Blog // Tales from the trail
Having received some local intel from a golfing buddy, mum suggested we all head out on a road trip to Phattalung to see the wetlands near the lake in Thale Noi, which is more or less due east of Phuket on the eastern coast of the mainland of Thailand. As Keith and I had plans to be in Trang (not far from Phattalung province) around the 6th July and the neighbour was kindly able to look after Kizzy, it was decided we'd all head off for a few days exploring. As we headed away from Phuket, the prices of things started to come down so much so, that it became a bit of a game to see who could procure the cheapest round of coffees en route! It seems that mum had the best intuition and managed 4 iced cappuccinos, one with a scoop of ice-cream in it for the grand total of 135 Bht - GBP 2.50.
We had been told about the joys of Sri Pak Pra, en eco-resort in Thale Noi and right on the bank of the northern tip of Songhkla lake, a spot popular for bird watching and identifiable by the unique style of fishing in the area. Hanging from what looks like a helicopter rotor, the nets look more like sea trampolines. These are attached to a see-saw contraption on a raised platform built into the shallow waters. When the time comes, the holdfast is released and the net is dunked completely into the water, presumably to be later hoisted back up full of river-shrimp that have collected on the bottom of the net, although we never did see them in action.
Very early the next morning (6am is very early for us these days!), the four of us loaded into a long-tail and went on a 2-hour boat ride to catch (excuse the pun) sunrise and watch the thriving ecosystem wake up. It was a truly magical and serene couple of hours and mum and I agreed that we could happily just sit there for hours watching the activity. Up above, hundreds of storks flew across the sky to the mangroves for the day, from where I don't know. Fishermen started throwing out their nets and the water buffalo took their morning dip before beginning the arduous task of eating grass all day. Around various bends would appear a completely new landscape- mangroves, swamp, reeds, turf, and most beautifully, meadows of pink water lillies and lotuses (or loti - both are correct!).
It was a glorious start to the morning and well worth the early rise. As an eco-tourism venture it seems to be fairly sensitive to the natural ecosystem whilst allowing a window in to see the traditional way of life. There were only two other boats out on the lake however, so it might be a different story during high season. I later learnt after reading-up, that Thale Noi was named as the first Ramsar site in Thailand, which means the wetlands are subject to a conservation framework under the convention, thereby hopefully protecting it againt unsustainable tourism. Good-o!
Songkhla Lake is the largest and only natural freshwater lake in Thailand, spanning a total length of about 80km and a width between 20-25km. It also hosts one of the five remaining critically endangered freshwater populations of Irrawaddy dolphins, although found much further south than we were unfortunately. We took a drive across the causeway, or more aptly, elevated highway that was built in the late 1990s between Thale Noi and Ranot above the wetlands across the top of the lake. The causeway was supported by monks from the two connecting provinces and we read that the 6km structure had reduced the previous trip between the two places by approximately 150km. Not a bad shortcut! It also lended itself to being a great vantage point for the wetlands itself!
After a very enjoyable day, we were more than ready to sample the local seafood for dinner that night, doused in lots chilli, of course!
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