13.04.2011 - 15.04.2011 33 °C
I was recently in Cha Am, Thailand over Songkran Festival which is an increasingly popular beach holiday destination not only for locals but also foreign travellers and tourists. I was here in Cha Am about 2 years ago and during that time, it was still much unknown or less attractive to holidaymakers. But since then, the number of people visiting Cha Am has jumped markedly. The structure of the beach in Cha Am as in any others within Thailand are rather similar if not the same, with hostels, guesthouses, resorts and hotels, restaurants and cafes lined up the roads bordering the beaches. You can see these in popular beach resort cities including Krabi, Phuket, Hua Hin and Pattaya and Cha Am is no different. But still, Cha Am maintains the less commercialised status in comparison to its peers in Thailand, mainly because Hua Hin, the nearest neighbour in the beach resort town category being more popular with foreigners as well as locals. Hua Hin became popular due to the access to more choices of bars, pubs, seafood outlets, night markets as well as quality accomodations that suit the expectations of travellers and tourists there.
At Cha Am, 3 most important "things to do" will be sampling the roast pork & grilled chicken, try out the fresh seafood and swimming of course. There are many roast pork and grilled chicken (kai yaang in Thai) shops dotting the road leading to Cha Am beach and these shops can easily be identified because large roasted pork sometimes the whole pig ready to be cut into pieces for consumption as well as the grilled chickens were being displayed on display case on the entrance to these shops. And in Thailand, when dining out at roadside food shops and seaside restaurants, you will see that all dining tables are equipped with large bottle of drinking water and either large glass bottle or Pepsi or Coke. All you need is to ask for a glass and bucket of ice cubes and these beverage are ready to quench your thirst. Seafood is also a must try when in Cha Am, where you can get very fresh ones which are still alive chosen from the varieties of seafood choices including fish, crabs, prawns, squids, clamps and cockles. Once chosen, you can get the shop to cook the preferred style and served to you while relaxing at the beach side. Just as in Pattaya, there are many sunshades umbrellas with tables and beach relaxing chair for rent at affordable rates. Seafood restaurants are also available at the port where fishermen unload their catch of the day to be sold to seafood wholesalers, restaurants and seafood traders. The port is located towards the end of of Cha Am beach on the left side of the beach town. All seafood in Cha Am were fresh as they were chosen alive from the prupose-built small tubs placed in between the main entrances. And if you want to freshened up yourself on a hot, sticky sunny beach day out, swimming will be the best thing to do. After all, Cha Am is a beach resort town. There are still many affordable guesthouses and hostels available along the beach front establishment as there are currently less classy hotels being built, so a holiday in Cha Am is still a much attractive destination for those who seek to save on accomodations. In the morning, many mobille traders set up their stalls on the roadside along the beach including those who sell food, souveniers and dry seafood items as well as fruits. At night, the best thing to chill out would be a dine out at some of the restaurants with live band or singers. Some also featured live football games over the weekend. You can enjoy food, have couple of nice Singha, Leo or Chang beers while enjoying the songs from the band/singer and watching live football match.
I was back in Ubon Ratchathani for the Songkran or Water Festival and had the opportunity to travel to some places which I had been to and not been to during my last travel here to this northeastern city of Thailand. Songkran Festival has seen tremendous evolution since it began where what started as flower water pouring to ask for forgiveness on the elderly by the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren had been turned into water fights between the children and young adults. Of course the tradition still stays but the way Thais celebrating their new year has diverted to a dangerous affair, at least this was what I thought. The convoys of 4-wheel pick-ups with children and young adults equipped with water buckets and water barrels ready to be splashed on whoever they can targeted on while their vehicles move on the road. Not only did this act caused heavy traffic congestions due to vehicles need to stop or slowdown to make ways for these convoys of water splashers to get their job done, the number of people that filled up the rear of the pick-ups could well be overloaded. This means the vehicles may not be on a stable condition which may resulted in the vehicles overturned unexpectedly or the rear passengers fell to the ground of the road due to slippery base on the vehicles or pushing. I am not against such festivities spririt among Thais or foreigners whom have seen increasing participation not only in Bangkok's Silom, Khao San or Central World but elsewhere in Thailand but such celebrations will need to incorporate precautionary measures or restricted only on certain hours of the day of the celebration. The number of people on the rear of the pick-ups will also need to be restricted and the water barrels or buckets will required to comply with the max weight of the items the vehicles could carry. Aside from these, other dangers noted including people who stand in the middle of the road who stop vehicles at their own whims and fancy, may caused them to knock down by speeding vehicles while those who stand on the roadside with water barrels waiting to splash on-coming vehicles may also resulted in the same fate. Thus, only several spots identified as safe should be allowed for such activity with metal barriers set up at these spots to preven the party doers from breaching the lines. Drinking of alcohol for those on vehicles while making their rounds should also be restricted while those who are on the ground with barricades maybe allowed as long as they are not drunk. These are some of the suggestions but whether or not they are to be implemented will be on the hands of the authorities to decide. Some of the good practices noticed on Songkran Festival will be the set-up of small Buddha sculptures in wats, shopping malls and hypermarkets where the people could sprinkle/pour water on the sculptures and pray for their wishes as they do so. Also can be witnessed on the Songkran Festival were the many funny faces of the people on the streets participating the water splashing activities where there were impersonators of women, nerds, hogs and katoeys (transvestites). Having mentioned about the dangerous Songkran celebrations, I took this opportunity to participate for half a day water splashing do but maintained precautionary measures from the kerbs of shophouses. It was fun day out on an auspicious festival but even half day will already be too much for me.
Ubon Ratchathani (Ubon) province is a unique place because this is the Thai province where you can access to the most Vietnamese food within Thailand. Due to its close distance to southern Laos, which has good road connections to central Vietnam, vietnamese food can be found easily in certain part of Ubon. Some of the famous vietnamese cuisines which are favourites among the Ubon people and widely available are salad rolls or Goi Cuon in vietnamese where this food include a mix of fresh green salads and mint leaves with accompaniments consisting of grilled porks in sticks or without, unripe mangoes sliced into small pieces as well as garlics and chillies both chopped into small pieces wrapped with softened rice paper roll (dipped into water 1st to soften it) with some peanut sauce spread over them and wrapped them up with the green salad before eaten. Very nice, simple and healthy food and this can be found in most restaurants serving Thai/Vietnamese food in Ubon. Another popular vietnamese dish is the fresh and deep fried spring rolls. The fresh spring rolls consists mainly of green salads with mint leaves and eaten with a dip into sweet clear chilly sauce. The deep fried spring rolls is filled with sweet turnip as the fillings and also dipped into sweet clear chilly sauce. You will ask for more of these as it never fullfill your appetites because they were fresh and tasty. Banh xeo, a southern vietnamese cuisine of HCM city, which I had a good try while there sometime end of 2006, is also popular among Ubon folks but not as good as those available in HCM city. Banh Xeo is made of stir fry of egg mix wrapped with the minced pork and sliced onions, cut into smaller pieces to be eaten with green salads. A dip into sweet chilly sauce will add the flavour to it. Other vietnamese food also found in Ubon is banh cuon a rice flour stuffed with minced pork and mushroom and dip into sweet chilly sauce, banh mi, a french bread spread with butter and stuffed with sliced cucumber and celery, minced pork with choice of fried egg or sliced moo yor (grounded prok mix with flour and black pepper wrapped in banana leaves). Vietnamese noodles such as bun bo in Hue is also widely found in Ubon but has been integrated into the Thai style. Bun bo is a type soup noodle where the soup is boiled with beef bones mix with shrimp paste, lemon grass and dried chillies which give the soup a special flavour. The soup noodle is served with mint leaves to be mix into the noodle before eaten. Another good food to note when in Ubon is the mouth-watering suckling pig. These baby piglets were readily marinated and ready to be grilled once chosen by customers. There are not many such shops around in town. Only locals know where to buy them as the famous shop was located in secluded area near the river opposite Ubon Buri Hotel & Resort.
I had previously been to Ubon and witnessed the distinct culture unique only to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, which was the Candle Festival, a festival that marks the start of the rainny season where monks will be staying in the wats for 3 months where they will focused intensively on meditations. I had been written about this in my past blog with pictures of the parade of candle floats. This festival usually takes place in the early week of July. Apart from this unique festival that drew thousands of tourists to this northeastern province of Thailand, it is also a gateway to Laos, through the Champasak province's town of Pakse. Thais also travel to Ubon to cross over the Vang Tao, a border town in Laos which connects thereon to Pakse from Chong Mek in Thailand. Vang Tao is a popular small border town that attracts many Thai visitors mainly to shop for value for money consumer items made in Vietnam, China and also Lao PDR. Some great changes had taken place since my last visits in Chong Mek (Thailand)/Vang Tao (Lao PDR) as well as in Phibun Mangsahan which is the connecting town between Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand to Pakse in Lao PDR. The road connecting Phibun Mangsahan to Chong Mek is currently undergoing significant improvements where works are being carried out to widened both sides of the road. It used to be a lush green lung with trees lining both sides of the roads but has now those trees and bushes had been cut down and clear off to make way for the road widening works. Over at Chong Mek, the front for the Thai immigration border checkpoint to get in and out of Thailand from and to Lao PDR, the pedestrian walkways on the Thai side is also currently undergoing improvement works. What used to a small walking lanes for both in and out will now see major changes. While on the Vang Tao side, the major changes that had been taken place were the street before the trades bazaar are now lined up with more mobile traders on both sides of the street. Previously, only a handful of them were seen trading with their humble setup on the street displaying their goods mainly on the grounds. A new duty free mall has also been up over at Vang Tao where visitors can shop comfortably for duty free items including coffee, liquors, chocolates, cigrattes and also to enjoy some food and drinks over at a small cafe within the small mall. The traders over the main bazaars remained unchanged which still attracts many visitors from Thailand with inexpensive value for money items but I forsee that this will soon changed with the traders relocated to a much comfortable building structures. As of now, these has yet to be seen but with the improvement in the road networks and immigration structures, both governments are putting efforts to accomodate the increasing visitors to both countries. The current bazaar will not be able to cater if the number of vistors are to be increased each year. Not only that, the current bazaar conditions are not condusive with rundown structures while the pathways were uneven and not properly paved with tiles, which is basically a natural outdoor ground.
Over at Chong Mek, on thai ground, there is a large bazaar just before the immigration checkpoint with many consumer goods available at affordable prices can be found here but not as attractive as those over at Vang Tao, mainly because these proprietors over here sell what you could usually get within Thailand, while over at Vang Tao, the goods are from elsewhere including China, Vietnam and Laos, so items there were rather diversified. In Chong Mek, some of the restaurants here served some good and nice food to deal with ones hunger before and after a long day shopping. Prior to arriving at Chong Mek, I visited the Wat Phu Khao Kaew in Phibun Mangsahan. This wat was located in a secluded spot surrounded by lush trees. The wat is brown in colour with the main building sits on the upper level seperated from the ground level, which is the viharn/meditation hall for the monks of the wat. There were 2 stairs leading up to the main wat/ubosot, one at the front entrance while the other at the rear of the main wat. However, the is only 1 entrance into the main wat. The side doors decorations reflected the skillfully crafted designs which focus on the Thai theme. The doors were made of wood which were also crafted with Thai architecture design. Inside the main wat, there are 3 Buddha sculptures which sit on the upper level from the other 3 monk sculptures which were displayed at the far end of the wat building. The floor of the wat is made of wooden planks. The upper walls were decorated with various theme of wats and pagodas in the Indochina region. The main entrance of the wat facing a water fountain with a garden on the front area of the main entrance on the lower ground. At the main entrance a Buddha sculpture was also on display. There are also 4 salas (open sided small pavillions) on 4 sides of the lower ground of the temple.
In Thailand, in particular south of Ubon Ratchathani province, Surin province and Sisaket province, there were various khmer ruins still in existance. The on-going disputes between Thailand and Cambodia on the Phrea Vihear temple, is an example of how important are these khmer or hindu ruins in thi modern days playing major role in the tourism industry. Phrea Vihear temple was listed in the Unesco World Heritage Site and belongs to Cambodia, while Thailand claim that it actually located on its soil in the Kantharalak districk of the Sisaket province. Such ruins were so unique and distinctive that attract keen interests of visitors to visit the sites to have closer view and to snap as many pictures possible for their own keep or various other purposes that may include personal interests, arts and advertising. In south of Ubon, in Det Udom province, I visited 2 such ruins, namely Phrasat Ban Ben and Phrasat Thong Lang with the former being the larger site while the latter a smaller one. In fact there are various such Khemer ruins within the southern North Eastern Thailand including Sisaket and Surin province bordering Cambodia. Phrasat Ban Ben is one of the larger khmer ruins still remained and located within secluded location of open space of villages or Baan. This ruin has a rectangular bricks border dated since its constructions with 3 ruins tower. The middle one being the largest among the 3 and the most well-preserved while the other 2 with parts of the tower already been damaged. Nothing was seen inside these ruins apart from some prying items inside the middle ruins, On the rectangular fence border, there are 3 entrances with the mid entrance being the main among them. However, one of the 3 entrances had already been damaged and not visible. The ruins are surrounded with tall tree with and administration office adjacent to the ruins. On the front or opposite of this ruins was a small flat square with various holes which already been filled-up noticed on the side of the square. Over at Phrasat Thong Lang, these ruins did not have a border fence like Phrasat Ban Ben, but also have 3 ruins which were larger than those at Phrasat Ban Ben. One of the 3 has most of its structure collapsed. The ruins are surrounded by open space without trees within its location. Inside the ruins, there were nothing visible. However, upon inspection, it was noticed that one of the tower with an opening at its top enclosure. So, with the ongoing border clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops, you can still get to see such khmer historic ruins within peaceful north eastern Thailand provinces.
I had been to Ubon for several festivals including the Khao Phansa (Candle Festival) and over Songkran holiday and visited some of the most notable wats in the province. Recently, I went over to Wat Nong Bua, which is a distinctive wat with a tall "prang" or pyramid shape tower surrounded by a well maintained garden within its compound. The prang with overall structure in white with interval of gold colour on the side and flowery decorations on the wall of the prang. Inside the wat is another smaller prang which was gold in colour on overall structure surrounded by 4 Golden Buddha statues for devotees/visitors to pray. This is a very nice wat which also display the ever creative artwork skills of Thai people. Another wat that I visited here in Ubon during this 2011 Songkran Festival is Wat Sa Prasansuk, which is built on the boat like concrete structure surrounded by a lake. Before reaching the main wat area, the entrance compound has another wooden temple structure which also built on a boat like stucture. The whole architecture skills of the builders of this replica wat is much to be admired about. On the main gate, visitors are greeted with a large white coloured chang (elephant). The wat of Wat Sa Prasansuk is very similar to the design of Wat Phra Keaw but not as grand as the one in Bangkok and the one which has been converted to musuem in Vieng Jan (Vientiane). Inside the wat is a large Golden Buddha in the middle of the wat on the altar section with several windows on its left and right side. The entrance door structures have beautiful outer layer decorations similar to Bangkok's Wat Phra Keaw. The last temple I visited was the lesser know wat in Ubon town, named, Wat Ong Teu. This wat have several decorative structures within its compound and has a distinctive large white Buddha sculptures on the left of the main wat. Upon entrance to its compound, there is a small bridge heavily decorated. Before the main entrance is aBuddha sulpture on display for visitors to pray. Inside the temple is a large Golden Buddha and also the upper walls decorated with the pictures of Buddha with multiple windows on the left and right side of the wat building.