Well what is there to see in Ubon anyway?
With no breakfast facilities at the hotel and nowhere nearby, Mick took me on his moto to a 7-11 store and also dropped into see Khean. He ran a small café on a side street a km or so away. We arranged for a pickup to take me on a sightseeing tour of Ubon. We hade late breakfast in the hotel lobby and after an hour or so Khean picked us up for some sightseeing.
At first appearance Ubon has little immediately to see other than a river front along the Moon River and a big park or two. Ringed and dissected by 6 lane highways I t was very spread out with no obvious centre. We drove to the TAT tourist office to see what info they had. Not a lot which was readable anyway! Not even a map of the area; so Mick suggested to go to the Tourist Police Office where he knew a couple of the girls there who would have info .
Well we did pick up a useful ad well written mini guide to the city. This had only recently been published for the Candle festival in August. This is the big event of the year for the city; where dozens of floats made out of candle wax are driven through the city. I had sen a small example in the Tourist office in the shape of an elephant Mick told me that it was just a small one as the real one would be the size of an elephant.
We moved on to the small Wat of Wat Jang which had an immaculate Lao Style wooden temple amogst the trees. Mick had not seen it either; so it was of some interest of both of us.
The next place was Wat Tung Sri Muang. It ws built by during the reign of Rama III to house a replica of the Buddha Footprint . The ancient scripture hall is centered on a reflecting pool which was to protect the scriptures against ants and termites. The shrine was dark and wooed floor was littered with pigeon droppings. Mick warned me about the danger of bird flu. I was more concerned about camera exposure!
Outside we met Alex a Buddhist monk who invited us to a group mediation session to help claen our minds, I thought our minds had been thoroughly cleansed by the quantity of Tiger beer drunk the previous night!
Alex prove to be a very intelligent and also well travelled man. He was born here but spent a lot of time in Australia and lived for a while in Cape Town. He converted to Christianity and then became Buddhist again later when he returned to Thailand. Alex gave us a tour of the Wat; showing us the silver Buddha which was previously thought to be plaster until recent restoration exposed its splendid silver core. The hundred year old wall paintings depicting the life of Buddha are a spectacular sight even though faded in places.
Although we intended to have lunch, we took a quick look at the Wat Suphatanaram near the Moon River. This immaculately restored white temple is part Thai ; part Khmer with some Chinese influence in the décor and furnishings.
We drove back to the city and stopped by yet another ATM Mick was drawn into a big music shop He made attention by twanging a few guitars and rattling a drum or two. It was a impressive shop but there was no real quality instruments there Mick reckoned that the stuff would be wasted on the Thais as they can't play anyway!
Lunch was taken in the New Sri Isan Hotel by the river and Market. It was defiantly a cut above all the other hotels in the centre of the city. We had a nice lunch there which took longer than planned as it rained heavily.
We spent the evening in the Wrong Way inn having pie mash and a few exotic German beers. I also had a much longer conversation with Clever Trevor. He was an ex ITN journalist now retired. He had been around a bit and was a war correspondent during the Vietnam War. Trevor seemed to know everybody round here and was keen to take some POA flyers off my hands and pass on to anyone he knew to be coming down to Cambodia.
I had enjoyed my first day here; so decided to stay on an extra day and was thinking on a revision to the plan and go direct to Savannakhet In Laos to give more time in the north.
Wats it all about
I arranged fro Khean to pick me up for a morning sightseeing. He was on time I wasn't as I'd mislaid my room key.
. We started off ar Wat Nong Bua which was a replicqa of an Indian temple Buddha Khaya ;
It took the classic form of 4 corner towers surrounding a immense central Stupa or tower. Before looking closely at it we entered the huge and outwardly ugly Prayer hall.
Unlike any other Buddhist temple had seen; it had a barrel vaulted roof and semi circular arched windows at either end and on each side. Inside was spectacular with grey marble columns supporting the immense red ceiling. A massive golden Buddha dominated the altar with a golden reclining Buddha behind. I spend some time there and climbing a small Tower for a better view.
Outside under cover was the Wats Contribution to the Candle Festival held in August. The creation in wax was huge probably around 10 meters long and at least 5 meters high. The Boat shaped and intricately carved candle float took my breath away. Apparently there were 80 of these parading through the streets of Ubon and yet few tourists ever go there as few people outside of Thailand know of it!
The Main stupa 56 metres high dominated this part of the city. Inside was plain with Buddha statues surrounding a golden replica of itself . Ladders reached up the interior ; but sadly there was no way of getting up there as the bottom set of ladders had been removed.
We took a longer drive past the Airport to Wat Banamaung. The site was centred around a small lake with a large new boat temple. It was a favourite spot for locals to feed the fish with fishfood bought for 20b per bag. The Hungry carp and Catfish had a feeding frenzy that Sunday Afternoon.
The Main Prayer hall is quite plain with a teakwood roof and yet another huge Buddha with a pink 7 headed Naga behind. The Naga or Sacred Serpent is not so prevalent in here than Cambodia where almost all the Khmer Hindu temples have them. In front of the altar were flower offerings to the much loved Head monk Luang Poo Boomee. He died 3 years ago aged 95 years. Not onlywas his paintings everywhere; there was a wax effigy witch looked creepily lifelike. Behind the altar in a glass case was his preserved corpse on view for all to see.
The Last thing we saw before moving on was the Small boat temple. From a distance it appeared to be made of wood; But a closer inspection showed it to be made of concrete and ceramic tiles. Oarsman lined each side of the gunwales with oars erect.
The last thing I had to do was visit a market for a few things. Khean took me to a huge Tesco Lotus store to get some Dollars changed. Then moved on to a vast market where I wanted to get a penknife. He took me to an army store where various killing machines were on offer including Machine guns openly on sale.
Rain Threatened, so I decided to call it a day. We just got back before serious rain. In the evening had a meal with Mick at a steak house on Soi 19 . We had excellent pepper steak in a nice garden atmosphere with pools and lots of greenery. They had good wine too but at a price $20 per bottle for Australian Shiraz.