Phattalung sounds like a name wich rather belongs to a place on Sumatra than in Thailand. That's doubtlessly so, because Phattalung has old Malay roots and the region here (e.g. Songkhla) was in contact and mutual cultural exchange with the Srivijaya Kingdom on Sumatra in middle ages.
Phattalung's only main road at dusk. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
And that's very much to feel in the town and around. Most people are rather looking like Malays than Thai. Means having a darker complexion, rounder proportions, different faces.
Nowadays Phattalung is a small province capital in the south of Thailand, near the large Songkhla Lakes (Thale Noi, Thale Luang, Thale Sap Songkhla). The town is still one of the quite relaxed places in Thailand, where rarely a western tourist or traveller goes. Remarkable are the steep and high limestone mountains close to the town. They are to see from almost everywhere here. The Phu Khao Ok Thalu (mountain) closely east of town is a symbol of Phattalung and appears in the official city seal.
Places of interest - Wat Khuha Suwan + the Night Market
There are only two places of interest in town. One of them is Wat Khuha Suwan; it's less the temple itself but it's that it is built at the foot of one of the big limestone mountains and it's possible to climb up there to a viewpoint, giving one a view over Phattalung towards the east with the neighbouring limestone mountain, Phu Khao Ok Thalu, who is some 250 meters high.
Idols in Khuha Suwan
The old cave with only a few of the idols. The two at the very right must be a local particularity. They appear here and there in Phattalung, but nowhere else. I doubt that they have anything to do with Buddhism. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
The temple Wat Khuha Suwan itself is seemingly a rich place with a number of buildings in good shape and quite representative. Unfortunately the temple building itself was always closed when I came along. That's a new habit since recent years, that more and more temples are locked, particularly in the south of Thailand.
There are, as so often in Thai temples, dozends of dogs living in the wat, but since they are well fed they cause little trouble - a bit barking only. There is also a pack of macaques living in the mountain's forest. They get food from the monks, and therefore coming down from the mountain into the temple every evening at least. I found also a few cats in a corner of the place, but they are a bit outsiderlike. I guess, they don't care.
Wat Khuha Suwan must be an old, historical temple, where alleged Buddha remains of former centuries were found. A bit above the buildings there is a cave in the mountain, where, as usually in such places, a number of Buddha statues are placed, including a square for praying and worshipping the idols.
The other interesting place in town is the food market next to the railway station. From late afternoon on a number of foodstalls are built up offering a variety of Thai food. Always a good place for dinner.
The Malay Cave
'Tam Malay', as the local people call the caves and the temple at the northern edge of Phu Khao Ok Thalu Mountain, is quite a peaceful place to go and to spend a relaxed afternoon in the green.
The northern end of the mountain houses a number of caves. In my experience, and I have seen a lot of these limestone mountains, they are generally very porous and offer space for a lot of caves - big ones, small ones and - tiny ones, who are all great hideouts for certain animals.
Tam Malay (Cave)
The entrance to one of the caves. To enter here requires some climbing. Two other entrances are easyer to approach. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
There are at least two main entrances into caves. If you want to go there, don't forget to take at least two torches and plenty of spare batteries with you. Make sure you can orientate inside the underground system and be sure to find your way back - even in the case, you wouldn't have any light anymore. All around the year there is water dropping from the cave's ceilings. That's why these caves are always stalagtite caves - and slippery as well.
Already the entrances of the caves smell much for bat's excrements - it's a strong, sour smell. Hundreds, if not thousands of bats are living inside, spending the daytime sleeping under the ceilings and coming out at nighttime, hunting insects. Also mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are by the way by distance the most animals one comes in contact with when entering the mountain forest. Being prepared already with a repellent at start is a good idea.
On the top of one of the foremountains is another temple - but I have never seen any staff there, say monks or any people. It's always locked. There are traces of people (monks) who squat there occasionally, but probably not permanently.
Apart from caving one can enter the mountain jungle by following some stairs and paved ways, partially a bit overgrown. At one spot are a few idols and the paved way ends, but a jungle path is continuing. It's an easy walk along the mountain forest slopes.
Thale Songkhla Lake Chain - Thale Sap Songkhla | Thale Luang | Thale Noi
Thale Sap Songkhla
At the strait of Thale Songkhla Lake Chain, seen from Khao Tank Kuan Pagoda Hill in Songkhla City. The shorelines are all around illuminated and the lake is heavily overfished. Image by Asienreisender, 2005
The greatest particularity in Phattalung Province is defenitely the lake chain of Thale Songkhla. It consists of two big lakes and a smaller one which appears like an appendix at the northern end (Thale Noi). The middle lake (Thale Luang) and the southernmost one (Thale Sap Songkhla) are connected by a six kilometers wide bottleneck. At the southern end the lake chain is at the city of Songkhla connected with the Gulf of Thailand / South China Sea. That's why the lakes have a brackish water. The salt water portion at Songkhla City is about 50%, and the water is ever less salty as further away from the Gulf.
The strait which connects the lake chain and the Gulf is 380m wide. North of it the chain is separated from the open sea by a 75km long spit, which was formed of a former island chain who grew together due to silt sedimentation. Thale Luang reaches a size of 783m2, while Thale Noi measures only 28km2.
There is a sideroad from Phattalung Town to Thale Noi. Thale Noi is only 150 centimeters deep (in average) and covered with waterlilies respectively lotus flowers. It's declared as 'Thale Noi non hunting area' since 1975. But protection does not seem to be taken too serious.
A crocodile in a pool next to Thale Luang. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Skippers offer boat tours for an hour or so over the lake. It's recommended to do that in the morning, because after about 10 a.m. the waterlilies close their blossoms. It's an impressing tour, and one sees a lot of birds and get's a better impression of the lake (see the photocomposition below). Though, the longtail boats are extremely noisy and disturb the animals. Besides they pollute the water. There are certain, signed waterways for the boats.
The Songkhla lake chain is one of the very few freshwater/wetland ecosystems in Thailand who are still being considered half-way intact, although it sounds pretty euphemistic when one knows how much impact the nature here suffers. There are many fish species in the lake, among them allegedly the Irrawady Dolphin (one of the critically endangered species, also here, despite the official protection, due to overfishing). Walking along the parallel road to Thale Noi in Phanang Thung/Thale Noi village, where the park's (extensive) headquarters are, one sees the villagers drying masses of fish in the sun. Small ones, big ones... Does fish fall from the sky in the 'non-hunting area'?
Thale Noi, the smallest of the three lakes. Here the water is mostly freshwater and the lake's surface is widely covered with swimming plants like waterlilies and lotus. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Apart from the richdom of fish the lakes are home for hundreds of bird species, of whom some are very rare. Part of the bird species are coming here only in the winter months from China and Siberia. In March/April they fly back to the north.
Additionally to birds, fish, reptiles and some mammals there is a great variety of plants living in and around the lakes, including the marshlands, swamp forests and swamp grasslands.
Although the area looks optically 'intact' and is described as "one of the few surviving intact freshwater wetland ecosystems in Thailand", it is in fact not really intact. About 5,000 villagers cultivate the area with cattle like water buffalos, rice cultivation and certainly they do fishing and hunting. About 200,000 tourists visit Thale Noi and the surroundings, and the boat tours are also an impact for the nature. Tourists use a lot of water and leave mountains of litter. The wider surrounding plains in Phattalung Province are coined by rice cultivation and other agricultural activities. Furtilizers, chemicals, waste water drains into the ecosystem of Thale Noi.
In former decades there was a subpopulation of the critically engangered Irrawaddy Dolphin living in the lake chain of Songkhla Lake. However, it's doubtful if there still individuals survived until today (2015). In surveys in the years 2001 and 2002 only four dolphins were seen, in a 2003 survey not a single one was seen. It was supposed that there were less than 50 mature individuals living in the lakes. The surveys also concluded that the remaining dolphins would live only in the deepest parts of Thale Luang anymore. They are no more able to leave the lake chain to enter the Gulf of Thailand, for the small strait at Songkhla and the waters of Thale Sap Songkhla are so densly loaded with fishing nets and traps that it blocks the way. That makes the here living dolphins an isolated population.
In the past there was a second channel connecting the northern part of Thale Luang with the Gulf, but this connection has been dammed to prevent salt intrusion. The lake's water is also used for agricultural irrigation purposes. Shoreline development is also ongoing. For 1994 there is still a stranded Irrawaddy Dolphin recorded near Suratthani, some 300km north, who might have come from Thale Songkhla.
The greatest parts of the lakes are shallow waters, and the greatest dangers for the dolphins are (abandoned) fishing nets and traps. Fishing gears are placed practically all over the most parts of the big lakes. Overfishing also bereaves the dolphins from their diet. Pesticides and herbicides are drained in high concentrations into the lakes and cause stillbirths and diseases for all the dolphins, particularly the calves.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2005, 2015
For a photocomposition of a trip on Thale Noi click the header...
The Nakhon Si Thammarat Mountain Range - Banghat Range
The Nakhon Si Thammarat Mountain Range (also called: Banghat Range) is part of the Tenasserim Mountain Range. It starts in the Gulf of Thailand with the well known tourist island of Ko Pha Ngan and stretches to the other side of the peninsula, the Andaman Sea. The highest mountain of the range is Khao Luang (1835m, in Khao Luang National Park), south of Nakhon Si Thammarat. Khao Ok Thalu, the limestone mountain near Phattalung and the others of the same kind in and around Phattalung are part of the Nakhon Si Thammarat Mountain Range as well as the mountains between Phattalung and Trang Provinces, including Khao Pu/Khao Ya National Park.
Khao Ok Thalu
Khao Ok Thalu, Phattalung's symbol. At the left side is 'Tam Malay', the Malay cave, situated. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
The Economy of Phattalung
It seems that most of the local people are peasants, living as rice farmers. It's really still rice what's growing here, there are not the notorious palm oil, rubber and coconut plantations as they are crushing in the neighbouring provinces of Trang and Satun.
There is absolutely no tourism in Phattalung. Always when I stayed here for a couple of days, I seldom saw another Westerner.