After some thought, we asked Pakse Travel to organize a private transfer for the door-to-door, two and a half hour, journey from Pakse, Laos to Udon, in Eastern Thailand‘s Isan Province. The only other option is to take the bus which probably adds an hour – it’s cheaper but we don’t like bus travel. We changed cars and drivers at the border. The Lao driver introduced us to his Thai colleague after we had paid the Lao exit tax. The driver helped us with our bags across the two hundred meters of ‘no-man’s land’. We were whisked through Thai immigration, so different to when we arrived in Bangkok Airport.
We chose Trip-Advisor‘s ‘No. 1-rated’ hotel in Ubon, ‘The Bliss’. It was virtually brand new, incredibly friendly, comfortable and extremely hospitable. The cost was GBP17 per night including breakfast; when we ate in the hotel and had four glasses of wine, the cost was circa GBP8 for both of us, so really pushing the boat out!
We went out in search of the night-market, highly recommended by both TripAdvisor & Lonely Planet. We found a night market with lots of street food including seating arrangements and stalls selling fresh food. To check the location of the real market, we went into a nearby Tesco Lotus. We struggled with communication but a charming Thai customer explained that the market was these days only for food – she recommended that we go to Central Plaza, Ubon’s only shopping mall. A half an hour later, we were still struggling to find a taxi when the same lady stopped her car and offered us a lift to Central Plaza – we were delighted to accept and she explained that this was the first time she had given a lift to a foreigner. We did not want to offend her by offering payment but hinted that we’d like to buy her son a present (he was in the car too) but she politely refused.
Next morning, we planned to see Ubon’s many Buddhist temples and were told that there is a service offered by the city of Ubon for visitors using open sided buses and it’s totally free. We were the only two tourists and the bus went off with just us. It was to take us to nine temples and monasteries. After our third temple the bus returned to base and we were asked, using sign language and gibberish, ‘if we wouldn’t mind, there is a Thai school outing and they don’t have enough buses, please allow the children to join you?’ They were probably aged around five to seven and a bit on the noisy side but really well-behaved. Each time we stopped the children all rushed off and settled into a routine. They all ran to the temple, took off their shoes and placed them in pairs neatly on the ground, prayed briefly, picked up their shoes, and went off in search of the food vendors. On the bus, we witnessed them eating fruit, corn, chicken, sausages, ice-cream and slushy drinks – as you can imagine, the bus was full of very mixed smells even in the open air! Every temple that we stopped at, the kids did a really quick prayer and were soon off to find their next snack, it was almost as though the street vendors were following the school outing. Every so often, they took a quick shy look at us and the occasional giggle, as western tourists are not that common in Isan. They were nice kids and all waved when we said goodbye at the end of the trip. The kids were probably off for lunch and we took at taxi to Century Plaza for shopping and lunch.
For an excellent introduction to Ubon’s many impressive temples, open this link.
We spent a couple of hours in the mall, including a light lunch in the food hall. Century Plaza is very impressive and compares to Bangkok, with all the major shops and global brands but no real bargains. We were surprised at the costs because the reference market is local people, not tourists. Our conclusion was that Ubon was quite a prosperous city. Late afternoon, we returned to our hotel, and relaxed for the rest of the day.
Open this link for some stunning photos of Ubon in the public domain (our own photos will follow).
The next day we explored outside Ubon, including a lovely national park. We’ll pick up the story in the next blog.