TRAVEL: In the Emerald Triangle
It wasn’t until recent years that low-cost airlines such as Air Asia introduced new routes that connect Phuket to destinations such as Chiang Mai in the north, Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani in the northeast, boosting domestic tourism.
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:53AM
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is working closely with airlines to support the new links and to ensure visitors have memorable experiences. A recent collaboration between TAT Ubon Ratchathani and Air Asia, for example, was the province’s offer to “Catch the first New Year sunrise in Thailand.”
As Ubon Ratchathani province occupies the furthest land to the country’s east, at an altitude of over 300m, some locations there, such as Pha Chanadai, are the best spots to greet the first sunrise in Thailand on the morning of January 1.
The Air Asia flight direct from Phuket takes just two hours, and the airport is close to the city.
Bordered to the east by the Mekong River with Laos on the other bank, and to the south by Cambodia, the province links the three countries in what has been called the Emerald Triangle.
During the reign of King Rama V, Ubon was annexed to Lao Kao town. Later, in 1899, the area was part of the northeastern monthon, serving as an administrative hub.
In 1900, its name was changed to Monthon Esan and when the monthon system was abolished, the city became a province. Ubon town grew rapidly during the Vietnam War because of the proximity of an American air base used by long-range bombers.
The province is large and important in the northeast. With many fascinating temples all around the city, the city has become a place of pilgrimage every year at the beginning of Buddhist Lent because of its candle festival, featuring enormous works of art made from wax, which are paraded through the streets of the city.
The province has a unique folk culture, expressed in the indigenous cuisine, handicrafts such as silk and cotton products, basketry and bronzeware, and traditional events such as the candle festival held every July.
There are also 4,000 year old rock formations, prehistoric rock paintings in Pha Taem National Park, waterfalls and the “two-coloured river” where the Moon River empties into the Mekong.
Kawee Prasomphol, Director of Pha Taem National Park, explains that the park covers 55,000 rai with many waterfalls, the largest prehistoric stone totem in the country, believed to be more than 180 million years old, and magnificent viewpoints overlooking the Mekong River, such as at Pha Taem, Pha Jek, Pha Moey or Pha Chanadai.
The province is rich in natural resources with the Teng-Rung forest, red and mixed forests. There are 50 national forests, three national parks, two botanical gardens, a wildlife preservation area and a botanical park.
More tourists every year come to the province in winter, when breezes are very pleasantly cool. Wild flowers dance everywhere, flaunting their colours, with up to 44 varieties spreading over a stony plateau of the national park.
HM Queen Sirikit visited the park some time ago and gave names to the beautiful wild flowers that abound here.
A field atop Pha Taem and Sroi Sawan waterfall, filled with wildflowers, was an unusual place for a press briefing. Ubon Governor Suraphol Saibhan and Director of TAT Northeastern Region Pattamas Wongpattanasiri were among the officials introducing the New Year tourism campaign.
In previous years tourists camped on the plateau ready to see the first sunrise on the first day of the new year.
This time the province hosted a big celebration on top of Pha Taem with ceremonies of Tor Saeng Tawan (keep the light) on New Year’s Eve and Rub Tawan Mai (catch the first sunrise) on the morning of New Year’s Day.
It also hosted another event at the Mekong River with a sound-and-light show, when tourists could float paper lanterns on the water, symbolic of floating away bad luck of the past year so they could be free to receive good luck in the coming year.
Glowing lanterns were set up on a barge in the middle of the river to celebrate His Majesty the King’s 84th birthday.
Baan Pa Chun (steep cliff village) on the river bank is another nearby attraction where in dry season the water level drops nearly 10m, leaving the steep stony river bank visible. By taking a short boat trip up the Mekong visitors can see Sam Phan Boke (3,000 holes) on the banks of the river.
This natural wonder during the rainy season is totally submerged under the river. But in the dry season from October, Sam Phan Boke slowly reappears as stony hills and holes filled with water.
The size of each hole ranges from a foot wide to 50 sqm in area, with depths ranging from 10cm to 3m. There is a narrow sandy beach, with glittering soft sand lapped by river water.
Folklore says that this is the summer palace of river dragon deity Lord Naga. A large stone in the shape of a dog’s head stands guarding the “palace”.
Magically, a large pond in the middle of this natural palace has emerald green water, in contrast to the brown water of the Mekong. Not surprisingly, it is called the Emerald Pond.
There are many faces of the province: the beautiful temples that hold the community together, an amazing waterfall cascading down to the deep pool below, the brooding stone totem, the pre-historic paintings, the endless fields of wild flowers and the views of the two-coloured river. Well worth a visit.
For more information, call TAT Ubon on 045 243 770, tatubon.org, email@example.com.
Air Asia flies to Ubon from Phuket three times a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Contact Air Asia on 02 515 9999, airasia.com.