphen at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

The most convenient and comfortable way to get to Thale Noi is to drive yourself. From Hat Yai, the most direct route is to take Route 4 north until you reach Phattalung. At the big junction where you turn left to go to Trang or right to go to Amphoe Mueang Phattalung, go straight on. You will then be on Route 41.

From Route 41 you need to turn right to get on to Route 4048 to Thale Noi. However, you cannot cross the central reservation. You therefore need to go past the turning, do a U-turn, and then turn left on to Route 4048. As soon as you're on this road, follow it all the way to the end to reach Thale Noi.

Alternatively, you can turn right from the main highway (Route 4) towards Amphoe Mueang Phattalung. Continue past the main town, go straight across the railway line, and towards Lampam. At Lampam turn left and follow the road around the lake until you reach Thale Noi.

This second route takes longer and there is a risk that you may get lost. However, it's a lot more scenic and it's safer because there are far fewer maniac Thai drivers.

Before my first visit to Thale Noi I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to find my way around once I got there but it turned out to be very easy. Most visitors are Thai but all visitors are well catered for.

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Bird Photography

Apart from beautiful natural scenery and millions of lotus flowers, the birdlife is the major attraction at Thale Noi.

There was huge excitement in the UK among the birdwatching fraternity in 2016 when a Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) was spotted in Suffolk. Twitching enthusiasts from hundreds of miles away all gathered hoping for a quick sighting of this rare bird. At Thale Noi, however, they are as common as chickens on a farm.

I am not a bird photographer and I find photography particularly difficult at Thale Noi. Apart from long lenses, wild bird photography needs incredible patience, skill and quite a bit of luck.

 

Brahminy kite at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Brahminy kite at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

The plain truth is that birds don't like humans. As soon as you start to get close enough to get a decent photo, the bird will invariably fly off. The only way really is to conceal your presence in a hide and wait, but that is impossible on the Thale Noi wetlands because the facilities just don't exist.

Trying to hand-hold a camera on a constantly bobbling boat while, at the same time, trying to get close to skittish birds were only two of the problems.

 

Pacific Swallow at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Pacific Swallow at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Because of the distances involved the birds are very small in the viewfinder. Trying to get the right exposure settings against a very bright sky is difficult. Photos of birds can turn into silhouettes because of the bright background.

On my visits to Thale Noi I have taken hundreds of photographs but few have turned out well.

The first DSLR I took to Thale Noi was a Canon 10D. As good as the camera was at the time, it wasn't good enough for bird photography. It didn't have enough processing power or pixels, and the AF system wasn't up to the task.

My Canon 40D was a lot better, but still not quite good enough. Something like the Canon 7D would be a lot better because of the advanced AF system and increased pixel count. Birds photographed from a distance don't fill the frame and more pixels mean more detail.

There was a big improvement in image quality when I moved from the 10D to a 40D. I hope that my next camera upgrade will bring a further improvement. Despite what some people may tell you, your camera does matter.

 

Perched cormorants at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Perched cormorants at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Little Cormorant at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Little Cormorant at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Bronze-winged Jacana at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Bronze-winged Jacana at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

At Thale Noi you will see perched birds and birds in flight. Depending on which, you will need to set up your camera differently and you need to be able to change between settings quickly.

My camera, like many DSLRs, has the ability to store different camera settings. By turning a dial on the top of the camera I can use the regular Program mode or choose between three custom settings - C1, C2 or C3. I set the camera up in Program mode for perched birds and use one of the custom settings for birds in flight. If I am looking for perched birds and suddenly see a bird in flight I can change the settings very quickly.

I normally use ISO 200. There is little difference in image quality between ISO 100 and ISO 200, and ISO 200 gives me faster shutter speeds. On the latest cameras, which my Canon 40D isn't, the image quality at high ISO values is very good so you might want to use ISO 400, ISO 800 or even higher.

 

Black-winged Stilt at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Black-winged Stilt at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

For perched birds I use One-Shot AF mode, spot metering, aperture priority (AV) exposure, and only activate the centre AF point. If the light isn't good I use the lens maximum aperture but if it is very bright I step down a notch or two to increase the depth of field.

Based on the rule of reciprocity, I try to get a shutter speed that is greater than one over the lens focal length. With lenses that have Image Stabilisation, which my 400mm f/5.6L doesn't, this is less important.

I set the camera for birds in flight to use AI Servo AF mode, manual exposure, and I activate all AF points. I use trial and error for the manual exposure settings. If you are shooting against the sky the camera will probably underexpose the bird, leaving it as a silhouette in the photo.

Some cameras these days, such as Canon's 7D and 1 Series models, have highly customisable AF settings. It is best to study the functions first, search for hints on-line, and then experiment to see what gets the best results.

I think that good wild bird photography needs lenses of at least 600mm focal length unless you are in a hide and can get very close. The best shots I have seen show very clear detail of feathers and around the eyes.

 

Brahminy kite at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Brahminy kite at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

600mm lenses need to be supported and because of the nature of photography at Thale Noi you normally find yourself hand-holding. I sold my 300mm f/4 lens because of poor image quality and bought a 400mm f/5.6 instead. This has been a lot better and it is about the longest lens that can be hand-held. The long f/4 maximum aperture lenses start to get very heavy and they are difficult to hand hold.

I always take a tripod but it rarely gets used. There is a low fence around the old visitor centre and it makes a useful camera rest. The only option while in a boat is hand-holding. On land a tripod might be useful but by the time you've set it up the bird will probably have flown off. A good compromise between speed of set-up and support is a monopod.

Correct exposure was a big problem. More often than not birds were perched on the highest bush or pole they could find and I had to shoot against a clear sky. Not only was there intense direct light but a lot of reflected light from the water.

The very narrow exposure latitude of digital camera sensors doesn't help either.

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Bird Identification

Even with a field guide identification can be difficult due to the simililarity between certain species, for example Chinese, Javan and Indian pond herons, and because of different plumage at different times of the year. A good field guide is essential.

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Tourism

Farang tourists are rare at Thale Noi. In all my visits I have only seen about two farangs who were travelling independently.

I once saw a large group of middle-aged to elderly Dutch holidaymakers. They had been staying at Cha-am and were doing a nine-day sightseeing tour of 'Unseen Thailand'.

 

Muslim schoolgirls at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Muslim schoolgirls at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

By the sound of it they were using a tour company specialising in less well-known areas of Thailand which is highly commendable. It is interesting to note that older tourists are now blazing new trails in Thailand whereas the young backpackers continue to go to the same old boring places year after year showing absolutely no imagination. Kudos to grey power.

Occasionally, large tour buses full of Malaysian tourists arrive.

Although foreign tourists do manage to get here, most tourism is domestic. Many Thais, especially Bangkokians, want to see more of their own country.

The photo above photo shows a group of Thai Muslim girls just setting off on a boat tour.

These girls in their traditional dress are well prepared for the boat tour. If you visit in the hot season it is scorching hot from as early as 9am. The boat owners provide wide-brimmed hats to wear but the sun's rays are also reflected from the water.

Sunglasses, hats and sun screen are essential. Cover up as much as possible. This advice will be unnecessary to most Thai girls, whose worst nightmare in life is to get darker skin.

Thai girls wear so many clothes to protect themselves from the sun that they look better equipped for the arctic than the tropics.

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Nightlife

Everything stops in Thale Noi around the time that the sun sets. The shops selling souvenir trinkets stay open a little later but, if you want to eat, you'd better eat before 7pm otherwise you will find that the restaurants have closed.

There really is nothing to do at all after dark. Thale Noi is very unlike the well-known tourist locations in Thailand. It's all about appreciating the beauty of nature during the daytime. Thailand may well be infamous for its world-renowned nightlife in certain other locations, but not in Thale Noi.

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Annoyances

Thale Noi is so quiet and peaceful; how can there possibly be anything there to annoy you? Well, actually there are a couple of things.

At around 5:30am they start blasting out government propaganda using a very loud public address system. When I first heard it I thought that someone nearby had a very loud TV, but that wasn't the case. Apparently, this kind of thing is quite normal in Thailand.

I wouldn't mind so much if it was an hour later, but when an uninvited bombardment of government propaganda actually wakes me up in the morning I get quite annoyed.

The other annoyance (and this is also something that is quite common all over Thailand) is young boys on motorbikes.

Thale Noi is a lovely, quiet, peaceful place to visit, but for young teenage boys who live there permanently it must feel like the most boring place on Earth. Thai boys in Thale Noi, like Thai boys all over Thailand, use the sport of motorcycle racing on public roads to alleviate their boredom.

At times, the quiet little road in front of the lake starts to resemble a drag strip as little kids, whose feet can barely touch the ground, race their motorcycles as fast as they will go. Of course, no one (including the police) do anything. No one ever does anything in Thailand.

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Food

I have two problems with the food available at Thale Noi.

Firstly, it is essential that I have a good Western-style breakfast to start my day and none of the places I have stayed at in Thale Noi offer anything like a good Western-style breakfast. They just offer coffee and a biscuit, or a similar insubstantial snack. Even if you go outside, the only thing you can find is boiled rice.

When I have asked for something as simple as toast, they have looked at me as if I just requested fresh truffles and fine champagne. "Bread? Here? In Thale Noi? Are you mad, farang?"

When I visited Thale Noi in 2013 I started to feel so ill after going out on the water without a good breakfast inside me that I couldn't drive home. My newly-arrived friend visiting from Germany had to drive my car.

To ensure that this didn't happen again when I visited in 2015 I took my own bacon, sausages and bread. I packed them in an ice box and asked the owner of the guest house to cook them for me. She was at least able to supply some eggs. At first she informed me that she wasn't capable of cooking sausages, but I did manage to get a decent breakfast.

Secondly, I find the restaurants on the water's edge to be highly overpriced and poor in terms of both selection and quality. I therefore cannot recommend eating at any of them. However, there is an excellent restaurant not too far away from the waterfront.

The standard Thai transliteration is Sam Kak, but a more phonetically accurate version would be, 'saam guk'. You might need to ask a local for directions, but finding it isn't too difficult. They have a good menu, the food is good, and it's cheaper than eating on the waterfront. Of course, there is only Thai food. There is no Western food at Thale Noi. Here are the details:

Sam Kak

Sam Kak restaurant, Hat Yai - Click for larger image

Address: 281 Moo 13, Moobaan Thale Noi, Tambon Panaang Dtuung, Amphoe Kuan Kanuun, Phattalung
Mobile: +66 (0)89 653 5952

Latitude: N 07° 46' 06.1" (N 07° 46.101')

Longitude: E 100° 07' 17.8" (E 100° 07.297')

Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View

Comments: The food at Sam Kak is very good and the setting very pleasant.

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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.

 

Ongoing development at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Ongoing development at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

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.

 

The lotus flowers are also eaten

The lotus flowers are also eaten

 

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 did.

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.

 

The new visitor centre at Thale Noi

The new visitor centre at Thale Noi

 

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.

 

The new visitor centre at Thale Noi

The new visitor centre at Thale Noi

 

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.

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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.

 

Chinese pond heron (Ardeola bacchus) at Thale Noi

Chinese pond heron (Ardeola bacchus) at Thale Noi

 

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.

 

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

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.

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February 2015 Update

It has been two years since I visited Thale Noi and almost five years since I wrote an update.

 

New visitor centre at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

New visitor centre at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Recently, there has been a campaign in Thailand to get more people to visit Thale Noi and, in conjunction with this, some infrastructure improvements have been made. When driving from Hat Yai on Route 4 it is now possible to turn right into the road that leads to Thale Noi. On previous visits it was necessary to go past the turning, perform a U-turn, and then turn left. Also the road to Thale Noi has been made wider in several places.

Thale Noi was quite busy on this trip, but mostly with Thai visitors arriving - as they do - on huge tour buses. Thais almost always travel in large groups, rather than travelling independently. Being in large groups reduces their fear of ghosts. I spotted about five farangs, which is quite unusual. On most of my trips to Thale Noi I haven't seen any.

There was an older couple and, staying at the same place as me, there were three young German girls who appeared to be going off the beaten path as much as they on their trek through southern Thailand.

 

Observation tower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Observation tower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

A few years ago there was a lot of building work going on and, to be honest, it looked a real mess. However, the building work has finished and everything has settled down. Everything looks fine now and the environment looks to be quite healthy. The new visitor centre is finished and open for business, as is the new observation tower.

On this trip we had both children with us, which rather curtailed my ability to look out for and photograph birds. Nonetheless, there were as many birds as ever and also the water buffalo population appears to be expanding. As well as seeing buffalo grazing, I actually saw quite a few swimming.

In January 2013 I paid Bt400 for a boat ride around the lake, but the cost on this trip had risen to Bt450.

There is limited free land on the water front, but inland a little there are now more private accommodation options. The campaign to attract more visitors seems to have worked. I just hope that it doesn't get over-commercialised. In the last 30 years many previously attractive areas of Thailand have been destroyed by greed and mass tourism.

Thale Noi is still basically the same now as it was when I first visited in 2004, but the changes have already started and in Thailand change takes place very quickly. I still recommend it as a good place to visit, but if you want to visit I would suggest going sooner rather than later.

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More Photos and Comments

Thale Noi is best visited early in the morning when the birds are active and it isn't too hot. Significantly, the lotus flowers open in the morning but close later as the temperature rises. By 9am it starts to get very hot and a little uncomfortable. The light at sunset isn't that good for photos but the 'magic light' appears some time around 7:30am to 8:00am.

 

Purple swamphen at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Purple swamphen at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

The Thale Noi sanctuary area covers about 285,625 rai (457 square kilometres). The water area is about 17,500 rai (28 square kilometres). If you fall in, the average depth is about 1.25 metres. Try to avoid doing that though, because there are lots of large leeches and other nasty organisms in the water.

 

Lotus flower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Lotus flower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

A day trip from Hat Yai is quite possible but because of what I said above about making an early start it is probably best to stay the night before. There are official lodgings (large houses on stilts above the water) that you will need to book through the visitor centre. There are also some private guest houses - details below.

 

Birds perched at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Birds perched at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

On my first visit, I stayed in Phattalung main town the night before but on all subsequent visits I stayed in Thale Noi. There are only three hotels in Phattalung town apparently and none of them are too swish but they serve their purpose and aren't expensive. The Thai Hotel where I stayed charges Bt250 for rooms with fan and Bt400 for air-conditioned rooms. Phattalung doesn't get many tourists so hotel rooms should be easily available.

There are lots of local boat owners who make a living by taking tourists out on boat tours. The going rate as of April 2009 seems to be Bt400 (it used to be Bt300) but Thais will always try to get more money when a farang shows up. Unfortunately, this is no different in Thale Noi to anywhere else even though there are very few farang tourists.

 

Tour boats at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Tour boats at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

There are far more boat owners than tourists so just walk away if they try to increase the charge. They will then come running after you. I dislike money-grubbing intensely, and also the fact that some Thais believe all foreigners are incredibly rich but you can't change the way Thais think or behave.

When Thais are greedy I walk away, so they end up getting nothing. When Thais aren't greedy I will often give a tip so they end with more. Perhaps they will learn ... but I doubt it.

 

A local man fishing at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

A local man fishing at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Make sure the boat driver understands what kind of tour you want. I have never seen a Thai tourist with an interest in photography. They just want to speed around the wetlands as fast as possible. In any motorised vehicle - whether it is a car, motorbike or boat - a Thai will only want to go as fast as possible.

 

More lotus flowers at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

More lotus flowers at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

I always make sure the boat driver knows what I want before we set off. I tell him there is no need to hurry, and that I want to go very slowly. I want him to stop frequently and switch off the engine while we wait for birds to take photos of.

The diesel engines in the long-tail boats are really loud and when they are running you can't hear anything else. When they are switched off you can actually hear birds calling and it sounds great but I guess that isn't what Thais want.

 

White lotus flower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

White lotus flower at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Most drivers will follow these instructions but I did have one trip where the guy ignored everything I had told him. I even had Iss with me and she kept telling him in Thai what to do but he had his own agenda.

He wanted to race around - not wait with the engine switched off - and although he had paying customers he just did what he wanted to do.

Locals fish for their own needs and the reeds are harvested to produce floor mats and handicrafts. This guy had several very small fish in a bucket along with some huge water snails - the biggest snails I think I have ever seen.

 

Dragonfly at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Dragonfly at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

There is a delicate balance maintained between the locals and their environment. Poles that fisherman have stuck in the mud become perches for the birds. The birds' dropping are a rich source of nutrients which fertilise the plants. The plants provide shelter for fish and insects which then provide food for the fish. The birds and the locals eat the fish.

It works well and has done so for a long time but this is Thailand where rapid change in the name of 'advancement' is the order of the day.

One of the first things that struck me venturing out on to the water was the carpet of beautiful pink water lilies.

The flowers are mostly pink but there are white and purple ones also. I'm sure that even people who don't have any major interest in birds or flowers will be impressed by a visit here.

 

Bee at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Bee at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

The wetlands is an important conservation environment for 186 species of water birds (both resident and migratory), 26 kinds of reptiles and 13 kinds of mammals. And of course, there is a diverse variety of insects like this dragonfly.

The diversity of the bird population is quite amazing for a relatively small area, and migratory birds come from thousands of miles away to winter here.

The flora is diverse too, ranging from large trees to microscopic algae. There are about 260 species of plants and naturally some bees buzzing around to help pollinate them. This bee was making quite a noise.

 

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Ecotourism is now a big part of the world tourist industry but there is a delicate balance between promoting tourism and protecting the environment.

I'm wondering what plans there are for the new visitor centre at Thale Noi. There has been quite a lot of investment and the facilities have been built to Western standards. Does this mean there will be a push to attract lots of Western tourists?

The good thing is that Western tourists attracted to places such as Thale Noi are normally the type of people who are very sensitive about protecting the environment.

 

Tourist information unit at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Tourist information unit at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

There are even some tourist police on hand but I shouldn't think they are called upon too often. Iss hid the flower our boat driver had picked and given her.

Near the visitor centre are some OTOP (One Tambon One Product) stalls with local people selling their handiwork. They have some very attractive, well-made souvenirs to take home and not the usual tacky rubbish found around tourist traps.

 

Weaving at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Weaving at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

In addition there are restaurants and drink stalls for food and refreshments before or after your boat tour. Western food is non-existent at Thale Noi. The tourist infrastructure caters to Thais, not foreigners.

With the opening of the new visitor centre this might be changing. People working there could speak a little English and signs were in English. However, outside there is very little spoken or written English. It helps if you can speak and read Thai.

 

Spinning thread at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Spinning thread at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

This lady was spinning thread for her friends to weave on their looms. I had previously made a special visit to Ko Yo to see the Thai weaving cottage industry and saw very little. At Thale Noi I went for the birds and the scenery but as an added bonus got to see a good demonstration of Thai weaving.

 

Thai massage at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Thai massage at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

If watching beautiful scenery from a boat while someone else does all the work proves to be too stressful you can get an authentic Thai massage to relax your aching body as soon as you are back on terra firma. The rates here are a lot less than on the beach at Phuket or Krabi.

Here is a website for technical and scientific information.

For photos of the types of bird to be found at Thale Noi, the Oriental Bird Images web site is a good resource.

In April 2006 I returned to Thale Noi for another visit and was looking forward to getting some better bird photos, having recently purchased a longer (300mm) lens with Image Stabilisation. Again, it was an enjoyable trip but with a few differences.

 

Accommodation at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Accommodation at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

One of the disappointments was seeing a lot fewer birds than before. My first visit was in February which, along with March, are the two best months of the year according to the locals. I have also read from other sources that the quantity of migrating birds worldwide has fallen in general terms as a result of habitat destruction and other human messing around with the environment.

 

New visitor accommodation at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

New visitor accommodation at Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Thale Noi continues to be developed, but in a good way.

I visited in February 2012 and saw some new visitor accommodation that I hadn't seen before. The accommodation has been tastefully designed and built and blends in well with the local environment.

 

Ecotourism Thai-style, Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Ecotourism Thai-style, Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Thais and Westerners have very different ideas about protecting the environment. Thai tourists wrench out bunches of lotus flowers on their visits to Thale Noi; either to eat or to take home as souvenirs.

For a while there was a lot of construction taking place at Thale Noi that really upset the environment. Lotus flowers were replaced with concrete and a lot of the birds disappeared.

 

Constructing the new road across Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Constructing the new road across Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

By April 2009 a lot of the work seemed to have finished and Thale Noi was starting to get more settled again.

Whereas the highlight of my first visit to Thale Noi was seeing the birds and the beautiful natural surroundings, the highlight of my second trip was meeting the local people. This was a lot easier to do while staying locally and there is an amazing community of people there.

 

Making bags from dyed reeds harvested from Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

Making bags from dyed reeds harvested from Thale Noi, Phattalung province, Thailand

 

Apart from electricity and motor vehicles, I guess that the basic way of life has remained the same for hundreds of years. I found it quite refreshing to get away from the rat-race of modern society for a couple of days.

The main industry is fishing (which is to be expected). The men go out in the early hours of the morning and the women prepare the catch when they get back. The local people also harvest reeds from the water which they dry, dye and weave into mats and bags.

I wandered around - as I like to do - chatting with anyone who would talk to me and most were happy to do so. They don't see many farang tourists and even fewer of those they do see can speak any Thai so even if you know only a little Thai you are a bit of a novelty.

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Get The Best Deal On Your Hat Yai Hotel Room

Listed opposite are some of my personal recommendations for hotels in Hat Yai based on budget. I have lived permanently in Hat Yai since 2003 and my recommendations are based on a lot of local knowledge.

Each link will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Every time I research hotel prices the Agoda price is always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people.

If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.

If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand

 

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