The Isaan Region
05.07.2009 - 08.07.2009 28 °C
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.