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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Krungtong Hotel - Pleasant Stay in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Choosing your accommodation during travels is a tricky thing. I always something better than what I am willing to pay, but then that's human nature. Sometimes it's also a "mood" thing. Like when you just wanna relax in a room more than gallivant - this happens during long haul trips. In some legs, you just wanna kick back, relax, waste time watching cable while enjoying the chill of the AC. After all, one needs to "recharge" so you could enjoy the remainder of a long, arduous itinerary.

I stayed in Krungtong Hotel upon my first arrival in Ubon Ratchathani en route to Pakse, Laos. I have to admit that I took my time to read reviews and get the feel of the hotels before finally deciding on Krungtong. Mostly, this was because of a single, "sweet" review by one of its guests. They got an unexpected pick up at the airport. I liked that so I was kinda hoping it would happen to me too. I emailed them for my travel details. I was also willing to pay for this service. Ubon's airport has fixed rate taxi fares of 200 baht, but a taxi arranged by the hotel would be more convenient; you don't need to tell your driver the address or direction. Unfortunately, I didn't get a reply from Krungtong. Nor did I get anyone to fetch me upon my arrival. Though a bit disappointed, it was no big deal. Fixed rates taxis from the airport are easy to find. It's merely 7 minutes to the hotel.

What surprised me was the size of a room in Krungtong. I got a twin room that's facing the main street, Srinarong Road. The hotel has wifi, ref, split type AC, TV (with Thai channels only) and a clean bathroom with fixtures that work properly. Towels, bottles of water, soap and shampoo are all supplied. They seem to have few personnel but this doesn't bother me because unlike other fussy guests, I'd rather be left alone - except when I require help. Rooms in Krungtong are more spacious than other hotels in the city and their rates are relatively cheaper.

Unfortunately, the staff has limited English speaking skills, though they will try to help you with all your questions - or when you need a taxi for drives within the city. An Agoda booking doesn't include breakfast, but considering I don't like eating in hotels (except breakfast), it's not such a big deal for me. Krungtong has a canteen that offers drinks and some snacks, nothing heavy like a full meal. This canteen is mostly deserted. But the surrounding area has several restaurants, thus you actually have several options outside. If you're after a honeymoon-caliber hotel, or places for really special occasions, it would be better to look elsewhere. Otherwise, Krungtong Hotel is a good choice when you're just passing through or traveling around the area.

Other services include a spa, seemingly run by a separate management (styles of massage include Stone, Egyptian, Natural, whatever they mean by these descriptions). Krungtong is really a no-frills hotel providing basic, albeit spartan facilities that's a lot better than most B&B's and inns or guesthouses. The "hotel" is categorized under "Inns & Bed and Breakfast" at the Trip Advisor website placing 5th in their list of 11 inn accommodations.

Srinarong Road is right in the center of Muang District. Along this Road, you will find the Tourist Information Center (they call it TAT, for tourist assistance), a fire station, a post office, a day market, etc. Wat Thung Si Muang ( a must-visit) is also nearby, a block away and easily navigated on foot. If you're on budget and require accommodations better than most guesthouses and inns, look no further.

Address: 152 Srinarong Road at the Muang District of Ubon Ratchathani City Center. Contact details and map are located here:

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Krungtong Hotel's lobby is mostly deserted. You also hardly notice the single staff manning the front desk.

My spacious room. I liked the glazed tiles because it's easy to spot if they've been cleaned or dusted. Sheets smelled nice and bed's very comfortable.

Srinarong Road, the view from my window. Yes, Krungtong Hotel has an elevator. Sri Isan Hotel, the boutique hotel nearby doesn't.

Hallway. Elevator is just to the right.

Canteen beside the hotel lobby

Little garden in front of the hotel.

Wat Thung Si Muang is just a 5-minute stroll from the hotel.