Exploring the abundant of an external province situated in Easternmost Thailand.
By M.L. Poomchai Chumbala
Looking east toward the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, I can vaguely make out the graceful outline of the Kong mountain range, lying silent in a mystical deep purple landscape. It is dawn, and the sun is just about to pierce its powerful rays through the layers of early morning mist.
“Sunrise very beautiful here,” an old man told me when I arrived late last night at Kong Jeam, a riverside village on the Mae Kong—and I could well believe him. After all, this is the first spot in the whole of Thailand where one sees the rising sun, and from my modest wooden bungalow atop a perky cliff, I could see the vast and meandering Mae Kong River flowing quietly through the landscape down below.
It was also here that early humans first settled and began to develop agricultural and social systems. This is evident in the primitive paintings on the rock face of the Pa Taem cliffs, in an area which is truly wonderful to explore in the dry and cool winter mornings, such as the day I went.
During the hour-long drive back to the city of Ubon Ratchathani, I passed the picturesque and huge fresh water reservoir of Sirindhorn Dam. Numerous bamboo stalls lined the road, selling delicious charcoal grilled fish and river prawns. They are eaten with a spicy chili dip and a ball of soft, steamy glutinous rice, an ideal brunch after the early morning trek along the riverside cliffs.
As soon as I arrived back in the city center, I headed to the National Museum of Ubon Ratchathani, which is housed in the quaint old town hall. It was built during the sixth reign of the Chakri dynasty (1910–1925) on a large ground given to the municipality by Mom Jiangkum, a descendant of the local ruling warlords. The noblewoman had married Khromma Luang Sunprasiti Prasong, a Bangkok prince who was sent here to govern the provinces, thus sealing the Ubon court with strong ties and allegiance to the Siamese state.
The museum houses a small but priceless collection of artifacts. These range from objects excavated from the pre-historic settlement sites around the province to rare religious pieces from the Dvaravati, Jenla, Khmer, Lao, and Siam empires which began to infiltrate this area as early as the fifth century AD.
Lovers of textiles would be surprised to find an entire section dedicated to Ubon’s tangible heritage. Rare and beautiful hand-woven silks and cottons include the unique “Pa Sin” pieces done by a woman who was a member of the local nobility, Mom Boonyern, who established a weaving school here in the late 19th century.
It was already late afternoon when I saw the very last of the exhibits and hunger struck me again, so I headed across the street to the iconic “Jeaw Ki” restaurant. The owner is a third generation descendant of the head chef who once served at the palace of the Ubon nobility. The cuisine and ambience of the place definitely bring to mind that lovely term “old school.” A celebrated dish here is called “buk good tei,” which is a slow-cooked pork sparerib soup. It is absolutely delicious.
Ubon Ratchathani is as beautiful at sunset as it is at sunrise, and there is no better place to be at this hour than in the drinking dens on the Moon riverside. These are lined up along the embankment, a mere 10 minutes’ walk down the slope from the museum quarters. Although the word “moon” in the Isaan dialect means “precious,” I would never forget the sight of the very beautiful moon rising over the river that runs through this timeless city.
Sleep at: Thor Saeng Resorts
Breakfast: Kai Kata on the Kong Jeam
Brunch: Charcoal grilled fish and prawns with glutinous rice by the roadside
Late lunch: “Buk good tei,” slow-cooked sparerib soup, at Jeaw Ki in the town’s center
Evening meals: Waterfront pubs on the embankment of the Moon River
Must-buy: Earthenware pots, silks, and hand-crafted traditional jewelry