Couchfish Day 247: A massif day

Couchfish Day 247: A massif day

Small town, big peaks

Nakhon Si Thammarat sits at the terminus of a spur on the southern Thailand railway, with only the occasional train south to Phattalung. Given I only have a short jaunt south planned, I grab a minibus for the trip.

Now if you thought Nakhon was devoid of tourists, you’ve not seen anything yet. While Phattalung sits on the main north–south train line, few foreign travellers get off. This is a shame as there’s enough within easy reach of downtown to keep most busy for at least a day. For those with more time, especially bird lovers, staying longer is a good idea.

Most trains stop here but few alight. Photo: David Luekens.

Sandwiched between two limestone crags, the small provincial capital is low rise. It spills out to the south, wrapping around the western peak, with taller Ok Thalu to the east dominating. David describes the latter as looking “like a giant shark’s fin of rock protruding from a jungle-clad body”. I agree.

Phattalung is small enough to walk around and The Room, five minutes from the train station, works a treat. The town has plenty of places to stay, but it is fair to say the market is travelling business people more than backpackers. Still, the hotel is friendly and family run, with comfortable, brightly coloured rooms. What seals the deal though is an upstairs terrace with views of the crags and the greater skyline.

Watch out for sharks. Photo: David Luekens.

It is to the crags I’m headed and I meander along the narrow, little trafficked lanes to Khao Ok Thalu. The massif features on the provincial seal, and visible from all over town, it isn’t hard to find.

There are two sets of stairs from the foot. The shorter one passes religious statues like Ganesh and Kwan Yin with views for free along the way. The second though, is a more strenuous climb, topping out at a platform with tremendous views. Along with the vistas out and around, a massive hole in the massif allows me to peer back down to earth. Consider it justification for all the sweat going on.

Keep climbing. Photo: David Luekens.

The descent is as hard on the knees as the ascent, but once back on the ground I head north, along the west bank of the peak. Tham Malai sits near the northern side of it, and while I’d struggle to justify going to Phattalung just to see it, it is an easy distraction. The dim lighting within paints the walls in a red hue and while I don’t know if it is deliberately creepy, it is. The bazillion bats within, often fluttering by, mere inches from my head, add to the creepiness.

All batted out, I wander back into town, looking for a bite. Like Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phattalung’s food scene well and truly tells me I’m in southern Thailand. While more upmarket eateries are few and far between, there is no shortage of khao gaeng shops.

Not creepy at all. Photo: David Luekens.

Literally “rice and curry” these small shopfront restaurants display their fare out front. Rich and spicy curries line up side by side and all I need do is point and pick. The tangs and flavours of the far south can be very in your face if you’ve not strayed much past a green curry with chicken—take my word for it!

Sated, I take a wander through Phattalung’s municipal market. Given the time of day, it isn’t exactly humming, but there is still enough going on to warrant a look see. I’ll be back here tomorrow morning.

I’ll have a serving of everything please. Photo: David Luekens.

Then I continue west, hooking around to the south side of the second massif to approach Wat Khuha Sawan. Phattalung’s most important religious site, the temple is small, but sitting in the shadow of the peak, it appeals. The further in I wander, the more meditative it becomes. What little hustle and bustle of Phattalung exists fades as I venture further into the woods. Eventually I reach stairs leading up to another viewing platform. While not as spectacular as Ok Thalu, it is still worth the climb.

I lose the rest of the afternoon exploring the town. There are still a few old wooden vestiges of the past and plenty more to snack on. The only thing missing is a lake to relax by. I’ll get to that tomorrow.

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