Ubon Ratchathani | The City of the Royal Lotus

Founded in the 18th century by Laotian immigrants, Ubon Ratchathani(often just Ubon) is one of the “big four” in the Nnortheastern part of Thailand called Isarn(Isan/Esarn). This is a city that spreads itself out over the landscape, very much a town that evolved to big a city.

As a province, Ubon Ratchathani borders Cambodia in the South and Laos in the East. Ubon is on the Korat Plateau sloping down towards the Mekong.

Ubon expanded a lot with the American presence here during the conflict in Indo-China. From 1961 five Thai bases were used for American reconnaissance flights over Laos. Ubon airport built in the 1950s was one of these airports. From 1965 American planes flew bombing missions to North Vietnam from Ubon Ratchathani.

The city’s airport is located in the middle of the city and it is a mighty approach flying in over the Mun river, almost touching the rooftops of the buildings and viewing the emerald green rice fields during the monsoon season. Ubon is Thailand’s fifth-largest province, and the Easternmost and the largest city in Northeast Thailand.

The proximity to Laos and further to Vietnam makes Ubon a kind of emerald of Isan now. ASEAN has been working to expand trade routes within the trade zone and more and better roads and soon a high-speed railway from Kunming to Singapore gives Ubon a favourable position on the map. Already a significant amount of “Friendship bridges” has been built over the Mekong. In Ubon, there is a big Central Mall and even some international schools.

With the further opening of ASEAN and trade with Vietnam and Laos, the city is likely to increase in importance thanks to the Chong Mek border with Laos.

Mun and the Moon river and a story of Alexander the Great

The Mun river flows through Ubon Ratchathani. It reaches the Mekong in Kong Chiam where there is a viewpoint called “Two colour river”.

The Mun rises in the San Kamphaeng Range northeast of Bangkok and flows east for 673 km and receiving the Chi River, its main tributary.

Amerikan airmen named the Mun the Moon river from Andy Williams classic song. Listen to it here.

It was also by the Mun river that Oliver Stones movie Alexander the Great (2004 with Calm Kilmer and Angelina Jolie and the Thai actor Bhin Banleurit that plays the Indian King Porus)was filmed for the section of the great battle at the Jhelum River. In those days that was in Northern India. There is a grand battle between heploits and an Indian army with war elephants.

To remember the making of the movie an Alexander the Great Museum was built in the area.

Here is one of the battle scenes from the movie.

Exploring Ubon

Every time I stayed in Ubon I have stayed at the ToeSang City( now Heritage hotel.)And I did my walking from there. The hotel itself is simple but aiming for a contemporary image. Moreover, the staff is friendly and the hotel offers an interesting local breakfast.

What is nice in Ubon is that the city offers a real taximeter system for taxis. I found it inexpensive and that there were friendly and helpful drivers. People in Ubon would occasionally show up and ask if I was lost and if I needed them to call a taxi. As a matter of fact, I just enjoyed wandering around. Ubon is so full of wonderful diners and street food stalls so I was like a truffle dog sniffing my way around.

The city of the Royal Lotus is famous for its laap phed. The herbal minced meat dish could be pork or beef but Ubon is renowned for duck meat. An institution for Isan food in general and many varieties of papaya salad is the Som Tam Jinda restaurant.

Duck laap , typical food in the Northeast of Thailand. Here at Som Tam Jinda.
Laarp from duck meat in Som Tam Jinda

Kuey – Jap 99 is an inexpensive restaurant and there are tasty options of chicken, pork rib, pork sausage and egg.

If you need a break from spicy Isarn food try the Japanese buffet at Oshinei.

On Fridays and Saturdays, there is a night market on Thung Sri Muang or the street also know as Ratchabut Rd(City pillar park) leading down to the river. Along and opposite the river there are some bars and restaurants.

A Garruda. The holy eagle that Vshnu rides on.
Impressive Garuda at the City pillar

Must see temples to visit in Ubon Ratchathani

Wat Nong Bua is intriguing for its rare in Thailand and unique in the regional architecture. The temple is very similar to the Mahabodhi Bodhigaya in India which inspired the construction of Wat Nong Bua in the 1950s.

Wat Nong Bua in Ubon Ratchatani
The Royal Lotus temple

Standing in the nucleus of the temple grounds is a 56-meter high pagoda called ‘Sri Maha Pho Chedi’. To resemble Mahatibodi it has a square base and is formed like a pyramid.

It has an enchanting white and gold layout and the architecture inside is just as impressive. In the middle of the chedi, the original smaller and older chedi is located with a Buddha statue contemplating on each of the four sides.

Also worth mentioning, near the pagoda and just behind a Ficus Religiosa tree there is a recent contribution to the temple. Here you can see an ordination hall and it serves as an example of Ubon’s more contemporary temple style. Broad semi-circular windows cover the upper walls on each side. They are divided by parts from half of a Dharma wheel. 

Wat Thung Sri Muang is also worth the visit. Especially to see the library in a pond full of water lilies. The pond serves to protect the scriptures from termites and insects. This library is also described as an integration of Lao, Siamese, and even Burmese motifs. It could be a re-creation of the library from Wat Saket (before filling up the pond there.)

The temple was built by the Venerable Chao Khun Phra Ariyawongsachan around 1829 during the reign of King Rama III and has a delightful Ordination Hall in the northeastern architectural style that is taller than its width.

Ho Trai, a library building in Wat Thung Sri Muang. Ubon Ratchatani.
The library building is called a Ho Trai

Voices from the past about Ubon Ratchathani

A Frenchman by the name Louis de Carné, who travelled the town as a member of the Mekong Exploration Commission in 1867, explains:

“As to the town, it was the largest we had yet met. The streets are broad, and pretty well laid out, parallel or perpendicular to the river. In the more important, there are even wooden pavements, which are of the greatest use to the people when the rains have soaked the thick coat of sand with which the ways are covered.”

This enthusiasm seems to be something shared by the people who resided there; Aymonier recounts:

The girls in Oubon still wore their hair in a bun, like the Laotian girls of the east. The women rubbed themselves with turmeric and applied perfumed wax to their lips. The men, who often tailored their hair with pork fat, more happily adopted Siamese fashion, and they had pretensions in the way of elegance, as a popular saying expressed: ‘One sees ant hills in Sisakêt, unfortunates in Mœuong Dêt, and elegant idlers in Mœuong Oubon.’16

The Vax – Candle festival

Thailands Northeast is home to some of the most beautiful and funny festivals there are in the country. The Candle Festival is held in July.

A wax candle festival float from 2017

Read more about the Candle festival here, and also about the Ghost Festival in Loei here and don’t forget about the Rocket festival in Yasothon that you can read more about here.

Finally, just for curiosity, the Blue Moon Riverside Resort is one of the most googled places in Ubon Ratchathani.

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