If you ask me, any place that blends together history, natural beauty, and Disney fairytales; that is a site worth every second of my time. Ubon Ratchathani happens to be on top of the list of such places and boy oh boy! It contributes a fair share of awesomeness to each of its many aspects. Playing the role of one of the 4 domineering cities in Isan; Ubon (as it is normally referred to) is a grand treat for your eyes, soul, and spirit.
The city’s flag is one that is etched with the emblem of a lotus immersed in pond water. If you may not know, the importance of a lotus is quite significant in many cultures. Not only does it contribute to the religious rituals and sanctity of the city but it also describes a bit of the city’s history.
One of the most enjoyable things I like to indulge in when visiting new places is to check out the zoos. They help in giving in me an idea of what the place is like and especially how they treat the animals which speaks volumes about the citizens on the whole. When I first stepped into the Ubon Zoo I was met with a pleasant sight of jolly animals prancing about in their cages and the variety was mind-blowing. There were brightly colored toucans that flew overhead from one place to another. There were zebras, tiger, elks, moose, antelopes, lions, meerkats, giraffes, spotted deer and so many exotic birds I couldn’t name.
One of the most distinguished aspects that I liked about this zoo was how spacious the animal enclosures were. As a travelling buddy I have seen a lot of zoos in my life and there is always an issue of some sort with each. With Ubon zoo, everything was clean and the animals kept in perfect health conditions. There were also golf carts to help me careen around the whole zoo (which is pretty huge) so I don’t tire myself out. There was also a refreshment stall at the beginning of the zoo!
My favorite Disney movie is undoubtedly Tangled! So imagine my happiness and surprise when I found out that Ubon holds an event in the city’s national park quite similar to one of my favorite scenes in the movie. The candle lighting scene where the two main characters in the movie ride a boat in a river and spread light with candles in a city that is brought to life by each and every citizen’s candles.
This fairytale concept was brought to life for me at Ubon when the city’s residents all gather to celebrate their Candle Festival in the month of July. Yep! As much as I wanted to send my candle in the sky and have a Disney moment, the citizens actually keep the candles on land. Still is just as beautiful! The importance of the festival is related to the retreat of Buddhists during the months of July to October. It is normally called the “rainy season retreat” because in Ubon the monsoon rains begin from April and continue all the way to October. Hence July happens to be the peak point of monsoon rains and the Buddhists of Ubon retreat into their monasteries or temples for 3 consecutive months.
I and hundreds of other citizens before the monks’ retreat with one day started decorating the central park Thung Si Meuang with candles. It took the entire morning of that day to decorate the park and place all the candles there were. Before nightfall with a couple of hours was the exhibition as the streets were full of parades and singing troops. Everyone, along myself were dancing, clapping and celebrating along to give the monks their proper farewell.
As mentioned before, Ubon is all about that lush, natural scenic beauty that ultimately cannot be compared with anywhere else in the world. It is a little bit of the city’s preserved nature paired alongside the age-old historical attraction spots that make it so unique. For instance, the Pha Taem National Park brought me a flashback from a time my ancestors weren’t even born in. No kidding! Nestled in the park are caves with red color paintings etched on all the walls. It is said that these very paintings have been around for 3 millennia and are a shocking reminder of how far we have come.
From drawings of various animals to the imprints of human hands on the walls, it was eerie for me to be standing in the presence of the past and the future all at once. But truly a riveting experience!
The Pha Taem also boasts of other gorgeous scenic views that got me my 1k followers on Instagram! Firstly, the sunset and sunrise views both are super gorgeous and coupled with the Soi Sawan Waterfall, I spent some of the best days of my life in this park.
And don’t get me started on the sand dunes in Ubon. Much like the stunning deserts in Dubai, the Had Hong Sand Dunes are situated beside the river of Mekong. I reached on the sandy grounds after traveling by boat to the destination, there is no other way of transportation to this spot. The sunset was breathtaking and the stillness in the air was peacefully loud and memorable. If I close my eyes I can listen to the sound of silence.
As Ubon is one of the largest cities of the Isaan province it only makes sense that it represents its rich culture with outstanding dishes and ones that truly transport your taste buds to another world. Of course, I was met with a plethora of restaurants that served the usual, universal plates of pasta, cakes, ice creams, and fancy cocktails. But that wasn’t what I was seeking out. I was searching for those traditional spots that served classic Ubon delicacies as the spot has garnered quite the reputation! Isaan is primarily known in all over Thailand to be the one spot that offers the tastiest dishes to ever be dined on. So I went to seek them out, and I found them alright!
Mostly roadside stalls and small kiosks were the ones selling the highly traditional cuisine that you couldn’t find in any posh restaurant. One of the most flavorful and striking delicacies I got to sample were peculiar little wraps. Pandan leaves were used to hold together a filling of fermented pork with a bit of chili. The wraps were steamed in order to be cooked and then when they were hot and steaming, I wolfed them down. The taste was exactly as how I described their appearance. Peculiar! Not particularly bad but not great. It was different, which was what tickled my senses.
I chose a spicy mushroom soup to go with my wrap and a papaya salad that was doused in some strong fish sauce. The names of the dishes were hard to catch and remember yet the different tastes and aromas still stick around in my memory as I write this down 2 months later. I especially favored the soup as it was just the right amount of spicy and boiled to perfection. After my meal, I felt snacky and decided to try out something on the menu that sounded familiar to me. Cab Moo as it was called is actually pork rinds but somehow they tasted way better than the ones that are sold in packages in my local supermarket. Crunchy yet exuding flavor and taste they teeter tottered around juicy before I gobbled up the whole bowl which housed a pretty handsome serving. After the Pandan leaf wraps (I had two) and the bowl of soup, I thought I’d be pretty full but there is just this immense exceptional taste in every Ubon dish. I didn’t hold back!
Like all the other prominent spots that I visited all over Thailand, Ubon has its special and dedicated memoirs for its Buddhist history. From its Wat Phra That Nong Bua temple that measures approximately 60 meters to the legendary Thai Forest Tradition. Beginning with the latter, the Thai Forest Tradition resembles the rainy season retreat I discussed previously. Monarchs and Buddha worshippers alike choose to retreat into Buddhist forest monasteries such as the Wat Nong Pah Pong. The Wat Pa Nanachat is also another stunning forest monastery that welcomes monks from all sides of the world. Yes, you heard it!
As much as it may be an honor to meet those monks, I arrived at a time where their retreat was in motion and no one would disturb them during their meditational sessions. However, not before long I heard that a plethora of different monks from countries all over the world come and gather in this specific monastery. The Wat Pa Nanachat is known to be an international monastery and thus welcomes all sorts of Buddhist monks regardless of their nationality.
There are plenty of other temples and monasteries in the city but the one that particularly caught my eye was the international Wat Pa Nanachat one. It just opened up my eyes to how much of a diverse, open and awe-striking city Ubon Ratchathani actually is!