Supporting more than 180 species of local and migratory waterbirds and protected under the international Ramsar wetlands preservation treaty, Thale Noi is Thailand’s largest waterfowl reserve. Birdwatchers are joined by flora enthusiasts looking to glide through pink waterlilies that bloom by the thousands. Locals weave grass mats and fish off stilted platforms, adding splashes of culture to this increasingly popular natural attraction.
The marshy, 450-square-kilometre Thale Noi (Small Lake; also spelt Talay) is the northernmost of the bodies of water that make up Thale Sap (Freshwater Lake), also known as Songkhla Lake. Birdlife is most abundant from November to March, when flocks travel here from as far north as Siberia. From February to April, the birds glide above hot-pink waterlilies amid a brilliant sea of colour.
The heron and stork family is prevalent in Thale Noi, with plumed egrets and purple herons fairly easy to spot. Also well-represented are purple swamp hens that show off their stunning blues, greens and indigos while hopping awkardly from one patch of greenery to the next. Rarer species include the bronze-winged jacana, cotton pygmy goose and the brahminy kite, a handsome thing that looks like a smaller cousin of the bald eagle.
Longtail boat rides cost 450 baht per hour and the best time to go is early morning, followed by late afternoon. The boats do not have roofs, so sunscreen and hats are smart at any time, and going out at midday is not recommended. You’ll also find walkways stretching at least a hundred metres out into the lake. Further north is a birdwatching tower topped by an air-conditioned viewing room.
Another good place to watch the birds without using a boat is an elevated road — part of Route 4010 — running from east to west in the far south of Thale Noi, some three kilometres south of Baan Thale Noi’s boat piers and viewing platforms. Along this stretch you’ll see several wooden pens occupied by another type of animal that enjoys standing in the muddy water.
Continue south for another 10 kilometres and you’ll reach the Pak Pra Canal, a lifeline of local fishers. Head to where it empties into Thale Sap to gaze over hundreds of stilted fishing platforms, known as yor yak in Thai, with wide nets attached to wooden logs that are dipped into the water to catch fish. Boat trips can be arranged in Baan Pak Pra, the tiny village set just north of the canal.
Back within walking distance of the boat piers and birdwatching tower in Baan Thale Noi, over a dozen workshops carry on the tradition of krajud, crafting mats, baskets, hats and other products from a long and hardy type of local grass. A stroll along the raised walkways and narrow lanes takes you past bundles of krajud drying in the sun, old folks weaving in their humble wooden houses and spreads of drying catfish.
Lunchtime means one thing in Baan Thale Noi: seafood. Makeshift lakeside eateries serve the area’s abundant fish, shellfish and crustaceans at reasonable prices. If you’re in need of a strong coffee after that sunrise boat ride, head to the unfortunately named Pee & Ice Coffee, located just north of Route 4048 on the road that runs north to the west of town. This road is also a good place to check out some of the larger krajud operations.
If you’re looking to spend a night in the area, there are a few cheap and simple guesthouses with signs in Thai situated along the lakefront road in Baan Thale Noi. The surrounding area has its share of small resorts, mostly with no English signs. An exception is the excellent Sri Pak Pra Resort, which is a great place to grab a meal while soaking in the fishing-platform views even if you don’t stay.
Though still off the radar for most foreign travellers, Thale Noi is a fairly popular attraction among domestic tourists; expect to encounter busloads during the cooler months of the year, especially on weekends. If you’re coming mainly for the birdwatching, you also won’t want to miss the Khu Khut Waterbird Park, located 70 kilometres southeast of Thale Noi on the Songkhla province side of Thale Sap, in Sathing Phra district.
How to get there
Baan Thale Noi is located 30 km north of Phattalung town via a scenic route that takes you east along Highway 4047 to Baan Lam Pam, where you’ll want to cut Route onto Route 4007, which runs alongside Thale Sap and passes the Pak Pra Canal on the way. Thale Noi is often posted on signs and maps as “Thale Noi Waterfowl Reserve.”
Baan Thale Noi can also be reached by public minibuses that depart from Phattalung's bus station every 30 minutes from 06:00 to 18:00 for 70 baht per person. The boat piers and viewing platforms are within walking distance of where the minibuses drop off.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 8th February, 2016.