23 May 2024

While southern Thailand might be synonymous with pristine beaches, water sports, bars, and bustling tourist scenes, Phatthalung offers a contrasting paradise for those in search of calm.

This lesser-known province caters to a different kind of traveler – one seeking serenity, untouched beauty, and a deep connection with nature. Here, you’ll also find a rich cultural tapestry waiting to be explored.

Visitors enthralled by the beauty of Phatthalung will tell you one thing: visit and see for yourself. As my own experience confirms, a few days in this southern province leave you wanting more.

Red lotus in full bloom//Photo by Warunee Maneekum

Unlike its neighbors Trang and Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung doesn’t boast a bustling airport. This “no-frills” approach might seem like a drawback at first, but it’s a blessing in disguise.

The lack of mass tourism keeps Phatthalung pristine, making it a haven for those seeking an escape from the ordinary and a chance to reconnect with nature, local culture, and friendly faces.

Phatthalung offers a welcome respite from the frenetic pace of other tourist destinations.

Here, life flows at the rhythm of the rising and setting sun. Embrace the opportunity to unwind and reconnect with a simpler way of life.

One of Phatthalung’s unforgettable experiences is a sunrise exploration of Khlong Pakpra (Pakpra Canal) aboard a longtail boat.

Arrive before dawn to bask in the quiet hum of local life as residents begin their day, fishing and gathering sustenance from the bountiful waters.

Your two-hour journey will be filled with wonder as you navigate the canal and explore the unique Thale Noi Waterfowl Park.

Buffaloes swimming at Talae Noi// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

Indulge in birdwatching, spotting elusive species amid the rich biodiversity. Keep an eye out for water buffalos grazing by the water’s edge and witness the breathtaking sight of a sea of lotus flowers blooming in the morning light.

Thale Noi, Phatthalung’s crown jewel, is more than just a pretty picture. Explore the park’s 285,625 rai (457-plus square kilometers) and immerse yourself in the symphony of birdsong and natural sounds.

Declared Thailand’s first non-hunting area in 1975, Thale Noi is a haven for wetland birds and a testament to the region’s commitment to nature.

One visit, and you’ll understand why this is a place that lingers in the memory.

But Phatthalung’s beauty extends beyond Thale Noi. Khao Ok Talu, a limestone mountain in the heart of the province, beckons adventurous hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Nicknamed “Chest Penetrated Mountain” for its unique rock formation, it offers breathtaking panoramic views.

The climb takes roughly 30 minutes along a 1,066-step trail, with scenic overlooks along the way.

The highlight awaits at the top: a thrilling view through a hole in the mountain – hence the nickname – showcasing the entire province in an Instagram-worthy panorama.

Fusion of Faith and Flavor

Phatthalung’s rich cultural tapestry is a blend of Malay, Chinese, and Thai influences.

This vibrant mix is evident in the architecture, like the majestic Wat Kuha Sawan. Believed to date back to the Ayutthaya period, the temple boasts invaluable artifacts and a sacred cave housing Buddha images.

It also serves as the province’s Dharma study center.

Inside the cave at Wat Kuha Sawan// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

For a deeper cultural dive, explore bustling markets teeming with fresh produce, handcrafted souvenirs, and mouthwatering street food.

Follow a local’s routine and indulge in a traditional Phatthalung breakfast: Khanom Jean (rice noodles) with authentic curries.

The Malay influence is evident at Bung & Go shop// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

Khao Yum in a plastic-free package at Tai Node market //Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

Local Sang Yod Rice on sale at Tai Node market// Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

Be warned, “Kaeng Tai Pla” and “Kaeng Som” pack a punch! Balance the heat with fresh vegetables or a side dish like fried chicken.

To experience a touch of Malay’s influence, visit a roti and curry stall near a local mosque. Must-tries include roti and tea and Mataba.

The Malay influence is evident at Bung & Go shop// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

For a taste of authentic Phatthalung cuisine, head to the Tai Node Market. This market was established by the brother of the late Kanokphong Songsomphan, a renowned Thai writer.

Here, you’ll find a community learning center alongside a market selling “Good Food Good Life” products – delicious local specialties and fresh produce like Khao Sang Yot and Bai Luang fruits, all free of chemicals.

Open every Sunday, the market offers a chance to chat with friendly vendors who’ll answer your questions about local ingredients and dishes.

Phatthalung’s culinary scene reflects Chinese influences alongside other cultures. Experience this at Chi Chiao restaurant, located opposite Dusit Princess Phatthalung Hotel.

Led by a Phatthalung native returning after years working in tourist destinations, the restaurant offers popular dishes like Khao Man Gai (Singaporean Chicken with Rice) and Hainanese Chicken with Rice, along with crispy pork belly and steamed sea bass with soy sauce.

Local Culture and Charm

Phatthalung’s rich cultural heritage extends beyond delicious food. Immerse yourself in the birthplace of Nang Talung shadow puppetry and the vibrant Nora dance tradition.

For a unique shopping experience, visit the Varni Community Enterprise Learning Center.

The Varni Craft display at its centre in Dusit Princess Phatthalung Hotel// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

Sedge bags at Varni Craft Centre/ Photo by Warunee Maneekum

This renowned brand creates exquisite Krajood (sedge) handicrafts, a skill you can even learn firsthand.

The center also offers a serene homestay experience, complete with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and local artisans weaving Krajood products.

Krajood decoration in a guest room of Dusit Princess Phatthalung Hotel// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

Krajood decoration in the lobby of the Dusit Princess Phatthalung Hotel// Photo by Warunee Maneekum

Phatthalung caters to all travel styles. For a lakefront experience, consider Sri Pak Pa Boutique Resort. Witness the beauty of Thale Noi and observe the daily life of local fishermen from your balcony.

The resort boasts traditional architecture that blends seamlessly with the environment, offering stunning lake views at affordable rates.

If you prefer a four-star atmosphere, stay at the newly opened Dusit Princess Phatthalung Hotel.

This hotel provides easy access to many tourist destinations and is surrounded by local shops offering massages, pedicures, haircuts, and delicious street food.

If you go:

By air: fly from Bangkok to Hat Yai, Songkhla or Bangkok to Trang and then connect with a bus or van to Phatthalung

By rail:  The train from Bangkok reaches Phatthalung at 5am.

By Veena Thoopkrajae