If you have a chance to travel to the Udon Thani province, north eastern Thailand, during the end of December till February, you may want to visit the lake of Nong Harn Kumpawapi. This is a time when a vast field of red lotus are in full bloom, covering a body of the lake. It is a beautiful and stunning sight to see.

Tourists can rent a boat to get a close look of the red lotus. It is recommended to start the tour in the morning between 7 and 10 am. There is another site like this at Bueng Borapet, Thailand’s largest fresh water lake, in Nakhon Sawan Province, 237 km north of Bangkok.

Red Lotus Sea in Udon Thani, Northeastern Thailand

Red Lotus Sea in Udon Thani, Northeastern Thailand
Credit Image: Ms. Supranee Thawananon

Bueng Borapet, Nakornsawan - Central Thailand

Bueng Borapet, Nakhon Sawan – Central Thailand

Lotus is one of the flowers that Thais are most acquainted with.  It is an ancient plant scattered in different locations around the world and appeared in various ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, etc. Many people, myself included, mistake Lotus for Water Lily, or the other way around.

Bua luang

These two flowers are indeed entirely different plants. The lotus is an aquatic plant in the family of Nelumbonaceae while the water lily is in the family of Nymphaea.  We can differentiate them by looking at the center of the flower.  The lotus (Nelumbo) has a structure of circular seed pod at the center of the flower while the water lily (Nymphaea) doesn’t.

Water Lily

Since the two flowers share similar shape, Thai makes life easy by just simply calling them ‘Bua’, which means lotus. Thais use lotus in various occasions, particularly religious and auspicious ceremonies. It is often used as a motif in Thai arts and mentioned in Buddhist literature. It is also a food ingredient and a medicine.

Lotus grows in muddy water but its flower rises above the water, symbolizing a wisdom free from ignorance. Many Buddha statues sit on on a lotus base. Thai artisans developed a form of lotus petals as a vital part of decoration for traditional Thai architecture. For example, the capital of columns in most Buddhist temples in Thailand has a shape of lotus petals. The crown moulding in Thai houses is also referred as “Bua”.

capital column in Buddhist Temple

Capital column in Buddhist temple

King Rama II in 1815 named a small town as “Pathum Thani” as the city of lotus after his visit (the Mekhala boat stop overnight at this town during the cruise).

As a food, Thais use stems of a certain kind of lotus to cook with coconut milk and fish. The dish is called “Kaeng Sai Bua” or Lotus Stem coconut soup.  It is a traditional Thai dish you do not see in the restaurant menus. Some use the leaves as a container  by wrapping it around steamed rice.  Lotus roots can be cooked both for main dish and dessert. The Chinese believe that the lotus roots help keeping the balance of body temperature.  The pollen of ‘Bua Luang’ or Sacred Lotus is used as one of the ingredients in some Thai herbal medicine.