A Travellerspoint blog

Ubon Ratchathani Wax Festival

Annual Buddhist Lent Candle Parade as good as before

overcast 30 °C

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Ubon Ratchathani is an iconic province in the north eastern of Thailand and as mentioned before, this is a very special Isaan province due to the strong influence of different cultures combining that of Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. Due to the close proximity of Ubon with neighbouring Laos and Vietnamese, the province has very high potential in attracting travellers from other province and cities within Thailand as a gateway to the other 2 interesting counterparts of the ASEAN family, Laos and Vietnam. The food in Ubon has high similarity with that of the two countries as shared before this blog. So, tourists can in fact enjoy the food and cultures of three countries in 1 province in Thailand which is really a good travel package as far as travel industry is concerned. But, Ubon Ratchathani is not a province that just portray a clash of cultures. Much more than that, Ubon is so distinctive from the other Thai province that one would fall in love and remember for rest of their travel experience, that is the annual candle festival now widely known as the Ubon Ratchathani International Wax Festival. I had 6 years ago, been to this colourful and enchanting festival which captured the interests of people from all around Thailand as well as avid travel and culture lovers all around the globe. This festival can proudly be dubbed as "Unseen Thailand" as I thought, this was never be seen elsewhere or perhaps not as creative and highly skilled as those beautifully, amazingly and marvellously carved figures depicting the religion beliefs of Buddhism within the Indochina region seen here at the Ubon Wax Festival. The festival spanned over 3 days starting from 29 till 31 July 2015 featured various activities including but not limited to the wax carving competitions by world participants from various countries, Ubon Ratachathani Wax Floating Parade and the Buddhist Lent merit making at temples in Ubon Ratchathani and surrounding areas. The city of Ubon was turned into a huge religious party with everyone from elsewhere of Thailand as well as foreign tourists alike converged into the centre of the city to indulge in various activities including the Ubon wax festival bazaar with food and many shopping items available for everyone, the rehearsals of wax floats on the eve of the ultimate festival which was on 31 July 2015 as well as presentations and dance performances, light and sounds presentations on the night of the final day of the festivals. All around the Ubon province and greater Ubon, there were many temples holding the merit making prayers with devotees attending the religious ceremony asking for peace, forgiveness, good health, steady and advancing career prospects, love and good family relationships. The Ubon wax festival was held in conjunction with the Buddhist Lent season, which extended over period of 3 months beginning anywhere between July to October each year. This is a season where all monks will stay in the temples to meditate and reflect on the past year. This was also the beginning of rainy season and monks are obliged to stay in temples and not wander out in their usual "tak bat" (merit making offerings where layman would offer food, drinks and daily use items to monks in exchange of the monks' meditation for the good of the merit makers). In a "tak bat", monks will walk in a line through the villages and the laymen would place food, drinks and other daily essentials into the monks' bowl then remove their shoes and kneel down while the monks' chanting prayers which ultimately to blessed merit makers with good health, harmony life and safe passage throughout their life journey.

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Wax floats paraded during the rehearsal of the Ubon International Wax Festival

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Thai and Isaan traditional costumes and dancers of a particular participant organisation leading the float car @ Ubon International Wax Festival 2015

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A convoy of beautiful Thai Isaan girls @ Ubon Wax Festival

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A candle float @ Ubon Wax Festival

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A traditional song performers @ Ubon Wax Festival

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On the eve of the final day of the Ubon Ratchathani International Wax Festival, all wax floats were ready to be paraded and were being showcased to the crowds from everywhere in Thailand as well as travellers and tourists from across the world during the float procession rehearsal. It was raining on that day but the spirit of the people from all walks of life were not dented. People were seen standing along the road and street sides holding umbrellas, caps or hats eagerly waiting for the rehearse of floats to pass by. I managed to get a glimpsed from the five foot walkways of shops to have a quick view on how beautiful the floats were. On the final day of the Ubon Wax Festival which is the highlight of this unique festival in Ubon specifically and Thailand in general, colourful wax floats came on the streets for everyone to see and enjoy with Ubon's central business district turned into a huge carnival atmosphere with colourful traditional Thai and Isaan costumes worn by the dancers of each of the participants lined over the streets during the float parade. Participants were from various organisations including temples, schools, universities, private corporations and associations. Each participants would have its own traditional dancers of which would front the wax or candle float, followed by a convoy of beautiful Thai or Isaan girls, then the wax float, which being pulled by a mid-size excavator and finally, a lorry loaded with traditional songs performers. The weather on this version of Ubon International Wax Festival was cloudy, described as overall being cool with slight drizzles which quickly disappeared. It was a pleasant carnival day for all who involved in the wax parade as well as the crowds. The float parade started at 0800 and lasted until 1200 over a period of 4 hours and were indeed a nice experience for everyone for it was not only colourful and entertaining but this festival signifies the importance of remembering an important religious event in Thailand as well as it provides a very vital stage for Thais to showcase their carving skills to not only the locals but also to the world. On the night of the final day of the wax festival, the winners of the wax floats including champion, 1st and 2nd runners-up as well as consolation and subsidiary titles were again being paraded on the streets as the grand final activity of the the Ubon Wax Festival which also include the traditional costumes dance performance and street performance and dances activity. It was yet another spectacular performance to end the marvellous annual candle festival in Ubon Ratchathani.

THE AWARD PRESENTATION TO THE WINNERS & SUBSIDIARY TITLES AS WELL AS LIGHT & SOUND PERFORMANCE DURING THE FINAL NIGHT OF THE 2015 UBON RATCHATHANI INTERNATIONAL WAX FESTIVAL
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Other than the candle float parade, other important activities during the Buddhist Lent holiday was to visit temples to offer merit making in return for everything that is supposed to be good in issues affecting our daily life. Most devotees would visit temples on personal basis or with family members or relatives in offering merit making. A merit making during Buddhist Lent season involve presentations of daily use essentials to the monks, including food and drinks but most importantly, it also include large candles which would be useful to the monks as they stayed in the temples for over the next 3 months of the rainy season. I had the opportunity to visit some temples in Ubon Ratchathani during the Buddhist Lent after having one during last year's Songkran holiday. I had previously shared my visits to some of the most significant temples in Ubon during that period. As for this Buddhist Lent holiday, there were another good opportunity to get a close look in few other magnificent Ubon temples of which some of them oversee the Mun river. They were Wat Si Ubon Wattanaram, Wat Luang & Wat Supattanaram of which both overlook the Mun River, Wat Phra Yai Ong Teu & Wat Maha Wanaram. Wat Si Ubon Wattanaram has very strong similarity with Wat Benchamabophit in Bangkok. Wat Luang was special with its wooden structure wiharn while its ubosot structure was unusually taller and trimmer than any other temples in Ubon or Thailand and its location is nicely overseeing the Mun River. Wat Supattanaram is yet another distinctive temple in Ubon with its wiharn building architecture being a combination influence of Thai, German and Khmer design making it very closely a resemblance of a church building. Wat Maha Wanaram currently undergoing reconstruction and renovations also being aunique temple resembling the sacred temple of Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, Laos. Wat Ong Teu on the other hand showcase very strong Chinese and Thai design influence.

WAT SI UBON WATTANARAM
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WAT LUANG WHICH OVERLOOK THE MUN RIVER IN UBON RATCHATHANI
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WAT SUPATTANARAM WHICH ALSO OVERLOOK THE MUN RIVER.
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A CANDLE FLOAT AT WAT SUPATTANARAM
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WAT MAHA WANARAM WHICH UNDERWENT RENOVATIONS AND RECONSTRUCTIONS. A VERY DISTINCTIVE WAT IN UBON.
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WAT ONG TEU
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ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ITEM TO BE OFFERED TO MONKS AT TEMPLE DURING THE KHAO PHANSA (BUDDHIST LENT) - THE CANDLES
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Posted by kidd27 23:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Isan Food Travel on Buddhist Lent Holiday

Nem Neung: The clash of Thai & Vietnamese flavour in this all-time favourite dish

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Ubon Ratchathani is a unique province located on the north eastern of Thailand, which being well referred to as the Isaan Region of this Land of Unseen. Well, why would I tagged Ubon as a province which was distinct from its other counterparts? It is one that was different not only for it being a province which speaks the Isaan language (a language with different tones from other parts of Thailand but with mostly similar vocabulary) but also because the food here was very much influenced by the mixture of Lao, Vietnamese and Chinese taste and flavour. In Lao, you would see that much of what Thais enjoy very much today of the "somtam" (papaya salad) was indeed very highly and closely linked to the Lao food culture. In fact, there are 2 types of "somtam" in Thailand, one which is "tam Lao" (somtam Lao style) and another "tam Thai" (Thai style). What differentiates the 2 salad dish was that the Lao style adds the additional ingredients which is the fermented fish of which the taste may not be of preference to those who were unused to the "unpleasant" smell. This papaya salad dish is very much special on its own and also to Thailand and Laos because this dish is very much like a national dish to both countries. Of course this is not only available in Ubon Ratchathani but also all across of Thailand as well as in Laos. As the saying goes, the best available dish comes from where it originated from. Because "somtam" is a dish which is a mixture between Laos and Thailand and that geographically Ubon province was just next to Laos's province of Champasak, the best "somtam" would be surely from provinces in Thailand that border Laos. There is also the Chinese style sausages available in Ubon that the province could proudly claimed as one of its best OTOP (One Tambon One Product) which also existed thanks to the Chinese people who migrated to Ubon Ratchathani from southern China during the war period. Along with them, they brought along the secret recipes in preparing the sausages and today, Ubon was able to prospered with the trading of these sausages. Many locals be it tourists or residents or even outsiders would never missed in getting these sausages and also other pork specialties when they travel to Ubon Ratchathani for vacation or just to be home over the long holiday for themselves as well as for friends and colleagues or acquaintances. The Vietnamese food culture influence in Thailand's north eastern region in particular Ubon Ratchathani province would be the "nem neung" dish. This is a dish that was very well known as a Vietnamese food but widely available in north eastern provinces of Thailand such as Ubon. "Nem neung" is a very simple dish yet it is very tasty, flavourful, addictive and most of all, healthy. So what is "nem neung" actually? I have shared about this unique food in the past but forgive me that it never bored me to get into the details again after some time so that I could refreshed those who had came across it previously and now I shared it again to those who may not have knowledge about this food. I couldn't remember much about "nem neung" or was it "nem nuong" in Vietnamese though I knew I had try this before when I travelled to Vietnam perhaps in Hue or Danang or maybe Hanoi. But what I could recalled clearly was the "nem neung" experience when I travelled to Ubon Ratchathani. I would never want to miss this one when I am in Ubon because though it is available in Bangkok and other province within Thailand, it is always good to have it at the place where it was famous or well known of to taste it there and then. Also, Ubon Ratchathani not just neighbouring Laos but also a province in Thailand where travellers can get to Vietnam via Laos quite conveniently due to the various border crossing options via Laos such as Chong Mek/Vangtao, Mukdahan/Savannakhet and Nakhon Phanom/Thakhek which one can then get to Vietnam through Bo Y, Dansavanh/Lao Bao and Lakxao/Vinh. Of the 3 crossings between Laos and Vietnam, I had cross over between 2 countries and ended in Ubon (Bo Y crossings) and Mukdahan (Lao Bao/Dansavanh crossings). This is also why such clash of food culture between the 3 countries of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand is so much of my interests and very close to my mind and heart. Other than "nem neung" my other Isaan-Vietnamese favourite cuisines would be definitely the "khai gata" a type of pan fried eggs served with "khun chiang" (Chinese style pork sausages) together with specially prepared pork wrapped in banana leaves with seasoned pepper known as "moo yor", also widely popular in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, where it is mostly stuffed in a french baguette or served in bowl of hot soup noodles. Eat the eggs nicely mix with the "moo yor" and "khun chiang" or stuffed them into piece of bread for better enjoyment of "khai gata". Another dish would be the "kway chap" a kind of hot soup noodles served with rice noodles with combination of its tasty soup, pork ribs and also "moo yor". This "kway chap" of Isaan flavour was different from the one available in Bangkok or other parts of South East Asia such as Singapore or Malaysia.

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"Khai gata" (pan fried eggs served with "moo yor" (specially prepared seasoned pepper pork)

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"Kway chap" (hot soup rice noodles served with pork ribs and "moo yor")

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"Khai gata" and "kway chap" topped it off with Lao coffee in Isaan Ubon Ratchathani

"Nem neung" dish consist of combinations of various food items of which the key item would be the skewered grilled pork or alternatively combination or single serving with "popia thord" (deep fried spring roll), wrapped under the fresh lettuce added into it with cut red chillies, raw mango, cut garlics, onion leaves, mint leaves then its time to fill in with all of them the special sweet sauce and finally with all the ingredients wrapped inside the lettuce, you shall place the rice paper wrap in the water bowl to softened it and the lettuce with the grilled pork and all of the other ingredients would then be wrapped under the rice paper roll, ready to be put into your mouth for a great "nem neung experience".

Below are the steps on how you could enjoy "nem neung":

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The fresh lettuce and mint leaves in a serving of "nem neung" at a typical Thai Isaan-Vietnamese restaurant in Ubon Ratchathani

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Skewered grilled pork readily cut into small cubes in a "nem neung" dish

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Rice paper wrap in a "nem neung" dish

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Cut chillies, cut garlics, raw papaya, onion leaves in a "nem neung" dish

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Sweet sauce in a "nem neung" dish

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"Popia thord" (deep fried spring roll) in a "nem neung" dish

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A bowl of water to softened the rice paper roll wrap in "nem neung" dish

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The rice paper roll wrap dipped into water to softened them in a "nem neung" dish

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After readily softened, the rice roll wrap be placed on the plate. Lettuce being topped on the wrap followed by other items ie grilled pork, deep fried spring roll, cut chillies, cut garlics, raw papaya, mint leaves as desired

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Put some of the sweet sauce to top it all

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Roll the rice paper wrap over all the items above and there you go, a deliciously tasty "nem neung" ready to crunch in the mouth

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Staff of a "nem neung" restaurant in Ubon busy preparing the "nem neung" servings

Posted by kidd27 18:44 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Songkran Holiday in Ubon Ratchathani (5)

Wat Pah Nanachat

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Wat Pah Nanachat in Ubon Ratchathani province is a branch unit of Wat Nong Pah Pong, the international monastery for people around the world to learn Buddhism. As mentioned previously, Wat Nong Pah Pong head of monk was Luang Phu Chah or Ajarn Chah and Wat Pah Nanachat was headed by one of Ajarn Chah's disciple, Ajarn Sumedho who was an American national. Other than being led by Ajarn Chah, Wat Pah Nanachat has another close association with Wat Nong Pah Pong where the wat is located within lush forest, which is a symbolic of Buddhism teachings under the stewardship of Ajarn Chah. Wat Pah Nanachat focussed mainly on learning Buddhism through meditations. There was a 2 storey wooden structure being the accommodation, cooking and dining area for the students. The building also display some of descriptions on the history of Ajarn Chah, his teaching methods and the establishments of Wat Nong Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat as well as pictures of some foreign monks who were trained by Ajarn Chah or learnt Buddhism which follows his teaching methods. There is the main praying hall, the ubosot with a Buddha sculpture being placed inside.

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A display on the history of Wat Pah Nanachat and Ajarn Chah

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A quote from Ajarn Chah at Wat Pah Nanachat

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The lush trees at Wat Pah Nanachat

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Some questions and answers hanged on trees to understand Buddhism at Wat Pah Nanachat

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More displays on descriptions on history of Ajarn Chah and establishments of the Buddhism teachings under him

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The foreign monks who had been trained by Ajarn Chah or learning Buddhism under his teachings being on display at Wat Pah Nanachat

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The wooden structure praying halls at Wat Pah Nanachat

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The main praying hall, interior and exterior of Wat Pah Nanachat

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3 monkey sculptures at Wat Pah Nanachat

Posted by kidd27 06:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Songkran Holiday in Ubon Ratchathani (4)

Wat Nong Pha Pong

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Wat Nong Pah Pong in Ubon Ratchathani is not exactly a temple by itself. It is more than a temple as the main attraction at this Thai wat is the 3 storey building that houses several historical items which are being kept in display shelves within the building including old notes and archaeological items and photos of monks under the internship of Luang Phu Chah or Ajarn Chah. The most important item being kept within this building at Wat Nong Pha Pong is the body of Ajarn Chah in which he was known to be predictable of what happens in the future and was said to have the power of invisibility. This temple was known as international temple as many of those from across the world would come over to be ordained as a monk due to their strong believes on the teachings and holiness of Ajarn Chah. Even King Rama 9, the reigning king of Thailand paid the last respect to Ajarn Chah after his death. There is a golden chedi located within the heavily forested temple boundary. This is a very beautiful chedi and looks very similar to that of Pha That Luang temple in Vientiane, Laos. The chedi interior has golden pillars and golden ceiling and the chedi building has 4 doors on each side of the structure. In the middle of the chedi is another mid-size golden chedi which looks similar to that of Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai or Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon with a photo of Ajarn Chah placed on the base of this mid-size chedi. The tiles of the floor of the chedi were black in colour and were nicely polished as can be seen from the shining effects.

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The entrance to the 3 storey building cum museum at Wat Nong Pah Pong

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The forest within Wat Nong Pah Pong

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Photo of King Rama 9 paying last respect to Ajarn Chah @ Wat Nong Pah Pong

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The replica of late Luang Phu Chah (Ajarn Chah) @ Wat Nong Pah Pong

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The casket in which body of Luang Phu Chah being kept @ Wat Nong PAh Pong

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Some of the displays at Wat Nong Pah Pong. The candle carvings is synonym to Ubon Ratchathani's Lantern Festival and is only unique to the Isan region in Thailand

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The 3 storey building at Wat Nong Pah Pong

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The lush forest within Wat Nong Pah Pong

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The chedi At Wat Nong Pah Pong

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The lush greenery at the chedi of Wat Nong Pah Pong

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A view of the chedi of Wat Nong Pah Pong from afar

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One of the 4 entrance door to chedi Wat Nong Pha Pong

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The interiors of Chedi Wat Nong Pha Pong

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The ceiling of chedi Wat Nong Pha Pong

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The door of the chedi Wat Nong Pha Pong

Posted by kidd27 22:08 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Songkran Holiday in Ubon Ratchathani (3)

Songkran merit making

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Songkran is more than water splashing and this new year celebration was originally started with the tradition of "rod nam dam hua" which is a Thai new year ritual to ask for forgiveness from the elderly for the past year mistakes and wrongdoing. The ritual begins with the elderly sit on a higher position while the younger person(s) seeking for forgiveness on a lower position. The younger person seeking forgiveness would pour water from the silver or golden bowl filled with water with another smaller size bowl to the claps hands of the elderly while asking for forgiveness and in return the elder person would use small bouquet of flowers or leaves to wet the head of younger person as sign of forgiveness.

In some Thai families, Songkran New Year was celebrated through merit making with invitation on monks to their homes for prayers seeking for good health, happiness and peace. This merit making tradition would begin with the monks sitting on a area which was specifically prepared for them with a small altar beside the chief monk who would lead the team of monks for the prayers merit making. The ritual would start with family members kneel down and offer 3 times of kowtow before sitting on the floor. Then, the chief monk would start by chanting prayers while family members would re-chant according to what had been chanted by the chief monk. In the interval, the head of the family would asked for good wishes for all the family members and hope that the new year would bring a new beginning for the whole family. At the end of the ritual, all the monks would be presented with gifts which only meant for the monks' daily use and nothing materialistic. Before the monks leave, they would also be provided with food while other family members would also help themselves with the food which can either be prepared by family members or bought from food vendors.

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Children seeking forgiveness from the elderly during Songkran in this "Rod Nam Dam Hua" traditional ritual

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The elderly wets the head of the person seeking forgiveness during the Rod Nam Dam Hua ritual during Songkran

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The monks at Songkran merit making tradition

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Thai family members re-chanting prayers from chief monk during Songkran merit making ceremony

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Monks presented with gifts (only for daily use) at the end of the Songkran merit making ceremony

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Food being offered to the monks at the end of Songkran merit making ritual

Posted by kidd27 21:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Songkran Holiday in Ubon Ratchathani (2)

Wat Thung Si Muang

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Songkran holiday is one of the most important celebration throughout Thailand and the Thais together with foreign tourists would get into the festive celebration by indulging in water splashing and water shooting in embracing the new year. Other than these water fights activities, the Thai new year was also celebrated by returning home to visit parents and loved ones in their native provinces and also paying homage in various temples across the country. The most beautiful wat or temple in Ubon Ratchathani at this time from my point of view would be the Wat Nong Bua due to its distinctive architecture design of the white and golden pyramid like chedi which could not be found anywhere else in Thailand. Another special feature of Wat Nong Bua is that the chedi was constructed in front of the ubosot in which is different from other Thai temples where the position of chedi is on the opposite direction. Another must visit temple while in Ubon is the Wat Thung Si Muang.

What being distinctive about Wat Thung Si Muang is that this temple has a wooden home-like structure built within the main temple's ubosot and has a small pond that surrounded this home structure. This wooden home-like structure is actually the temple's library. In the middle of the wooden house library, there is a square size room in which a multi-storey shelf and a small cupboard was placed inside with some religious items kept on the shelf and cupboard. This squared room also has a small open window on its side and the wall of the squared room also with artwork paintings seen on it. Some other educational items were also placed on the upper wall of this wooden home library. When you entered the wooden library, you can walk along the corridor surrounding the square room. As you walked, you would come across the several large windows in which the pond surrounding the wooden structure can be seen. The reason why this wooden structure was built on a pond was to protect the library from being infested with termites due to the nature of building as it stored very important educational and religious items belonging to the temple. The ubosot of Wat Thung Si Muang is quite small in size and has a mid-size golden Buddha structure placed inside with very old paintings seen on the wall of the building. Wat Thung Si Muang is believed to be 185 years old and is one of the oldest temple found in Ubon Ratchathani province. It was also believed that the Buddha footprint also found within the temple structures.

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The wooden structure library at Wat Thung Si Muang

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The front view of the wooden library @ Wat Thung Si Muang

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The wooden structure library @ Wat Thung Si Muang in which is being surrounded by a pond

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The room inside the wooden library of Wat Thung Si Muang

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The corridor inside the wooden library @ Wat Thung Si Muang

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The entrance into the room inside the wooden library @ Wat Thung Si Muang

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The wall of the room and the window inside the wooden library of Wat Thung Si Muang

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Some educational item displayed inside the wooden library of Wat Tung Si Muang

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One of the windows of the wooden library at Wat Thung Si Muang

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Side view of the library at Wat Thung Si Muang

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The front view of the ubosot at Wat Thung S Muang

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The interior of ubosot @ Wat Thung Si Muang

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A large gong at the entrance to Wat Thung Si Muang's ubosot

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Visitors can pray for their wishes at this unique sand mountain at Wat Thung Si Muang

Posted by kidd27 19:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Songkran Holiday in Ubon Ratchathani(1)

Wat Nong Bua

sunny 38 °C

This year I had yet another opportunity to celebrate Songkran festival in Ubon Ratchathani albeit a quiet holiday just like last year but was rather a meaningful celebration with an extended Thai family. The first day of Songkran holiday was kicked off visiting some of the famous Thai temples around Ubon which drew much visitors from the locals as well as from other provinces and foreign tourists. Though I had visited these temples before during my past visits, its good to have yet another chance to revisit again to see the changes that had taken place on these temples after several years of absence. The most distinctive changes that could be seen was the repainting of Wat Nong Bua, a pyramid look alike chedi which was constructed based on the Mahabodhi temple in India. The exterior colour of the chedi were in white and gold painted on the wall of the chedi. The chedi has a squared short wall being constructed around it as a boundary as well as a large concourse area surrounded the main chedi. There were also 4 other smaller chedis on each edge of the boundary wall of Wat Nong Bua. Inside the main chedi, there was another golden chedi built and placed in the middle of the main chedi building with 4 golden Buddha statues on each side of the pyramid look alike golden chedi. What was distinctive about this chedi was that if one could lift a small elephant statue made from iron with the little finger, your wishes would be able to come true. Whether this is true or otherwise is subject to whether one believes it or otherwise. The were 4 doors on the main chedi with each door being carved with skilful thai artwork. The upper wall above each door also being decorated with great skill artwork. There is an ubosot (praying hall) located behind the chedi.

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The main chedi of Wat Nong Bua

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Side view of the main chedi of Wat Nong Bua

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The concourse area surrounded the main chedi and the smaller chedi on the edge of the boundary wall

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One of the entrance door of the main chedi of Wat Nong Bua

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The golden chedi and the golden Buddha statue inside the main chedi of Wat Nong Bua

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Another view of the golden chedi and golden Buddha statue interior of Wat Nong Bua

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The ceiling of chedi Wat Nong Bua and the structures built on it together with great artwork decorations

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The door and the wall decorations at chedi of Wat Nong Bua

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The iron elephant in which if you could lift it with your little finger, all you wishes would come true

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The ubosot at Wat Nong Bua

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Inside the ubosot of Wat Nong Bua with a huge golden Buddha statue

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The beautiful chedi of Wat Nong Bua from afar

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The ceiling and the interior golden chedi of Wat Nong Bua

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One of the door with artwork crafting inside Wat Nong Bua

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The interior wall decoration of chedi Wat Nong Bua

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A close view of main chedi Wat Nong Bua

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Another concoure area view at chedi Wat Nong Bua

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Another interior wall decoration seen inside chedi Wat Nong Bua

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The main chedi at Wat Nong Bua

Posted by kidd27 12:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Indochina adventures continue

Danang, Hoi An, Mukdahan, Bangkok & Poi Pet

rain 21 °C

Next was the Danang and Hoi An day trip on the motorbike. It was rainning again just like the other morning since my arrival at Hue and I was rather worrisome that I may not able to continue with the trip as the rain looked slightly heavier than that of the previous day. Even if I would continue with the trip, it may be dangerous due to the road condition on heavy rains and that the fact that the journey to Danang will pass through the hills at Hai Van Pass may even pose further danger due to slippery and wet pathways. When I went down to checked out the rain, I spoke to one of the staff and his advice was, I should abandoned the idea of travelling, surprisingly, not because of the danger that may arise, but the scenes may not be as beautiful as it should have on sunny days. With that said, I felt, I should ignored the risks of the rain because the reason I am here in Hue is to experience the travel adventures with whatever risks or dangers that may come with it. Furthermore, the motorbike driver himself had not been saying that he will not be able to continue with the trip, which means, the trip is still safe for as long as road is not flooded. I was told that he was waiting the journey to start at 8.00 while having his usual morning coffee at a nearby coffee shop. So, I told the hotel staff that I shall continue the tour as planned. Prior to the start of the trip, I had my breakfast at the hotel but this one is not without charges, unlike most others in Hanoi of Ho Chi Minh city that would have provided one for free, most hotels and guesthouses in Hue do not seem to have such policy in place. A bowl of hot Bun Bo Hue, a traditional Hue noodle sup that comes with slices of pork and a chunk of pork ribs (can be substituted with beef) with lots of greens, herbs and mints thrown into the soup with little bit of spice added as well and a cup of vietnamese coffee completed by breakfast for the long day to Danang and Hoi An. As with what I had mentioned earlier about the food quality at Why Not, they are definitely recommendable as they taste really good and the prices are fairly reasonable with the portions that come with it. This Bun Bo Hue is of no exception but I found out the coffee is rather to small a cup for a good taste on a vietnamese coffee.

After breakfast, as 8.00 approached, the tour guide for the day, Mr Quang turned up and I was introduced to him by the hotel staff. Quang looked sterned at the beginning but I can see that he was somewhat a friendly person from the way he spoke and his physical gestures while a brief introduction of himself confirmed that further. He briefly summarised the itinerary of the day before he puts on the rain coat over me which signals the start of the adventure of the day. Not many would have done such a trip to Hoi An on a day basis. Most would travelled To Danang or Hoi An by bus and stayed on for a day or 2 before they go on south to Nha Trang and then Ho Chi Minh city. Due to limited time and that I would like to venture at speed to central Vietnam after exploring Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi, I was too determined to be at Hoi An at all cost I supposed. As the journey started, the rain didn't seemed to show any sign of stopping but heavy downpours were in fact expected from the cloud conditions and the trend of the rain patterns over the last hour. I thought I would survived the journey and there we went on a rainny, wet tour to Danang and Hoi An. Quang first filled up his vehicle with the gas before we get out from the city centre and for about 2.5 to 3 hours, we were travelling mostly of flat roads but the danger didn't seemed to be the rain or the road conditions. In fact it came from the heavy vehicles plying the route but I was lucky enough that most of such vehicles actually went on the opposite direction from Danang to Hue instead of from Hue to Danang/Hoi An. But Quang is a safe and courteous motorbike driver and I observed that he drove in a very careful manner and has not been speeding throughout most of the journey. The first sight was the Elephant Waterfalls prior to reaching the Hai Van Pass. To get to this area, we passed through some village homes into the forrested area on a muddy terrain due to rains. The falls can be seen along this terrain and the water from the upper levels were seen gushing down quite fiercely supposedly due to heavy water level from the hills as heavy rains experienced over the rainny seasons. Once we reached the area where motorbike cannot be accessible, Quang parked his vehicle and we walked up through some rocky paths which were rather slippery since they were wet, to reach the site to view the most beautiful part of the falls as well as an elephant sculpture being located. As we reached, the falls were swollen with heavy water running down from the hill but the area was marvelous with the picturesque water gushing over from the higher level but require extra cautions in view of the wet conditions. On dry or hot season, visitors can have a swim down the falls with some strategic tents set up for picnicking and there was a small entrance fees charged but this was waived on wet season such as now. After some photoshots, we walked down to continue with the next journey to Hai Van Pass.

Hai Van Pass is in fact a mountanous roads that overlooks the Lan Co Beach, a fishing village and is very scenic area, which makes the effort to go through this road to Danang interesting and not to be missed. Hai Van (means Sea Clouds) Pass is filled with beautiful landscapes and marvelous sights of green mountains and the great sea views and reportedly being the highest peak in Vietnam. The view from the peak of Hai Van Pass was truely amazing where both the North and South of Vietnam can be seen from here with the bending roads cutting through the mountains can be visible clearly from the high levels of the pass. There is an old bunker used by the North Vietnamese Army and American soldiers during the American/Vietnam War at top level of the Hai Van near the Danang border. Formerly this area was a border between Vietnam and the Champa Kingdom and was a heavily forrested area prior to the America/Vietnam War. There are some locals who will bugged visitors for exchanged of small notes as well as ladies persistently hard selling their souvenier items. Otherwise the visit here should be filled with good memories of great natural landscapes of Vietnam in your mind for some time if not rest of the life. The Lang Co beach view from Hai Van Pass can be visible as we ascending the hilly roads up on Hai Van Pass prior to reaching the top of Hai Van Pass. Small fishing village homes can be seen dotting the edge of Lang Co and the view was magnificent. Quang stopped at one of the site for me to have a view and to take photographs of the beach and the fishing village. From Hai Van Pass and Lang Co, as we descended the pass, we reached Danang city not long after. The rains have stopped after passing through Hai Van Pass and the sun was shinning through a little and Quang told me that the weather should be fine in Danang and Hoi An and from what I could observed, it should be. The next destination is the Marble Mountain. This is actually a karst hill in between Danang City and Ho An, where at the base of this hill, there are many retailers or shops that sell items produced from marbles. The highlight of the visit to Marble Mountain is the Xa Loi Pagoda and the several caves with some that also house the Buddha and Quan Yin statues. Reaching the main entrance of the Marble Mountain, Quang told me that he will be waiting me down here while I take about 1.5 to 2 hours tour up the mountain. Well, climbing the mountain can be a challenge as there are several steep stairs around the mountain to be ascended to reach several nice and interestiong points scattered around the mountain. The very first point is the Xa Loi Pagoda. This pagoda is a beautiful structure with a Buddha statue sitting inside it but cannot be accessed by visitors, with overall architecture reflecting steeply on chinese style design. From here, one can see the marvelous coast landscape which is the China Beach. Several property or hotel/resort development were taking place on the shore of China Beach which can be seen clearly from here. Further up there is a view point site (Vong Hai Da) for one to catch the scenic China Beach. As I walked further into the mountain I came across the cave (Van Thong) that housed a Buddha sculpture and a narrow pathways that leads to somewhere of the open cave mouth as I could see light came through at the end of the cave. This is the smallest cave among all the other caves available at Marble Mountain However, I didn't go through the cave as it was too dark. Then as I ventured from here, I then reached Hoa Nghiem Cave, a cave with a large Quan Yin sculpture and a further walk inside through a passageway on the left of Quan Yin, there is a temple (Huyen Khong cave) inside with staircase that leads down to it. A Buddha sculpture can been seen on one section of the cave wall of this temple and on the top of the temple ceiling there are 2 open chimneys and water was seen dripping from the staglatites. After that I was at Linh Nham cave which an open cave with an altar. The most interesting point at Marble Mountain would be the Vong Giang Dai which is the peak of this mountain and the view of the China beach was so panaromic with a 180 degrees viewpoint of the beach and many other landscapes around Marble Mountain. The memories was just as good as the one at Hai Van Pass as well as when I was in Pha Taem, Ubon Ratchathani last year where the Mekong River was most beautifully viewed from the peak.

From Marble Mountain, we moved on to the China Beach. From Marble Mountain to Hoi An, we passed through the long stretch of China Beach and many resorts, hotels and golf clubs were seen either newly completed or under renovations taken place along this coastal resort city. Most of the developments on the beach fronts cater to either rich investors or rich travellers with most of them can be seen as top class property developments. Those with lower to mid range budgets guesthouses and hotel can be found within Danang city of across the road of the beachfront which of course would be less attractive due to their location which are far off the beach. However, many accomodations properties are seen sprung up all along from Danang city right to the end of China beach prior to reaching Hoi An. Over at China beach main point, Quang stopped at the one and only backpacker hostel and a small restaurant for me to take a quick view before our next stop at Hoi An. The beach was rather deserted due to the wet season and it wasn't a holiday season in Vietnam but it was a long stretch of beach, good enough to get a nice relaxation with whole beach for oneself. Nevertheless, the waves were too strong for a good swim, a wind surfing will be rather more suitable at this point of time. From China Beach, we then moved on to Hoi An which was only about 20 to 30 minutes journey. Hoi An is a very small town as compared between Hua and Danang city and the landscapes here are filled with small old traditional houses mostly 2 storeys and resembled strongly on chinese style. This town can be best seen or experienced through a walking tour as most of the street here are tiny with only one lane for one direction. Most of the shops here sell vietnamese textiles and garments as well as footwear shops and small restaurants. When we arrived at Hoi An, it was closed to 14.00, so I told Quang perhaps we can go for a lunch break after long hours of travelling. We go through the town and the came across the wet market near the Bach Dang street parallel with the Han river. Over here at Bach Dang street, there are many restaurants and shops that you can see lining up the streets and also a good way to view on activities along the Han River. Quang and I stopped at one of the restaurant and I ordered the Pho Ga (chicken noodle sup) and fresh vietnamese spring roll and 333 Beer, HCM city brewery production while Quang ordered a dry noodle with Bier Larue (a beer with Tiger head), A Dang brewery production. We had a small talk over lunch and Quang tells more about himself. According to him, he doesn't work for Why Not Hotel but in fact has his own fleet of motorbikes that he rents to travellers on day charges while he himself also doubled as a motorbike taxi driver. Most of the guesthouses or hotels operators would engaged him should they need his services and he was reportedly a well known taximan at Pham Ngu Lao Street in Hue. He spoke broken english but as I mentioned earlier, he is a friendly guy who put on smiling faces at most times and never hesitated to provide assistance should a need arised. He get a pay of VND500,000 from the VND600,000 I paid to Why Not, so, its best if one could approach him directly as you can avoid paying the extra VND100,000 which was a form of commissions for the hotel operators. After lunch, we then had a look around the town and I managed to snap some photos of the old shops and houses around the city. It will be good to have at least a night stay to explore the city and purchase some local items as souveniers of for own use. The weather was good throughout our visits right after Hai Van Pass right down to Hoi An town. Leaving Hoi An town, I thought, a 2nd visit will be inevitable since there are still many sights to get on hold in and around the city. From Hoi An we head back to Hue from where we came from, Danang and then to Hai Van Pass onwards to Hue. Nevertheless, we will not go through Hai Van mountain but instead take the van taxi, where Quang's motorbike will be transported with the small lorry over the few kms stretch of Hai Van Tunnel. But before that, our last stop was the Cham Museum just before we reached Hai Van tunnel. This cham musuem displays some of the cham sculptures, artworks and paintings as well as cham ancient tools where from Danang downwards to Ho Chi Minh city, this entire area was formerly a Cham Kingdom under the rule of the Khemer kings but was later sacked by the Vietnamese and annexed as part of Vietnam. Over at Hai Van Tunnel, as we waited for the van to arrived to take us to th other end of the tunnel, Quang's motorbike was being placed into the lorry that will follow the van that we took to the other side. Once we reached over the other side, the weather seemed to have changed quickly and it started to rain again. So, Quang asked me to put on the raincoat for about a 3 hours journey to Hue from here. We were now back to square one from where we began, as the rain started to pour heavily just as Quang went on. I must say the raincoat helps hugely because it really covered me from head to my knee, thus, I was kept dry most of my body parts couple with Quang's driving, I was just so relieved. But again, the traffic of huge lorries and buses were the most nuisance and dangers posed for this return trip yet again. Prior to reaching Hue city, Quang stopped at one of his friend's sundry shop and we relaxed by the roadside short table and chair, similar to those found in Hanoi street stalls and had some vietnamese tea while he chatted with his friend. I took the opportunity to buy some vietnamese cookies "Ban Dau Xanh" which was rather cheaper than the one in Hanoi I reckoned. It was all the way back after about 20 minutes, to Why Not Hotel and Quang commended that I was one of the too little survivors of such a long hour trip as he mentioned that many had suffered pain on the buttocks and some couldn't evencontinue with the journey. I don't know whether this would be true but I thanked him for being such a great guide throughout the day and hopefully there will be another opportunity to have him as a guide other times.

Later that night after a shower, I went over to the Why Not Bar to have light dinner as well as couple of cold beers. Since this will be my last night at Hue, I wanted to catch up with the nightlife here so as to get in touch with the other fellow backpackers. It was still early when I reached the bar and it was not packed yet, many would have still having their dinner elsewhere before the end up the night by chilling out at bars with some cold beers. Why Not Bar is not just a bar, but it serves few good authentic Vietnamese Hue specialties and as I mentioned before, the food here is really up to the mark. I had a plate of fresh vietnamese spring rolls and the portion here is all I could say, the western size. It rainned again that night and all the patrons had to moved into the bar for those seated outside and that was when I could see the crowds were soaring. Over here, patrons can also watch football matches over the TVs and also play pool. While enjoying dinner over Huda Beer, I met with a japanese backpacker. Earlier he had a pool game with a white guy where he lost the game, so here he was sitting on the other small table next to me with his beer ready to be sipped freshly arrived on his table. He told me he had been travelling for almost 6 months with South Asia and South East Asia countries. He quit his full time professional job just to embark on his travel interests. Being in his late 20s, he thought this was the right time for him to travel and enhance his knowledge about the diverse cultures around the world. Then came the white man where he asked whether I would like to have a game with him. He introduced himself as William. We had a great game and William was the better player at the end of it. He was just too good. Later William partnered with the japanese guy up against 2 Vietnamese guys, where one of them was at Hue for work trip. The next morning, it was time to pack up, check out and head to the bus station to catch the bus to Savannakhet. Bidding farewell to the Why Not Hotel friendly staff, I hope that I would be able to return to Hue for other travel adventures like DMZ in future and also to get to Hoi An for more detailed travel there. So, from Hue to Savannakhet, its back to where I started earlier where I travelled from Savannakhet to Hue and now on the opposite directions. The bus departed from Hue around 8.45 and arrived at Savannaket 9 hours later at 17.00. After the immigration at both the 2nd Friendship Bridge in Lao PDR and Mukdahan in Thailand, it was already 18.00. The bus from Savannakhet bus station go directly to Mukdahan bus station and it took abt 45 minutes to reached the Mukdahan bus station from the Mukdahan immigration border control checkpoint. Arrived at Mukdahan bus station I purchased the ticket to Bangkok for less than THB500. This fare was for the normal bus where along the way, it stop at several towns to drop and pick up passengers and it isn't a comfortable option since it take 10 hours travel distance between Mukdahan and Bangkok arriving at Mo Chit Station and the seat was small with less leg room. My 1st thought was getting the VIP bus which cost around THB800 but would be a more comfortable option. However, it was my fault because I couldn't see where the VIP bus booth was located. And there were these staffs of the other bus companies that will tell you all sorts of lies, the most common is there is no VIP bus service for the night. And this is a good experience. I found out about it when I could see so many big and new busses at the platform, so I went to the ticket booths area only to realised that there was a VIP bus ticket booth on the far right end of the ticket booth area. The bus departed at 1930 and arrived at Mo Chit Station, Bangkok at 530. The ticket include a pack of biscuits and a small bottle of drinking water.

Over in Bangkok, I took the minivan from Mo Chit to Aranyaprathet and then crossing over to Poi Pet, a notorious Cambodian border town infamous with all sorts of bad stories about several immigration scams. The journey from Mo Chit to Aranyaphrathet took about 4 hours. And true enough, if you are not well aware of the situations and the scams, very likely you will get scammed by several con artists. These scammers will traget on unsuspicious travellers and the most common scam will be directing traveller to some fake "custom" officials where they will demand for money prior to arriving at the border control checkpoint. Regardless of what these people say, just ignore them and head straight to the Poi Pet checkpoint after crossing over from Aranyaprathet immigration. The Poi Pet immigration is located after a big arch with the Khmer ruins replica with a welcoming words to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The casinos in Poi Pet are in fact located at "no-man" land which is between Aranyaprathet and Poi Pet immigrations which actually causing huge confusion for 1st time traveller who would never intend to go beyond Poi Pet. Because the Poi Pet immigration is located after these 4 casinos, one would never thought he/she require to get their passport stamped in to Cambodia should they just intend to stay at the casinos area where all 4 casinos incorporated a resort/hotel in their premises. Or those who had crossed the Poi Pet immigration where after passport was stamped in, for a day tour around Poi Pet, one would thought that he/she required to get the passport stamped out even if he/she chosen to stay at one of the casino resorts. The rule of the thumb is if you would stay in Poi Pet for some gambling fun or go beyond Poi Pet, you are required to stamped into Cambodia and then make a U-turn to the casinos while those headed to Siem Reap and beyond would move on ahead from there. The 4 casinos here are Golden Diamond Casino & Resort, Poi Pet Resort Casino, Tropicana Resort Casino and the Holiday Resort Casino. From my experience here, some resort incorporated a gambling credit into the hotel room bill, which during non-peak weekend can still be very affordable at less than THB1000. Over at Aranyaprathet, the Rung Kluea market is the place to shop for very inexpensive goods.

Posted by kidd27 21:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Indochina adventures

Vientiane, Savannakhet, & Hue

rain 23 °C

During my last trip to Savannakhet from Mukdahan on the Songkran Festival 2010, I was determined to be back again for a further travel to Hue city, the former Vietnamese royal city in central Vietnam. Most travellers would arrived in Hue city from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city through either bus or train services while others arrived directly at Danang airport. My indochina adventures started from Vientiane, capital of Laos, where I travelled from here to Savannakhet onwards to Hue and a vice versa trip from Hue back to Savannakhet, then to Mukdahan. From Mukdahan, I took the bus to Bangkok and then from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet for a short trip to Poipet in Cambodia. Travelling hours was one of the most challenging experience that I encountered with this adventures as well as the harsh weather in Hue which positioned me in a dangerous predicament while travelling from Hue to Danang and Hoi An. Coupled with a 12 hours journey (Hue-Danang-Hoi An-Hue) on the motorbike on heavy rain, that itself would be the mother of all toughness and challenges for this trip. The journey by bus from Vientiane to Savannakhet took about 8 hours where it started at 20.45 and arrived Savannakhet bus station at 5.00. From Savannakhet bus station, I took the International Bus at 10.00 the same day to Hue and reached at about 19.00, which was another 8 hours of journey. From Hue to Savannakhet it took another 8 hours of journey, departing at 8.30 and arrived at Savannakhet at 18.00. The journey to Mukdahan from Savannakhet including time spent crossing the border immigration took about 1 hour where bus arrived directly at Mukdahan bus station. From Mukdahan to Bangkok the journey was 10.30 hours, departing 1920 and arrived at Mochit bus station, Bangkok at 6.00 the next morning. Total road travel for Vientiane-Savannakhet-Hue-Savannakhet-Mukdahan-Bangkok took in altogether 35.5 hours road travel time. The bus condition overall were satisfactory though they looked old which for the Savannakhet to Hue journey but for 8 hours of travel time, this was still manageable. The Lao VIP bus from Vientiane nevertheless was impressive which was still new and comes with double sleeper deck with lower and upper level, which means travellers can sleep comfortably throughout the journey. It also has a toilet at the rear of the bus. As for the Thai bus, the VIP buses are very new and comfortable with more leg rooms and cost THB760 for Mukdahan-Bangkok trip while the lower end bus cost THB470 with frequent stops along the way to pick up passengers and it's less comfortable. Bus from Vientiane to Hue costs 140,000 kip with 30,000 kip went to the guesthouse from where I book the ticket from and this is common practice for all guesthouses and hotels where the 30,000 kip is a tuk-tuk or songtheaw charges from their premises to the bus station. (THB20 = 5,000 kip). The bus ticket from Savannakhet to Hue cost 110,000 kip while from Hue to Savannakhet it cost VND300,000 where VND100,000 will goes to the guesthouse or hotel for a motorbike taxi or car taxi or coach. (USD1=VND19,500)

Laos is a country with many wonderful people around while being blessed with great natural landscapes including marvelous waterfalls and rivers as well as old wats and temples that has been listed under the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Vientiane, the capital of Laos has never been quite the place that can be termed a "capital city" in my opinion because it still maintained the very much slowness of the people's movement, businesses were very much confined to small restaurants, coffeeshops and sundry shops though there are now a handful mid-sized contemporary supermarkets, buildings are still relatively low which confined up to 5 floors with exception of Don Chan Palace Hotel, less traffic congestions around the city and there is no bus services within the city as most city dwellers will depend on tuk-tuk to take the places. Arriving at Wattay or Vientiane Airport (as was being stamped on passport), I was struggling to look for tuk-tuk to get to the city. From informations that I had been searching from the internet, it seemed that there was no tuk-tuk allowed in the airport area, which means travellers will need to get out from the airport compound to flag down one. There were few taxi drivers waiting at the arrival hall main entrance but surprisingly these drivers never harrassed anyone from what I could see because I myself was not being approached by any of them upon stepping out from the airport. As I was looking around and trying to locate the place to flag down a tuk-tuk, I asked a few taxi drivers at a corner of the parking lots and they told me that tuk-tuk will only be available if they happened to pass through the airport while dropping passengers to the airport and headed back to the city. Since it was getting late in the evening, I thought it would be good to just hop into the taxi. It costs as expensive as USD6 or THB200 (Thai Bath widely accepted) for a short trip of about 20 minutes to the city from the airport. I recalled from the informations that I searched, tuk-tuk cost around 50,000 kip, which was still equivalent to the costs of taxi, so, it was a better deal with a taxi in fact. So, I decided to take the taxi. Travellers can actually booked the taxi from the taxi counters on the left end of the airport exit which also costs the same price but perhaps more reliable. Why? I thought it should be so because upon arrival in the city, the taxi driver left me at one section of a lane and left in haste after accepting the money from me. And this is the taxi not from the taxi booking counter. But I was lucky because the place where I was dropped was very near to the centre of backpackers corner near the Mekong River. Since I was still unfamiliar with the city apart from recalling a few road/street names, I walked around and stop at a corner of a small pub cum restaurant and spoke to a man presumably the owner of that pub. I was looking for a guesthouse to settle down and asked for directions to the backpackers corner. After a brief explanation, I was still confused perhaps because of the language barrier because he speaks a little bit of english and later I found out that he was a japanese. Thanking him, I walked on from Setthathirat Road, as what a tuk-tuk driver told me and as I walked, I could see many people move into the side streets along Setthathirat Road, where according to the japanese man I met earlier, there is a street markets which I later discovered was along Fa Ngum Road just along the Mekong River. I decided to take a turn into one of the side streets and then moved into the 5 storey guesthouse by the name of Mixay Paradise. Many foreingners can be seen moving in and out from the guesthouse and I thought, this would be a good place to settle down. Nice guesthouse with a large entrance, a living hall where guests can chill out reading magazines, newspapers or chatting and TV area to catch up news or just for leisure. a dining hall for breakfast and also a corridor at the left side of the entrance with tables and chairs for chilling out drinking, eating or chatting. Only THB400 for a single bed room with fan and aircond, hot and cold shower and the room was amazingly clean and comfortable and comes with free breakfast. Each floors with a balcony where guests can view people walking along the streets or chill out with fellow travellers.

After checking into the room, off I went out again to check out the market at Fa Ngum Road. The market was packed with locals as well as travellers. This market was set up due to the Boun Ouk Phansaa festival which marks the end of the rainning season. The highlight of this festival is the Racing Boat Day which happened to be the next day. The road along the Mekong river was lined up with makeshift stalls selling all sorts of items from shirts, ladies and men assortments, food, drinks and other consumer goods alike. One can sample the many local food and purchase some inexpensive shirts and goods as this festival market can be dubbed the largest that could be found in Laos and only available on Boun Ouk Phansaa. The original market was located at another area but a smaller version which will be shifted back after the end of the Boat Racing Day. Children and young adults as well as family members can be seen joining in the festivity and were in the good mood for a festival celebration. After a walk and shower, firecrackers can be heard from the living area of the guesthouse and it appeared as if it was a Chinese New Year celebration with people feasting, singing songs aloud as well as the sound of firecrackers from every corner of the streets. Roads were also slightly congested with cars, tuk-tuks and motorbikes moved in the Setthathirat Road. The streets leading to Fa Ngum Road from Setthathirat Road were all blocked for the safety of revellers and security was tightened to ensure no dangerous items were brought into the market area. Just as in Cambodia and Vietnam, the indochina bread is also widely available in Laos including Vientiane. As the hunger strikes, I bought one of this bread know as "Khao Jee Pate" where half the size of the whole bread costs THB40 or 10,000 kip and a cold Beer Lao from the sundry shop cost around THB40.

The next morning, it was drizzling and after breakfast, I ventured out to look for a best deal for a city tour. I spoke to a tuk-tuk driver across the guesthouse and according to his explanation, it cost 80,000 kip for a 1 hour tour which can takes up to 2 places. I thought this may not be the best deal, so I walked further and bumped into couple of tuk-tuk drivers chatting while waiting for business to come. The cost was in fact the same as what had been told by the earlier tuk-tuk driver. So, i decided to go for the 1 hour tour to Phra That Luang and Patuxay tower. Phra That Luang is the sacred symbol for the Lao people and a visit to Vientiane wouldn't be complete without a visit to Phra That Luang. This stupa has a very unique design and has never been commonly seen in any other wats or temples in the Indochina region. From my travel experience, I have only witnessed 2 wats that reflected the similarity with Phra That Luang stupa architecture, where one was in Wat Chalong Phuket and another at the wat in Ubon Rachatani near the 2 colour river cave temple. Phra That Luang is a golden stupa surrounded by a large and high rectangle border walls with each corner having small Buddha stupas arranged along the walls with the main stupa in the middle of the wat. To get up to the main stupa, there are four entrances with each entrance having Buddha stupas and staircases. At the bottom of the main stupa after the entrance, visitors can walk along the base area which is square in size. Outside Phra That Luang is a large open space where visitors can take a walk and there are 2 wats around this open space, one on the left and another on the right. Phra That Luang is best view from this open space and many visitors were seen in this area snapping photos. There is also a small street traders outside the open area. My next stop was the Patuxay tower in the Lane Xang Avenue in the middle of Vientiane city. This tower overlooked to city from 2 sides with the main area having a park with water fountain and a boulevard with many tourists and travellers would been seen at this area to take the best shots of the tower while another quieter side is at the back entrance of the tower overlooking Lane Xang Road. Visitors can also pay a small fee to get to the top of the tower with one level of the tower having few souvenier shops that sells mostly tshirts and other small items as gifts or memorablia. From the top of the Patuxay, the view was great where you can get to see the boulevard and the Lane Xang Road all the way to Setthathirat Road. There is also a white building which is the building of the Ministry of Agriculture & Forests on the left of Patuxay from the area that overlooks the Lan Xang Road.

After Patuxay, I was dropped off at the same place that I took the tuk-tuk from and that costs me 80,000 kip but worth the trip because Phra That Luang and Patuxay were quite a distance from Francois Ngin Road. I walked all the way along Setthathirat Road further up from Francois Ngin about 1 to 1.5km and passing through Lane Xang Road and stumbled upon Wat Sisaket on the left of Setthathirat Road. Wat Sisaket could be the oldest temple in Vientiane and the architecture was based on the Thai style of Buddhist wats. Just like Phra That Luang, the main wat is surrounded with a rectangle border walls with each walls having Buddha stupas arranged along them with the walls carved and smaller stupas placed in these carved walls making this one of the most unique oldest wat. The main temple housed the single Buddha stupa and a prayer hall. Just across Wat Sisaket is the Haw Phra Keaw, which is the similar version with the one in Bangkok. Though the Lao version of Wat Phra Keaw was less impressive that its Bangkok's counterpart, the temple architecture are equally good if not better than the one in Bangkok. It was no longer use as a temple but turned into a museum displaying items related to Buddhism. This temple was formerly a royal temple and housed the Emerald Budhha just as the one in Bangkok.

Just when I was returning to the guesthouse, I was again bumped into the bunch of the tuk-tuk drivers I met earlier where they where having their lunch under the tree with few bottles of Beer Lao on the table and glasses ready to have a feast, most likely with the money that my tuk-tuk driver, Bounxuong got from me. They invited me to sit with them for a couple of glasses of Beer Lao. Since I was thinking of where to head to next, I never hesitated to joined in. We had a good chat over some cold beer lao while they had their barbequed beef meat for lunch. Bounxuong was about 45 years old with 2 grown up children. Another tuk-tuk driver, Cad, was the funniest guy among the group and was kind of a "happy-go-lucky" guy. He was the one that I spoke to 1st when I asked for the cost of the tuk-tuk tour but he let Bounxuong to drive me. I asked him why he did that and he told me, it was an undertsanding among them. They treated each one like brothers in a family. For every 1st business of the day, the most senior members will stand to gain first. Cad was formerly working with a private company but due to the stresses from the job as well as limited freedom, he chose to quit and became a tuk-tuk driver. He further added that the pay can be less than a permanent job, but he never regretted quitting and be a driver because he enjoy the freedom while working as tuk-tuk driver. These were some of the nice people that I encountered in Vientiane and I can see through these tuk-tuk drivers that, Lao people can live through simple life and be very happy with what they have.

My next target was Xieng Khuane Buddha Park which was located near the Thai-Lao border of Nong Khai. This journey takes about 1 hour on a 40km journey from Vientiane city. The journey took me through some of the best upcountry landscapes of Vientiane with most of the lands covered with rice fields. I also has the opportunity to check out where Lao Beer Company (LBC)'s factory, the producer of Beer Lao and Tigerhead drinking water was located. Xieng Khuan Buddha Park was a open space park with a open field covered with some large trees on the left of the park and also the Mekong river, overseeing Nong Khai in Thailand flowing at the rear of this park. The highlight of this park is the large Reclining Buddha and the giant sculpture which has a very unique rounded design resembling a huge pumpkin. In and around the park there were many statues reflecting various characters scattered within the park. Visitors can enter the giant sculpture which has three levels reflecting Hell, Earth and Heaven at the entrance resembled the open jaw of a eerie Demon character but be aware that you need to bend your bodies to enter due to the length of the entrance door. On the base of the sculpture, there were many small Buddha stupas placed in it with many small open windows along this rounded sculpture on each floors . At the top of the sculpture, visitors can walk along the rounded uneven pathways and viewing the whole park from the top can be scenic and interesting.

Next destination would be to Hue city, in the central of Vietnam, formerly a royal city for Nguyen Dynasty, but first, from the Southern Bus Station, Vientiane for a 8 hours journey to Savannakhet. The whole journey to Savannakhet from Vientiane was pleasant where the VIP bus comes with a sleeper berth, where travellers/passengers get to sleep comfortably throughout the journey. However, there was a slight glitches where the songtheaw that was to pick up passengers from various guesthouses was late by about 40 minutes. Arriving at Savannakhet bus station at 5.00, I waited at the station for the ticket counter to open to purchase a ticket at 10.00 for the Savannakhet-Hue International Bus journey. For those who planned to stay on at Savannakhet and moved on further south to Pakse later, there are some tuk-tuks around the bus station to take you to the guesthouses in the town centre as well as you can walk further to the left of the station to Savanxay Market, where there are more tuk-tuks around to get you to your preferred destinations. I was here at Savannakhet in my last Songkran trip to Ubon Ratchathani, where a short trip to Mukdahan and then crossing the 2nd Friendship Bridge to Savanakhet brought me to Savanxay Market where I vowed to return for a travel adventure to Hue and so here I was now. In Savannakhet itself, there are various interesting activities that can be arranged such as to explore the town's old buildings and surrounding sights, visit to various villages that dotted inside the road to Sepon/Densavanh, the That Ing Hang Stupa, the Ho Chi Minh trail and to sample some local Lao food. Shopping at Savanxay Market for some inexpensive items can also be quite interesting with many items that suits just about everyone are available here and there is a wet market within the market building, where after a morning breakfast you can walk around and get some stuffs that would suit you, which was what I did while waiting for the bus to depart to Hue.

The Savannakhet-Hue bus departed right on the dot at 10.00 with the seats about 65% full, mostly with students and young adults. There were also some family members who were travelling for short holidays. The sights were mostly filled with rice fileds as well as the indigeneous
community houses scattered all along the road to the Densavanh/Lao Bao border. There are also few rivers flowing through these road to the Vietnam border and thus, bridges were also common sights as the bus crosses the river with the most notable one being the Lao-Hungary Friendship bridge. The bus stops for lunch at around 13.00 at one Vietnamese restaurant which is quite common in this area where Vietnamese shops and restaurants can be found within the border provinces of Laos and Vietnam. This was also what I had seen when travelling from Phnom Penh from the Bavet/Moc Bai border to Ho Chi Minh city several years ago. Vietnamese restaurants in such places usually serve rice with range of other side dishes such as pork, fish and vegetable as well as traditional "fur" noodle and my previous trip from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh city, the food was only USD1 each for fur or rice with dishes. For this one I wasn't quite sure because I didn't had any as I was still full after a late breakfast at Savannakhet of a lao coffee with "mieng dip" a fresh spring roll wrapped with fresh lettuce and bean sprout dipped with sweet chilly sauce with crunch peanut (very similar to Vietnamese style) as well as barbequed pork. If I could remember correctly, it should be around THB40, which is slightly over USD1. Over at lunch at this Vietnamese restaurant, I had a talk with a senior elder man, who was from Bangkok and he shared some old stories with me about him. He related that he was born in Hue and was given away to a Thai family from Bangkok at the age of 4 by his parents due to the American/Vietnam War. He was brought to Savannakhet and then Mukdahan to Ubon Ratchathani before he finally grew up in Bangkok under the care of the Thai family. He continued to say that he still have relatives in Hue and that he was travelling to Hue to meet his distanced relatives and to check out the direction so that he could travel by car from Bangkok to Hue in his next trip and also beyond Hue to Nha Trang. A very nice elder man but never talk much if you wouldn't ask him. Back to the road condition, overall, it was alright but along the way there would be many damaged spots noted due to unknown reasons, probably to slow down the vehicles in view of the indigeneous houses that dotted along this road that may criss-cross to get to each side of the road and also to guard the animals from these community crossing the roads.

The bus arrived at the Densavanh/Lao Bao border at around 16.00. After stamping out from Densavanh Immigration, Laos, I walked for about 800m across to Lao Bao Immigration, Vietnam to get a stamp in. The bus would wait for everyone to clear immigration procedures before continuing its journey to Hue. From Lao Bao to Hue, it took about another 3 hours journey. After crossing the Lao Bao border, there are various hotels and guesthouses and shops and small restaurants to cater to visitors to the Khe Sanh Combat Base used by the American soldiers in fighting the North Vietnamese insurgents, Viet Cong along what is known as the Ho Chi Minh trail as well as the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) of the North and South Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail was an area used by the Viet Cong to fight against the South and American soldiers and stretched as long as 16,000 kms, which also covers beyond Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia. During the American/Vietnam War, the US had continuously try to damaged the trail but never successfully cut the supply trail of the Viet Cong army. While passing through Khe Sanh, I could see the Dakrong Bridge which is to get across to the Ho Chi Minh trail. Khe Sanh was being utilised as an American airstrip base for thier cause again Viet Cong and though the war was over for many years, the are still many undetonated bombs left along this area during the war and are nuisance for the travellers and Vietnamese living in these villages around Khe Sanh. There are many tribes community along the Khe Sanh area and they live in the traditional homes built with either woods or the palm leaves. The sights along Khe Sanh to Dong Ha are filled with mountains and rivers and were rather scenic during the day time apart from the tribes people homes that can be seen all along the road. However, from Lao Bao to Dong Ha through Khe Sanh, the road was winding and can get uncomfortable if the bus travels on high speed but the bus I was in had been travelling in a very smooth way without much problem.

The bus then reached Dong Ha at 17.00 with some passengers disembarking from here. Many motorbike taxis were seen waiting to pick-up passengers here just as they get down from the bus, so it seems that transportation wouldn't be difficult to reach for as long as you are the any transport stations in Vietnam. Reaching Hue bus station at about 18.00, again the similar sights as in Dong Ha can be seen here with motorbike taxi men swarmed into passengers offering to take them to their next destination. I was of no exception. The fare cost USD 1 for a trip of about few kms away to the city centre. I told the motorbike driver that I was looking to stay at guesthouse around the city area. So, he dropped me at a back lane in the city which later I dicovered was a lane between Chu Van An and Pham Ngu Lao St. which happened to be a backpackers corner. This guesthouse by the name of Halo Guesthouse or Ha Loc in Vietnamese was actually a family business operated by the mother who takes care of the receptions and tour queries while the son is a tour guide who brings travellers for tours around Hue city and beyond. The elder lady could speak broken english while the son could speak slightly better. For a double bed room with hot and cold shower and aircond, it costs USD10 a night. After taking a look at the room, I decided to stay but in fact I wasn't feeling comfortable at all with this place and in most cases, i would have moved to another place but for unknown reasons, I stay put. Later after a shower, I went down to see the elder lady to obtain further informations on the city tour. She gave some explanations about the tours available and places and sights being covered and when asked about the tour prices, I found it to be overpriced. Any how, since it was late and for convenient purpose, I booked the city tour with her. Then, I proceeded to search for a place for a vietnamese dinner with a city map provided by the guesthouse and I walk to Pham Ngu Lao St. This is a small street with inexpensive guesthouses, hotels, small restaurants, bars, shops, travel agents and mini markets dotted the 2 sides of the streets. The infamous DMZ Bar is located at one end of the Pham Ngu Lao Street between the intersection of the latter and Le Loi St while the other one, Why Not Bar at the other end of the intersection between Pham Ngu Lao St and Vo Thi Sau. These 2 bars are packed with foreign travellers looking for a night out to have some cold beers, nice food as well as to chill out with fellow travellers and play pool. Why Not Bar has a hotel just a few shops away from the bar which not surprisingly being named Why Not Hotel. There is another famous restaurant here by the name of Little Saigon. As I looked around, I went to checked out on Why Not Hotel as it look impressive and nice from the outside. I took a look at the room which was small that comes with single bed, hot and cold shower and aircond which costs USD10. I thought this would be a better place to stay, so I booked for the next night. I also checked out on a city day tour with this hotel and that confirmed that Ha Loc Hotel has been overcharging by a few dollars enough for me to costs me a night of guesthouse stay and that was a lesson learnt.

The next morning, it was rainning as I was about to head out for the day tour to 3 royal tombs, the Forbidden Citadel and the Thien Mu Pagoda. But as it approached 8.00, the rain has started to fade with small drizzle. I met with the son of the Halo Hotel owner, who was my guide of the day, a young man whose main job is teaching while being a tour guide is a part-time job. The tour started with the Forbidden Citadel right in the middle of the city crossing over to the other side from here at Pham Ngu Lao St to Tran Hung Dao/Le Duan St from Phu Xuan Bridge. The city was seperated by the Perfume River and has 4 bridges. The other 3 are Da Vien, Bach Ho and Truong Tien Bridge.
Travellers could actually alternatively take on a tourist boat cruise to visit the royal tombs and Thien Mu Pagoda instead of by the motorbike. The Citadel buildings looked great with their architectures related very closely to the chinese style design but they are definitely requiring further and grave attention by the Hue local authority as well as Vietnamese government to preserved the buildings in view of the age of the buildings and the state of affairs of the structures of the buildings within. Entering from Phu Xuan Bridge, 2 Gates, Quang Du and Ngan Gates can be clearly visible as we entered to the compound of the Citadel. In the centre of these 2 gates is the flag tower which flew the Vietnamese red flag with a single big yellow 5 point star. The pole stood there proudly just in front of the Ngo Mon, the main gate entrance to the Forbidden Citadel. Entrance to the Citadel was VND55,000. This citadel was completed by the Minh Mang Emperor in 1833. The centre entrance was reserved for the emperor together with a bridge that connects to this central door. On the second floor of Ngo Mon, one could view the Citadel courtyard nicely from here. Ngo Mon was used by the emperor to address his officials and the people. Further walk inside from Ngo Mon is the Thai Hoa Palace where the emperor sits in state and received foreign dignitaries. After Thai Hoa Palace, its the Forbidden Purple City which has been mostly destroyed during the Tet Offensive due to the American army invasions as the Viet Cong used the Citadel as their base to fight against US army after invading Hue city. The only buildings left are 2 mandarin palaces on both sides of the area. Next was the Tu Duc Tomb. This tomb was very similar to the Forbidden Citadel in its architectures where it served as a second imperial city and for the emperor's working vacations. The city buildings were surrounded by a lake with the wooden pavillions and tombs of the emperor and his wives. After Tu Duc Tomb, the next was the Minh Mang Tomb. This is a rather simple tomb as compared to Tu Duc Tomb with bridges crossing the 2 lakes within the mausoleum compound. There is a courtyard surrounded by warlord statues, temples and pavillions. The Khai Dinh Tomb is the grandest among the 3 tombs. This tomb was built in 1925 and is a compact mausoleum. There are few structures within the tomb complex to be noted which is from the base being the left and right mandarin house, further up in the middle is the honour court and the stele pavillion and the final building at the top is the Thien Dinh Palace. The walls of Tien Dinh Palace are fully decorated with glasses and laid with porcelain tiles while floors are laid with flower tiles and ceiling painted with 9 dragons. After Khai Dinh, I went on to visit Thien Mu Pagoda which is loacted on the hill near the Perfume River. Reaching the base of the pagoda , the scenic Perfume River can be seen from here. The pagoda has 7 storeys and was a symbol of the former royal imperial government.In between this was the detour to some souvenier shops and also paintings and artworks stalls. For those who had interests in such items, they can be purchased from here at reasonable prices. The tour ended with a boat trip from Thien Mu pagoda pier for about 30 minutes trip to the Toa Kam boat station near the Truong Tien bridge not far across Le Loi and Pham Ngu Lao intersection. This boat journey brought me across all the 4 bridges along the Perfume River and from here, the sights of Hue city was be viewed on a good perspective. Over at night, I had some food at the place I stayed, Why Not Hotel and it served food from its bar & restaurant chain at Why Not Bar. The food here is inexpensive and comes with quality as what I had tasted and observed. (more on this later). I ordered the vietnamese bread with ommelette and cheese in which the egg with cheese to be cut and stuffed into the bread as well as the tiny pieces of fried vietnamese spring rolls (traditional vietnamese food and can be found everywhere in Vietnam) and a bottle of iced HUDA beer. As in Lao PDR with its Beer Lao, Hanoi with Bia Ha Noi, Bangkok with Singha, Hue has its own beer brand, which is HUDA. Its actually the short name for Hue-Danish beer, a beer bottled in Hue and developed through the Danish brewery technology and its quite a phenomenon here just like Beer Lao in Lao PDR.
(to be continued...................................)

Posted by kidd27 22:41 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Koh Larn & Pattaya

Chon Buri Province

sunny 30 °C

I had a brief holiday in Pattaya recently in Thailand's Chon Buri province and this lovely beach city has seen some major changes since my last visit. Pattaya city is divided into 3 parts, north, centre and south. The Central Festival Mall, located in the Centre of Pattaya, has been completed and is alive and kicking. It was under construction during my previous vacation and I could still remember this clearly because of the fact that I was staying just next to this mall at Baron Hotel. This shopping mall now adds to the collections of shopping options in this resort town already been served with several existing malls including Mike Shopping Mall, Mike Department Store, Royal Garden Plaza, J.Avenue, Tesco Lotus, Carrefour and Big C. A short walk accross the street from the Central Festival Mall is the main beach area on the Beach Road or Road No.1 and here you can still enjoy some nice seafood on a budget with choice of drinks at many of the covered rest areas on a small fee. The latest tourist spot over here in this beach town is the Pattaya Floating Market, which is also the borrowed version of existing floating markets around Bangkok such as the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Amphawa Floating Market and Don Wai Market. This Pattaya's version of floating market focused mainly on the ground rather than the sampan retail sales with its theme of North, North East, Cental and South Thailand. Other than souveniers such as postcards, miniatures, keychains, lacquerwares, tshirts, thai silks, there are also restaurants and cafes serving various thai food and delicacies from the four regions such as the "gai thort" or fried chicken from the south and the extreme hot & spicy sausages from the north as well as the Isaan or the north east sausages. You can spent around half day here to tour around the market which also has some floating sampans selling food as well as fruit drinks. Also, tourists could hire the sampans to tour the lake which was scenic at certain points just to enjoy the scenes over the day out. Other activities including feeding the chang or elephants with bananas, playing with the water rolling ball or try out the flying fox. Getting to this floating market isn't that difficult as it is situated along the main Sukhumvit Road heading towards Jomtien Beach from Bangkok's direction, passing through Tesco Lotus and move further forward. The market is on the right hand side of Sukhumvit Road. If Phuket has its notorious Bangla Road which is infamous with its abundant of beer bars, pubs, discos and go-go bars, here in Pattaya, it has its own version of Bangla Road notoriety over at the Walking Street located at the edge of the city centre before the Bali Hai pier. This place is full of sins just as the one at Bangla Road with choices of bars where you can walk in freely, order your regular beers, pay for the girls' drinks to have some chats with them and finally bring her or them to the hotel rooms for a night of bedroom game. Nevertheless, there's a choice for everyone who comes to Pattaya for a holiday. You can have fun and good time over several bottles of Singha, Leo, Chang or Cheers over at for example Don't Tell Mama and Pattaya Beer Bar and get some girls to chat with you to kill the time you have over the rest of the night but just for as far as that could be. And as I have mentioned previously in my past posting, Pattaya deserves a better recognition rather than being a tag of seedy resort city. In fact by choosing just to booze responsibly but refrain from engaging paid sex, there is really nothing wrong with it as everyone would want to have fun when on holiday and if you have spare time to kill, this is one of the option for you just as for me. There were also several seafood restaurants over at the Walking Street and also enterprising thais who sell italian style pizzas blended with the thai flavours and also some ice cream shops that can be found here too. So, really, this is a place for everyone to have a fun night out with friends or families when in Pattaya for holiday. I still prefer to have seafood dinner at Jomtien beach just like I did during my previous visit. However, this time around, the prices had seen remarkable increase compared to about 2 years ago. The good ones were located on the edge of Jomtien beach where tables were always full with its packed crowds over at dinner time. This one that I frequented was at KM 1 of Jomtien Beach, has since been renovated and refurbished with a cleaner and fresher atmosphere and settings and still enjoying the big crowds just as it used to be 2 years ago but with extended dining halls. Most of them are thais with very few foreigners sighted as most foreign tourists will converge at seafood restaurants at Pattaya city centre or at the Walking Street. Additional plus point dining seafood at Jomtien beach was the fact that most restaurants located very near to the beach or faces the beach and therefore, diners could enjoy the cool breeze from the sea. There are also other forms of entertainments available in Pattaya including the Tiffany Cabaret Show which showcase the best of dancing, singing and short acting performances by the "katoeys" or transvestites. This show is considered to be one that comes with world class standard due to its quality of performance by the attractive and multi-talented entertainers as well as the colourful, striking and eye catching costumes with magnificent backdrop. Other entertainments available include the Tuxedo Magic Show which presented to visitors a qualified engineer turned magician, Mr Tuxedo with his award winning tricks for the pleasure of viewers. This is worth to visit due to his international standard performance with his vast international exposures.

Pattaya may not be blessed with good beaches which can give one the comfort to enjoy nice swimming, but you can hop over to Koh Larn, about 30 minutes ferry cruise from the Bali Hai pier. This island has several interesting beaches which offer beach lovers clear seawater, white sands, beach chairs for relaxation and sunbathing and clean beach surroundings. The ferry fare costs THB30 for one way with first one leaving at 7 am with interval of 2 hours continued with 3.30 pm, 5 pm and the last at 6 pm for the Bali Hai pier to Koh Larn's direction. On the reverse, the services were available from 6.30am, 7.30 am, 9.30 am, 12pm, 2pm, 5pm and last being 6pm. There were also some private speed boats services from the Pattaya beach that can take you directly to Tawaen beach, which is the most popular beach on Koh Larn with a long stretch of restaurants serving fresh and cooked seafood, shops selling swimwears and swimming equipments, stalls selling drinks and also souveniers. Over at the main Koh Larn's pier, there are several shops that sell souveniers and also restaurants serving thai and seafood, stalls selling coffees, rotis and drinks and the 7-Eleven convenience store. Take time to stroll along the main area and you should be able to buy something you want while waiting to catch the ferry back to Pattaya. Apart from Tawaen beach, others include Thien, Samae, Nual, Thong Lang and Sangwan beaches. Each beache has their distinctive features and most are much calm and quiet compared to Tawaen beach and all are blessed with clear water and sandy beaches making them very pleasant for swimming and sunbathing. Most of the beach spot in Koh Larn has chalets or resorts available with some located further from the beach while some were close or facing the beach. Most visitors travelled to Koh Larn for day trip and returned to Pattaya for accomodations and entertainments. There is also motorbikes for hire which costs about THB 200 to THB300 for a day. Otherwise, travel within the island can easily be done with the motorbike taxis costing THB30 each destinations and also with the songtheaws. Beach chair could be hired for THB100 to relax or sunbathing and as a base to go for swimming in most of the beaches at Koh Larn.
I personally like and enjoy my time at Tawaen beach as its very lively with people and also with varieties of food and drinks to choose from. Apart from that, its easy to get back to the mainly from here as the pier is located just at the corner of the beach on the left side.

Another interesting place that also worth a visit here in Pattaya is the Sanctuary of Truth, located off the main Naklua Road in the north Pattaya area. This is a teakwood temple built since 1981 and as of today, is yet to be completed. The exact time of completion is not yet determined and there is no time frame for the owner to have the temple completed. The temple is constructed based on teakwoods imported from Mynmar and according to the guide at the temple, there is no nails used to built the temple. The guide also explains that this temple is built to withstand the wind and seashore at the Ratchavate Cape. Total guided tours take about 45 minutes and the temple opens at 8 and closes at 5. Entrance fee is THB500. The temple is built on a 32 acres land overlooking the sea and has a 105 metres high top at the centre of the temple. There woods are carved creatively and magnificently according to the philosophy of the East and based on ancient vision of earth knowledge. The are carved according to the thai traditional achitecture. The overall theme of the purpose of this existance of temple is based on ancient life, reponsibilities, cycle of life and common goal of life. The temple compound is surrounded by lush greeneries, a restaurant where visitors are feted with performances of the thai folklore dance, thai traditional dance and also a thai sword fighting exhibition. These performances lasted about 30 minutes and is really good in paticular the thai sword fighting as the sword used were real ones and you can see as the two fighters fighting each others with their respective swords, sparks of fires can been seen just as the 2 swords were hitting each other. There is also a small area where some of thai ancient items are being displayed at the main entrance to the sanctuary. You can get a glimpse of the items while waiting for the horse carriage to bring you to the restaurant for the 3 performances mentioned above before proceeding to a guided tour of the temple not far away. There a 4 wings inside the temple each depicting 4 different believes and religions comprising Thai, Chinese, Khmer and Hindu with the carvings of the architecture based on these 4 elements of religions and cultures. The truth that is being explained at this sanctuary was shown through the relationship between human beings and the universe comprising the father, mother, the earth, sky, sun and the moon. So, the next time if you happened to be in Pattaya, maybe you could consider this in your itinerary.
(Note: For those who are football enthusiasts, Chon Buri province's Chon Buri FC is a leading football team in Thailand's premier league which has an international professional player Kiatisak Senamuang in the regular team)

Posted by kidd27 22:57 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ubon Ratchathani

The Isaan Region

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Ubon Ratchathani is located in the Northeast in The Isaan Region within Thailand and is fast gaining popularity among travellers as a getaway to Laos from Pakse in the Champasak province. The Thais acknowledge Ubon Ratchathani as just Ubon and it is most notable with its annual Candle Festival (known as The Buddhist Lent) held in the early month of July each year. Ubon is reachable through the rail link from Bangkok, in which I did going through the rail transport to reach Ubon. The train journey takes about 10 hours from Bangkok and costs less than THB500 for a one way non-airconditioned sleeper coach. The advantage of being in a night sleeper non airconditioned coach is that it allows you to breath the fresh air as the train travels through the night and reaching your final destination in the early morning. This is particularly true during the rainny season such as July and the cooler months during the year end where the temperature is about 3 to 4 degrees less higher than usual. Travelling to the northeastern province of Thailand, you can be assured that you will be greeted with lengthy large tract of open lands where you will get your dose of fresh morning air. You can expect a picturesque landscape of rice fields on the moving trains as the morning sun approached. The region is sprawled with large land covered with paddy fields which you will witnessed farmers working on them, buffaloes moving in the directions with instructions from the farmers, cows grazing on the grass and children playing in the compound of their homes within the boundary of the rice fields. These sights reminded of me of the phrase "the grass is always greener on the other side of the world". The Ubon Ratchathani train station is not located exactly in the centre of the city but in a smaller town of Warin Chamrap which compliments Ubon. So, in my opinion Ubon itself has 2 centres, including Warin which serves as the transport hub for this Isaan province. Tuk-tuks, taxis and samlor (trishaw/cyclo) are readily available to shuttle you to the next destination. There are several important wats that should be in the must-visit places including Wat Thung Si Mueang. There's a wodden hall built on a small pond to protect if from insects and it houses the Tipitaka scripts which are framed and displayed at the upper wall level. During the night of the eve of the Asarnha Bucha Day, a day before the Candle Festival, there is a colourful performance on the history of Ubon Ratchathani by the students of Ubon Ratchathani University and Rajabhat Univerity (Ubon campus) followed by a fireworks display. The performance is quite excellent with traditional Isaan dances to depict the olden days living of the Ubon people. Another wat is Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram also known as Wat Si Thong which houses the sacred Buddha image of "Phra Kaeo Butsarakham", carved the Chiang Sean style. Wat Nong Pa Phong is located in the compound of lush trees that displays the wax sculpture of Luangpu Cha and the 8 Buddhists requisites. The symbol of Ubon Ratchathani is the Thung Si Mueang park located near the city hall and is frequented by by joggers and helth concious residents. There is a permanent candle sculpture being displayed at one section of the park that has become the most important landmark for this biggest Isaan city. Over at the wats around the Ubon city and surrounding towns, preparations are on the way to get the candle float ready for the Candle Festival Parade on the KHAO PHANSA (BUDDHIST LENT DAY). Workers can be seen busy preparing the wax in various forms and sizes to be fitted to the sulptures that depicted range of figures such as the Buddha image,the chang (elephant), the horse, cow, Thai government symbol (the eagle with its wings wide open).

Phibun Mangsahan is about 45km away from Ubon and this town is closely located near the border town of Chong Mek, the border crossing on Thai side to Champasak province at the Vang Tao checkpoint on the Lao PDR side. The Kaeng Saphue is one of the popular sights for locals, which is a scenic Mun River with rocks surfacing when water level is low. This is a place where you can have nice family picnic or just enjoy yourself swimming in the river or just relax by the river enjoying the beautiful landscape surround the river area. There are several shops located at the upper river banks selling the crispy banana snacks. Over here, there is also a mini Candle Festival to compliment the larger scale Candle float in Ubon. Apart from the float, there are also performances by students from schools in the Ubon and Phibun. The distance from Phibun to Chong Mek is about 50km. Chong Mek is full of visitors during the Thai holiday seasons with many crossing over for a day trip shopping in Vang Tao. On the Thai side, there are bazaars scattered around the area near the immigration centre where you can do your rounds of shopping after your rounds over in Vang Tao. There are many items available in Vang Tao that will surely keep you busy bargaining. Cigarattes from both Lao and Vietnam are available for as low as THB80, chinese made wines for THB50, women's branded handbags and purses, travel luggages, Lao silkwears and the most sought after item-the branded handphones which costs as low as THB2,700 that normally costs more than THB15,000. Vang Tao is also a getaway to Pakse and other destinations in Laos including Savannakhet, Vientiane, Luang Prabang as well as to Hue, Danang, Hoi An and Hanoi in Vietnam through bus services using the road link between the 2 countries.

Back to Ubon, there are sizeable number of decendents from Vietnam who live and formed the Ubon communities. Some of the famous food from Vietnam that can be found in Ubon including the Indochina bread, similar to the Cambodian Ham that I had when in Phnom Penh during my past trip as well as those found in HCM City. is a tiny french loaf stuffed with the "moo yoo" ( a type of pork meat mix with black pepper). "Moo Yoo" is found wrapped in pandan leaf and can be either deep-fried or steamed before being consumed. Another kind of unique vietnamese food eaten with hand is "Naem Nueng" is a type of skewered pork to be eaten with fresh greens and cabbage mix with small red chillies, garlic and dipped with a type of sweet sauce.The chinese-style Isaan sausage is another famous food item here where these are availale in packet of generous amount of pieces. Another must try food when you are here is the "Kai Yaang" (roast chicken) which is exceptionally tasty with the chicken being roast to perfection. The meat is juicy and soft and nicely blend with spices that create a very delicious taste. Most of the kai yaang are available from the roadside stalls and freshly roast for immediate consumption.

On the eve of the Candle Festival, all the candle floats taking part in the candle parade on the next day will be pre-shown to the public for preview. The whole atmosphere is already being the festival day itself with people walking in pairs or groups moving from one to another float. All being focused on each of the candle floats and having themselves to be photographed by family members, friends and professional photographers cashing on their trade in exchange for good and quality pictures snapped from thier cameras. There are also petty traders selling food and drinks along the road leading to the carnival, which is near the Thung Si Mueang Park in the City Hall area. After a long exhausted walk, you can descend to the park for some fresh air as well as to witness the permanent candle sculpture similar to the wax sculptures being shown during the Candle Festival at the park. There is a very large open field where you can walk about and snapped some pictures with the available statues and structures around the park.

The next morning, the big day has arrived, the Khao Phansa, The Buddhist Lent Day. The procession of the candle float and schoolchildren and universities' students within Ubon Ratchathani province who will be performing will converge to the City Hall area, within the vicinity of Thung Si Mueang park and Wat Thung Si Mueang. People from everywhere in Thailand, local tourists as well as foreigners are seen flocking to the designated area marked for the procession and you can get the last watch of the candle floats of up to 50 cars paraded in between the dancing and singing performance by the various students of learning institutions as well as the carnival like atmosphere similar to the night before but with more lively feel with packed crowd and loud noises from songs and cheering crowd. Khao Phansa is a festival to welcome the rainny season where monks will remained in their respective temples throughout the next 3 months and the people offer the big candles for monks for use during the study of "dhamma" in the temple. The festival aslo showcase the cratfmen skills of Ubon Ratchathani residents to people from over the world.

Amphawa Floating Market is another version of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market but operates only for 3 days from Friday to Sunday. While the latter shuts down at 12pm, the former begins in the evening. Amphawa Floating Market is more comfortable as it is less congested as opposed to Damnoen Saduak with its wider river width between the riverbanks on both sides of the main market area. Due to this reason, you can enjoy the environment in less stressful way. The market is less crowded due to smaller number of boat traders plying their trade as well as it is less commercialised with very minimal foreign visitors though this had begun to change with emerging tourists from other countries apart from the initial local ones. This market was actually an old market during the reign of King Rama II but has been revived after it became inacive for years. The land around the river are suitable for mango, coconut, lychee and pomelo and there are numbers of Thai traditional houses dotting the riverbanks along the delta. Just before you reached the main pier, there are shops along the small streets greeting you selling various foods and merchandise as well as souveniers. As you walk past the main pier, which is located in the middle of the floating market boundary, you will also come across many other shops set up on the old, woodden traditional style structures along the riverbanks. The occupants include coffeeshops modified to resemble the olden days atmosphere, souvenier shops, bars which have a very relax kind of feel in them with their creative interior settings, restaurants and also the guesthouses which have their very own way of unique design to allow you to get the feel of the atmosphere surrounding the river and also the old times. There are also boat services for visitors to cruise along the river to get a glimpse of the fireflies which amazingly a plenty lightening up the dark night on the trees at various locations along the river. The trip takes about an hour and is very enjoyable as you cruise, you can also eat and enjoy your food especially the grilled seafood bought beforehand. You can also have the opportunity to see those Thai traditionall wooden houses built along the river. If you happened to missed the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market due to late arrival (it closes at 12pm), you can divert to Amphawa Floating Market instead as it is located adjacent to the former and opens in the afternoon. Or if you travel to Bangkok and has yet to come to this unique market, you should think of perhaps including it into your travel plans.

Posted by kidd27 23:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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