Friday, April 13, 2007

Ubon Ratchathani

After a comfortable 10:55 hour flight from Auckland to Bangkok's brand new Suvarnabhumi airport (opened Oct 2006), we arrived late at night and took a cab to the Narai hotel on Silom Rd. As expected, it was hot and humid. We slept well, and next day we spent walking down Silom Rd, escaping to air-conditioned shopping malls, and a short stroll through the red-light district there. The photo says it all...

Next morning we had to get up very early, and went to the old airport (Don Muang), which was just re-opened a couple of days earlier. After many problems at the new airport, it was decided to relief pressure there, and move a number of domestic flights to the old airport. Our flight left at 6am, and was very nice. It was amazing to see a full meal service with a nice "boxed" breakfast on a 55-minute flight - Thai hospitality! The B 737-400 landed in Ubon Ratchathani, and we were picked up by a transfer driver. We had our hotel booked through the Internet, and the transfer was included. We knew the hotel was "on the river", so we expected a short drive. Well, we were sitting there in the nice air conditioned limousine, and the driver went on and on. At times I thought he'd bring us to a remote jungle spot and we'll be robbed. But after a bit more than an hour and 95 kilometers, our trust was restored, when he indeed pulled up at the Tohsang Khongijam Resort and Spa (I double-checked the address - it is indeed an address in Ubon Ratchathani...). And what a beautiful place this was! We were warmly welcomed, and could check into our little garden villa at this early time. Time to relax here. There is not much else to do, since we are in the middle of nowhere. The Pool is beautiful, and we spent about 2 hours in it... The deck looked over the Mekong river, and we realised that this was the border to Laos. It was also here that we made our first contacts with some "exotic" animals: A giant bug and an incredibly beautiful dragon fly.

The sunset was amazing, and we spent it on the deck with a Thai Singha beer, followed by a nice dinner.
The next day we took the transfer back to Ubon a bit earlier than necessary. We checked in to our flight to get rid of the luggage, and then took a taxi to the reason why we came here in the first place: To see the Wat Phra That Nongbua, a large temple with a stupa that is built in Indian architecture. On the photo you can see how I am dwarfed by the large golden buddha in the huge hall. We spent more time here than anticipated, and the waiting taxi driver got bit antsy (maybe he just wanted a few more baht), which was just as well, because we had a plane to catch... Thus, with impressions that are not possible to put into words, we reluctantly left this place and headed back to the airport.

I am usually opposed to low-cost airlines, but schedules dictated us to take Thai Air Asia back to Bangkok, since Thai would have left far too early. The flight on the B 737-300 was uneventful, and just what you expect from a no-frills (or pay-for-food-and-drinks) service. From the airport we took a cab directly to the Hualampong railway station. The station looked like a beehive inside: Large numbers of people buzzing around the station, some stands and shops, restaurants, waiting areas, a huge TV screen, and noise everywhere. We had another hour until the train would leave, so we went to a restaurant on the first floor and had a nice view over this busy place. At 6pm sharp, suddenly everybody got up and the national anthem was broadcast over many tinny speakers. At about 7:20pm we boarded our train to Chiang Mai. We had booked a first class, air conditioned sleeper compartment. The journey was - let's say - interesting. It will be the in next blog....;-)