A little off the well-trodden tourist path, deep in the rice-growing heartland of northeast Thailand lies a lake, Talay Bua Deang in Thai, which means the Red Lotus Sea/Lake. To western eyes the flowers appear to be more pink than red, but whatever the hue the effect is quite spectacular, a picture-perfect romantic setting that simply dazzles the senses.
The wetland areas provide a refuge for thousands of species of birds, fish and mammals and although remote and off the usual tourist routes, a detour to this picturesque paradise will provide you with memories to last a lifetime.
Hidden from view by the tall elephant grass that surrounds the lake, your boat makes its way through and glides effortlessly over the placid water and you are suddenly presented with a view of countless numbers of pink lotus blooms, stretching to the edge of sight.
A carpet of pink as far as the eye can see
The flowers spread across the water like a carpet, but narrow channels through the flowers allow small boats to pass with ease. These boats can be rented with a boatman cheaply and easily and make the adventure all the more intimate, with covered canopies to provide shade from the burning sun. There are a number of small islands in the lake, some with shrines and other places of spiritual interest.
The flowers tend to close up during the intense heat of the day, which means that visits after midday are likely to be somewhat unrewarding. For the best experience it’s advisable to arrive as early as possible when visitors are fewer in numbers, preferably from sunrise to about 11 am.
The area has about 80 bird species, including the Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, Purple Heron, the Pygmy Goose and the Grey Heron, now listed as endangered.
Located about 45 kilometres outside of Udon Thani City, in the Kumphawapi district, in a region which many people refer to as Isan, a taxi or tuk-tuk is the best way of reaching this spot. Udon Thani itself has good road and rail connections with other parts of Thailand.
The bustling town of Udon Thani
The best time to visit is during the cool season when the pink buds begin to bloom after the seasonal rains and reach full bloom around January and February, though often extending into March, after which the lake is largely devoid of colour, but nevertheless still a splendid venue from which to explore Thailand’s wildlife in one of the country’s most interesting regions.
Pay a visit to Udon Thani’s majestic museum to find out more about the local culture
An annual flower festival, the Red Lotus Sea Festival, is held towards the middle of January at Wat Ban Diem, a temple right next to the lake. Apart from the Red Lotus Lake, there is the nearby archaeological site of Ban Chiang, where the world’s first Bronze Age civilisation is believed to have existed some 5,000 years ago.
Like many of the natural wonders of Thailand, these wetlands have a fragility that can easily succumb to the onslaught of huge numbers of tourists. Thailand’s tourist boon is also a curse in that the income it provides comes at a heavy environmental price. So, it would be best to see this spectacular lotus lake while it retains its pristine, natural splendour and is still in the pink (of health).