Saturday, November 9, 2013

NA TAN - UBON RATCHATHANI - THAILAND



A really really long way from home is Na Tan in Ubon Ratchathani province of Thailand. Yet we drove here twice to see a famous temple and because the mighty Mekong river here offers not only a great view, but also viewpoints, river rapids, rocks in the middle of the river and more. 



The view from the temple Wat Phra To, also known as Wat Pak Saeng (at least a sign said that) is really great. A viewing area right next to the temple gave us a clear view downstream and onto the huge boulders of rocks blowing the flow of the river. 
High water during rainy season
From behind the temple stairs lead down to the water and to the boats which cross the river here. During the rainy season or after it, the Mekong riverbed is full with water and there is no way to even step down much. But during the dry season we walked halfway into the riverbed, close to the border markings inside the riverbed. I believe we actually crossed the border here for a second or two, without any paperwork. But of course we did not make it across the small river to go up the other side. 
 
Lower water levels in dry season
Wat Phra To has a large Lan Chang Buddha statue called Phra Chao Yai Ong Tue, which is highly respected by the local people here and which looks out over the mighty Mekong to the Lao side. 


It's a very quiet place here and far from any larger city, but well worth to travel to for a day trip. 



Sunday, September 1, 2013

KHEMARAT - UBON RATCHATHANI - THAILAND

My Thai friends often ask me why I would go Khemarat. There is nothing to see, they claim. Western friends have not even the slightest idea where Khemarat would be. 


It is a sleepy little town on the very far north-eastern corner of the Thai province of Ubon Ratchathani. We had our own transportation to get up there and enjoyed a short drive through the town. Now, of course we had a reason to go all the way up there and we combined it with a round-trip driving tour including Amnat Charoen's Lue-Amnat district, as well as the districts of Pho Sai and King district of Na Tan in Ubon Ratchathani. 


Our reason to come up here was to visit the temple Wat Po in Khemarat. Wat Po is known for a beautiful Buddha statue called Phra Chao Ong Saen. While most Buddha statues face the east, Phra Chao Ong Saen looks north, facing the mighty Mekong river. 
 
 


And the Mekong river we saw! It's a huge river here, flowing east and then south, bordering Laos. We took a short ride along the banks of the river and finally found a great restaurant along the edge of Khemarat where we sat  overlooking the river and Laos in the distance, enjoying fresh fish from the "mother of waters".

Friday, August 9, 2013

DON TAN - MUKDAHAN THAILAND

Going to Don Tan district in Mukdahan province of Thailand in August was risky business for us. During the rainy season, you never know if you just get flooded and can't get out anymore. We took the risk anyway and drove to this far east point in Thailand's Isan region. Not quite the farthest east but almost. There is not much to do here other than visiting farming villages and small country temples. 

Wat Klang is one of those temples worth to visit. The temple has several names by the local people, so we were not really sure where it is and circled around for a while. Seems that it is also called Wat Chimawat and Wat Majimawas. The temple is widely known for its famous bronze drum, which dates back 2000-3000 years. It was locked up and placed behind a glass container for protection but we still got a good view of it. 


Here at the temple we were told of the boat races, which happened just east of the temple along the Mekong river. So we did drive on, through the small village of mostly fishermen families and walked to the mighty Mekong. Since it was rainy season and it had rained for weeks, the river was full of water, it's banks were wet and slippery and our path was pure mud to walk through. Nevertheless there were thousands of people lining the bank of the river, celebrating and cheering for their local teams which came from all over.



Here at Don Tan, the border with Laos moves from the middle of the river to almost the bank on the Thai side. A long island is located on the western side of the river which belongs to Laos, so the border line actually goes right through the small side arm of the Mekong. The boat race naturally happens right on the border and on both sides of it, hence in Laos and in Thailand. 


The locals seem to have their fun on and at the river with singers and performers on boats floating up and down the bank of the Mekong. There is plenty of food and drinks available and even an approaching thunderstorm would not disperse people. It's a big local party at the banks of the Mekong. A bit far to drive but well worth to see and experience for us.





Monday, February 18, 2013

MUKDAHAN - THAILAND

One of my favourite cities in the Northeast of Thailand is Mukdahan. 

It was one of the first stops I had when first visiting the so-called Isan region of the kingdom. And it was here that our car broke down and we could not continue driving until it was "repaired" by locals in a makeshift garage over night. Of course the car was in worse shape after the repair and continued to have major problems. We were also totally ripped-off by the mechanics in the moment they saw western guys paying the bill. So, we had to stay a full three days and re-use the ATM machine which only gave a certain amount per day. 


The good thing about the extended stay was though that we had plenty of time to explore the city, which is located on the banks of the Mekong River, just opposite of the Lao province of Sawannakhet. Since 2007 the 2nd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge connects Laos and Thailand here. 


Mukdahan itself is lined with beautiful and important temples, like Wat Sri Bun Ruang, Wat Sri Mongkhon Thai, Wat Sri Mongkhon Nuea and historic temples like Wat Manophirom and others which sit right at the edge of the mighty river and risk to get flooded on an annual basis. 


The river here is one of the most picturesque locations of the country with fishermen and their boats visible as little dots in the middle of the river. It is also the sight of the yearly boat race when thousands of local people line the banks of the river while the teams try to beat each other. We had seen the preparation works and the race once here and once further south. It is an amazing spectacle to observe. 


During the rest of the year I experienced Mukdahan and the small villages north and south of the city in a very quiet way. Sitting in one of the many restaurants which are located along the river and eating fresh fish during our breaks from visiting numerous quiet temples, paying respect to the Buddha statues and engaging in talks with the local monks.