Text by Maya – Photo by Maya
To all Thailand lovers who already know postcard perfect tourist destinations like Krabi, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Samui I recommend an itinerary in the heart of the country through the provinces of Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani.
In a week or so you can discover the less tourist infested South of Thailand and end your trip relaxing on the East coast facing the islands of Samui and Phangan.
Phatthalung province has been overlooked for a long time, but as today its landscape and delightful cuisine has started to attract more visitors, most of them coming from Krabi and the other Southern provinces.
Phatthalung is still extremely natural, blessed by dreamy panoramas that include the wetlands where swamp buffaloes run wild and the green sea of Thale Noi (Thale Noi meaning “Little sea” in Thai language) known for the thousands of lotus flowers that cover its surface and several species of rare birds who make the joy of bird watchers. I recommend to sleep at least one night in one of the small guest houses overlooking the shore of Lake Thale Noi or nearby Lake Songkhla. The following morning you could wake up at dawn and marvel at the sunrise from a fisherman’s boat (or a kayak, since most guesthouses provide them) while slowly cruising on a sea of lotus flowers. These flowers open at dawn, only to close again once the sun is high and warm, so you’ll have to be an early bird.
You’ll have the rest of the day to relax at your hotel on the shore, pampering with a massage in a Spa (there is always one around, in Thailand) or swinging lazily on a hammock in the breeze coming from the lake while storks, eagles and swallows fly in the blue sky above.
The next day go on to Nakhon Si Thammarat, the capital of the same province, quite important in Thai history: in the past it used to be a commercial hub for merchants coming from India, Arabia, Portugal and England, and a prime cultural center for Thai Buddhism. Today Nakhon hosts one of the largest and most important Buddhist temples in the country, but you won’t find large crowds when you visit it, as it happens when visiting the main temples in Bangkok, because the Phra Mahathat Woramaha Viharn is mostly attended by locals and Thai worshippers on holiday. Among them it’s known as the Phra Chedi.
Besides exploring the temple, I recommend to pay a visit to the Ban Nang Talung Suchart Subsin, the Shadow Puppets Museum: Nakhon province is well known for the making of shadow puppets.
For lunch (or dinner) try local restaurants where, if you like spicy food, you can challenge yourself with kua kling, a local delicacy of minced pork or chicken mixed with Southern chilli paste.
Sleep in Nakhon, then head North-East to the village of Khanom, at the border between the provinces of Nakhon and Surat Thani.
Khanom is a fishermen and farmers village overlooking an 8 km beach and the South China Sea. The beach is a wide stretch of sand that in the intense sun light appears to be white, shaded by coconut palms and facing emerald green waters. The sea is almost always flat, the seabed is sandy and shallow, so that sea tides don’t make difficult entering the water for a swim, as it occurs on the West coast. More over, Khanom has a lazy, peaceful vibe: some guesthouses and a few 4 stars resorts face the beach, however there is plenty of space to be isolated, in blessed silence. I don’t recommend to stick only to the beach life, though, since Khanom has many more activities to offer, starting with the pink dolphins. These fascinating mammals, who are grey at birth and only become pink when they are around 10 years old, swim in the sea in front of the coast and around the nearby islands. I took only one boat trip and I spotted two (a mother with her baby) after less than 20 minutes. My guide, Mr Deng, a passionate environmentalist who speaks fluent English and worked in several National Parks around Thailand, has been working with locals in Khanom for some years now, teaching them how to protect the fragile eco-system of the region. He is knowledgable, focused, extremely professional. He explained me that dugongs also live (and can be spotted) in these waters, together with three other species of dolphins.
Besides dolphins, a half day sea-trip will give you a chance to see a unique stratified rock formation, typical of Khanom and few other areas in the world: these rocks are nicknamed “pancake rocks” for their shape, and the most famous are in New Zealand. During the boat trip we also stop at a tiny island-sanctuary whose Buddhist yellow flags can be seen from a distance, and that it is dedicated to the famous monk Luang Poo Tuad, miracles maker and highly revered in Thailand. The island is basically a big rock covered in lush vegetation (and yellow flags) whose summit offers a lovely panoramic view on the sea and islands below. Mr Deng will tell you everything about the myth and stories related to the place and the monk.
Back on the mainland, you can return to Khanom beach for a swim or explore the surrounding of Donsak pier, from where the ferries to Samui and Koh Phangan leave, or go for a fish scrub at a “Fish Spa” in the jungle. This is what I did and, despite not being an enthusiast of this tickle-torture, I really liked the natural pools where the Spa is located, among durian and palm trees, a regular hangout for locals.
After a few days in Khanom (that hosts several caves and waterfalls to be explored) you can choose to continue to the islands of Samui and Phangan, to the Ang Thong Marine Park, highly recommended, or you can opt to move West and enjoy the spectacular Khao Sok National Park or the natural beauty of Krabi. Because there’s no limit to the desire to keep going, once you started, isn’t there?