Thursday, June 28, 2012

Half Day Soiree in Eclectic Ubon Ratchathani

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand 

What can one accomplish in half a day of gallivanting? 

I always get ambitious and try to do more. Though I have seen most of the things I wanted here in Ubon last time I was here (en route to Pakse), there were some places that I couldn't visit – Wat Nong Bua (Nong Bua Temple) and a walk along Moon River’s promenade. This time, I had to fly to Bangkok the next morning. The remaining waking hours would be my last hurrah in Ubon Ratchathani.

Having checked in at Sri Isan Hotel, I took a brisk shower after lunch, bought a 120-baht map (which I knew I wouldn’t use), then proceeded to the riverside promenade which was just a hundred meters or so from my hotel. This wasn’t the perfect time to visit the Moon River. Timing is pertinent for such place. Maybe when the sun has gradually ebbed down the horizon. Moon River (aka Mun River) isn’t in anyway related to Blake Edward’s 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn. Holly Golightly didn’t sing about it as she waxed romantic about her dreams of someday crossing the riverine channel in style. Doesn't the same make one think of the possibilities of dreaming? "Old dream maker, your heart breaker, wherever you're going, I'm going your way." Sigh. But this disconnect didn’t stop me from getting excited about the river. It was actually the U.S. Air Force personnel who named it as such while stationed in area during the Vietnam War.

The Moon River in Ubon is actually a tributary of the Mekong. It’s also special because at some point, it changes colors as it joins the Mekong, and this murky-to-blue demarcation looks unnatural. The promenade looks lovely, with benches facing the waters. At night, bright incandescent lights bathe the area, making it a safer place for the night time revelers. There is also a gradual descent provided by concrete stairs as it dips into the waters. Nearby is Rattanakosin Bridge, a few walks through the covered market (which is a three-story sprawling market place).

The closest temple is hidden in a quiet enclave. And what struck me was the sheer beauty of the temple called Wat Luang which hasn’t even been mentioned in my guide books. How can anything so pretty escape the attention of some travel writers? Why can't it even deserve a mention? I shall feature this temple in a separate post.

Riverside promenade and the Moon River

Wat Luang

From the temple, I walked around the area. I sampled a local pancake from a sidewalk vendor, then proceeded to check out the local shops. This included a video store and some bakery. I was actually itching to see Wat Nong Bua, but I needed to see this area first because it might be my last chance to roam the place.

I decided to take a tuktuk to Wat Nong Bua. I have always been intrigued by this structure because of its semi-pyramidal architecture exquisitely different from the other Thai temples. It has a highly unusual white angular chedi (a term used in Thailand as alternative for the Buddhist stupa). Wat Nong Bua is a conscious replica of Mahabodhi stupa in Bodh Gaya, India, built in 1957 to commemorate the 2500 anniversary of Buddha’s death.

We plied the congested streets of Chanyangkun Road, Ubon’s Ayala Boulevard where for kilometers you could find big hotels, malls, the Big C, universities, car shops, department stores, restaurants, and the big bus terminal. This was the city's commercial district, and I was glad to have settled my backpack at the quieter Muang District near the river. My ride snaked through a few villages and the Nong Bua Market until we finally reached the temple compound. I handed my 80 baht tuktuk fare.

Local pancake at 8 baht a piece.

Ratchaboot Road

A video store with lots of VCD's.

A film called "Tears in the Amazon" looked interesting, but they didn't have a copy. Why display it? :)

My tuktuk to Wat Nong Bua
Wat Nong Bua is quite stunning; it left me speechless fo a few minutes. I was in awe of its interiors. I was also fortunate to have seen it in its newly renovated, newly painted state. Photos in wikipedia look dated already. And if my mouth was agape, you can only imagine my chagrin once inside. The whole interior was bathed in gold! It was almost too bright to see. Haha. With no entrance fees to pay, I was quite surprised why there were very few tourists visiting this place. But then Ubon isn't blessed with a crowd of tourists. The few who visit are transit tourists en route Laos.

The whole temple ground has several other structures and temples. I shall post them in a separate, more in-depth piece so I could share the sheer beauty of Nong Bua.

Beside this temple was another spectacle, a gigantic structure of Thai Gods and deities all depicted in a yellow wax. I shall post the full structure next time. This was a giant sculpture made out of candle wax – and it’s being preserved for the annual parade.

The Candle Festival, Ubon’s ultimate celebratory feast, is held in early July on Khao Phansa Day, which marks the beginning of the rainy season retreat. According to Wikitravel, “During three months, monks do not leave their temple, unless for an emergency, and lay people vow to abstain from taking alcohol as well as to refrain from any negative action.” Huge wax candles are paraded in Thung Si Muang Park, carried around town in a procession the next morning. Now who doesn’t want to witness this grandiose festivity?

Nong Bua's main temple

Wat Nong Bua's side temple

Main temple altar is bathed in gold.

Candle wax sculpture preserved at a nearby building beside Wat Nong Bua.

After Nong Bua, I walked away from the temple until I reached Nong Bua Market. Chanyangkun Road was a block away. There were commuter tuktuks plying the main road so I hailed one that took me to the Nevada Entertainment Complex (for a mere 10 baht), a shopping mall with cinemas. I checked my emails (15 baht an hour) then decided to watch a Thai movie is called “Pachrapa Chapchua” (directed by Somsing Srisopap). Movies have always been my passion, even more than my travels.


Pachrapa Chapchua” tells the story of a lonely girl who’s turning 30 soon. Though beautiful and pleasant in manners, she is afraid to fall in love… until she meets a handsome man who’s besotted with her. Problem is, our protagonist can’t seem to shake her lovesickness and refuses to give the gentleman her full commitment. She has to admit her feelings soon before he leaves for his arduous fireman's training. Or she may lose him forever. Aww! J

This romcom set me back for a mere 80 baht for a standard seat. The same would cost me 120 to 160 baht in Bangkok.


After my malling, I took another color-and-number coded public tuktuk (Blue # 10, I had a printed guide which details the commuter tuktuks I needed to take, thanks to Wikipedia – haha) once again for a measly 10 baht. This dropped me a block away from Sri Isan Hotel, near Thung Si Muang Park. By which time, the “Open Market” – a night market actually, was already starting. I bought some food: jackfruit at 20 baht, dragon fruit at 55 baht (1 kilogram), 2 pieces of chicken drumstick at 20 baht each, and 2 pieces of rice cake at 5 baht each. And you wonder why all my calories never seem to burn despite the physical activity? 


I walked back towards the riverside promenade carrying my gastronomic stash; found a solitary bench facing the river, chomped and masticated away as I gazed into the romantic gleam of vehicles passing along  nearby Rattanakosin Bridge as well as the mysterious Cimmerian charm of a night in Ubon. The promenade was well lit and there were people milling around the riverside. On a night like this, I could keep dreaming. I was wistful and introspective once again. It had been a hectic, albeit satisfactory half day in a sleepy Thai city.

What can one accomplish in half a day? A lot.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Nevada Entertainment Complex for some cinema time. There are few cinemaplexes in Ubon (I think there are only two).

"Pachrapa Chapchua", a romantic comedy about a girl who's afraid to fall in love. Any Thais wanna tell me what the title means? At a cheap 80 baht, this was a nice diversion.

A nice looking hotel near Nevada Entertainment Complex

Open Market is starting at dusk. This is located at the city's Muang District just a block or two from Sri Isan Hotel.

Fruits galore: watermelon, jackfruit, dragonfruit, papaya, guava, pears, pineapple

Thai viand you can take home.

I bought a couple of rice cakes for the taste. I didn't taste anything. Haha. Acquired taste maybe?

Moon River at sundown. Rattanakosin Bridge is seen from a distance.

The city's riverside promenade is well lit.

River water rises at night losing 3-4 steps of the riverside stair.

Sprawling riverside covered market

Market after 8 PM

My first visit in Ubon here (must-see places):

A fine dining restaurant and a pastry shop near Sri Isan Hotel.

Monks queueing at Seven-Eleven's ATM Machine.


R.Ramakrishnan said...

Splendid pictures of Ubon Ratchathani. Brings out the essence and flavors of the place.

Twin said...

I would like to explore the Open Market---take my sweet time eating & shopping around until the wee hours. Hehe :)

eye in the sky said...

@ Ram:

Thanks. I sure hope I've captured just a slice of Ubon adequately. :)

eye in the sky said...

@ Twin:

I know you would. It's such an interesting place with several local delicacies, but there's just too little time and my stomach couldn't take in more food than I'd have wanted. :)

Ola said...

I would like to visit this market very much:)

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eye in the sky said...

@ Ola:

Yes, it is interesting. I kinda like the fruit section and the ones selling snack. :)

Mom with a Dot said...

Wat Luang and Nong Bua temples are awesome !! To think they were hardly crowded, that's surprising. Its funny how I drool over the temple photographs while I skip past the daily life ones :) Guess that's me :D

eye in the sky said...

Nong Bua is a personal favorite because it looks different from the rest... plus its degree of difficulty in "getting there" is considerable. :)