One morning this past January, we packed our bags before leaving from downtown Udon Thani’s to Nong Han Kumphawapi lake, located 45 kilometres away. As you may have guessed, our destination was the famous Red Lotus Sea, rated as one of the world’s strangest lakes (yes, it’s a lake, not a sea like the name suggests) and the first of its kind in the Isan region that was fully integrated into the province’s tourism campaign.
Just one nap away, our car turned from the highway road onto the two-lane rural road of Chiang-Wae subdistrict, Kumphawapi District, Udon Thani province. Signs of local homestays popped up from time to time along the way. Although the Red Lotus Sea in Nong Han Kumphawapi lake is on view one time a year: starting in December, in full bloom in January and February, and gets thinner in March, the locals can still benefit from tourism. Since the lotuses bloom in the morning until 11 a.m., many travellers who don’t want to wake up too early prefer staying overnight there, so that they can head to the lake easily at sunrise.
At 8 a.m., the Baan Diem pier was buzzing with people. Vans shuffled to drop off and pick up tourists, while local sellers invited visitors to buy treats like grilled potatoes and local roasted rice called Khao Chee, an easy treat to have on the boat while admiring the beautiful lotuses. From afar, we could hear the pier manager calling upon travellers to embark on the arranged boats. One thing to admire about this place is the professionalism of the Baan Diem Community Enterprise of Tourist Boats. Despite of the huge crowds in the morning, everything was perfectly organized. Starting from buying tickets (300 THB for a small boat for 2 people and 500 THB for a large boat for 10 people) to handing the tickets to the staff at the pier, the staff will easily lead you to the correct boat. It’s as simple as that. No fuss or rip-off, and you can be sure that your money goes to the community because all the boat drivers are local boat owners who normally earn a living by fishing. But at this time of the year when the lotuses are in bloom, they gather at the pier, bringing visitors to admire their community’s Red Lotus Sea.
Nong Han Kumphawapi lake not only nourishes the lives of the locals, but is also an important ecosystem and home of a variety of flora and fauna. Throughout this 45-minute boat trip, apart from admiring the scenic view of the blooming lotuses, we can see various kinds of birds soaring on the water surface while some fishermen were still on duty. Small sightseeing boats glide along the lake on the same route, one after another, this spectacular sight reminded us of the mutual dependence that happens when living organisms are bound together. Although we were in a small boat that could cut through the swamps and reach the lotuses in a close enough proximity that we could literally touch them, our boat rider chose to tread lightly so that the lotuses were unharmed and the birds weren’t scared away. He said apologetically that due to the overdue winter, the lotuses started blooming later than usual so there were still less lotuses to be seen at the moment. But amidst the pinkish red flower sea, having ‘more’ or ‘less’ wasn’t important, what mattered most was the majestic sight in front of our eyes.