After the tourist rush of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, we were in dire need of an escape to a place with more breathing space. After seeing a picture of a waterfall cascading through a rocky wall (Sang Chan Waterfall) and finding out that a 1 hour flight cost only 200 Baht (6 USD) more than an 8.5 hour bus ride, we were sold. And thankfully too, because it would quickly become our favourite place in all of Thailand. You can easily spend at least 4 days there, as lodging and food is inexpensive and there is more to see than you’d expect for such a small place. We recommend your visit overlap with Sunday, so you can visit the Sunday night market (more on that below).
Land: You can take a bus to Ubon Ratchathani from several points in Thailand. From Bangkok, it’s an 8.5 hour drive and costs around 675 THB.
Air: You can also fly, only from Bangkok, for 875 THB at the time of this writing through Lion Air or Air Asia, which brings the trek down to only 1 hour. We opted for the latter, since a 6 USD difference is worth saving 7 hours on our watch.
Scooter: There are a handful of motorcycle shops around to rent motorcycles from for 24 hour periods, but we recommend Jay-Jay Car and Motorcycle Hire, where the owner is fluent in English and has spent time in the USA. IF they have enough staff on hand, they can also deliver the bike to your lodging and pick it up at the end of your use period. Conveniently located downtown.
+Jay-Jay Car and Motorcycle
Address: 137, Nakhonban Road, Tambon Muang,
Ubon Ratchathani 34000 Thailand
+66 89 625 5823
Songthaew: The typical pickup truck buses found across Thailand, they cost 20 THB around town and run regular routes around town. The stop running pretty early though so don’t count on catching one home from an evening out at the night bazaars and markets.
Hired taxi: For those unable or unwilling to brave a scooter, you can look up a hired taxi with a tour guide to take you to all the distant sites, particularly the waterfalls, elephant camp and Emerald Triangle.
We visited in December, which was the dry season. In the hotter months of June to September, the rainfall makes the waterfalls explode into more spectacular versions of themselves than what we experienced. Feel free to do an online search to compare the summertime versions of the waterfalls with what you see below.
Huay Luang Waterfall (also spelled Huai Luang Waterfall)
A lengthy ride away, it does not disappoint, with different experiences depending on the season. In the summer, it is a rager of multiple streams of water gushing over the rock ledge, thanks to the rainy season’s waters. The waters collect below in a pool full of shy small fish, while a cute little beach on the side provides the perfect space to relax or enjoy a picnic on.
In the winter, the falls are reduced to a single stream. Though paltry compared to summer, is still a gorgeous sight as it cascades down 40 meters of a jagged rock wall. BUT, the real treat in the winter which most people DON’T know about are actually above the falls. The stream stream that feeds the falls give access countless natural pools of water formed by the stream that feeds the falls, some shallow and others 3.5 meters or deeper. A number of mini-waterfalls flow around the pools as well. This was an amazing find and made us wish we had brought some drinks to sip on as we bobbed in the natural pools. Watch your footing though to avoid the few slippery parts marked by algae, and also be careful not get your foot stuck in an underwater crevice. If you’re brave enough, walk to the edge of falls for an awesome top-of-a-cliff view and photo opportunity.
Directions to get behind Huay Luang Waterfall:
1.To get behind the falls, after you take the first flight of stairs past the viewpoint, continue walking straight into the forest on the hiking trail instead of going left down the 2nd flight of stairs. If you want to see the falls from below, just follow the aforementioned stairs downwards.
3. There will be another 3-way junction immediately after the first, where you should turn right to go uphill, then go left once the ground flattens out. Continue straight and listen for the falls.You’ll want to pass the falls, so once you can hear it behind your left shoulder, look for a downhill path on your left, which will take you down to the stream that leads to the falls. Follow the stream towards the lefthand side.
Sang Chan Waterfall (also spelled Saeng Chan Watefall)
This one is a very, very long ride from Ubon and really only worth visiting during summer. We visited in December and it was more of a shower than a waterfall. The reservoir that collects below the falls was a 10th of what it is in the summer. However, we made the best of it by taking a refreshing shower under it and getting some pretty striking shots from below of the hole in the rock above that the water comes through, as well as from above the falls (by blatantly ignoring the “Danger” sign). It’s recommended to visit at noon so that the sun shines through the opening and down through the waterfall.
Soi Sawan Waterfall
This 20 meter waterfall has two streams that split at the top and then reconnect at the bottom, creating a necklace shape that it’s named after. Due to its vicinity to Sang Chan Waterfall, we decided to swing by. Unfortunately, since it’s located inside Pha Taem National Park, there is a 400 THB ($11 USD) to enter. We ultimately chose not to enter, due to its relatively small size, which we expected would be even smaller due to the winter dry season.
Wat Phu Khao Kaew
Conveniently located a 50km or so drive east of Ubon Ratchathani and located about halfway to any of the waterfalls mentioned above, Phu Khao Kaew Temple is perched atop a platform and is believed to be built atop Khmer ruins. It’s details are well-sculpted details and stand out with their vibrant red wood. The temple features a shiny, multi-layered roof that glistens in the sun and is the structure is protected by several crocodile-headed statues who stand guard all around. A monastery sits directly next to it as monks, both young and old, dutifully maintain the temple grounds.
Wat Ban Na Mueang
Larger than life – that is the best way to describe it. The massiveness starts with riding under the gate, a giant statue of Airavata (Erawan in Thai), Hinduism’s famous 3-headed white elephant belonging to the king of the demi-gods Indra.
This is followed by the absolutely beautiful replica of King Rama IX’s royal barge, carved in cherry wood and complete with an entire temple in the middle and statues of rowers frozen in mid-stroke. The best way to get a photo of the whole thing is to climb the steep stairs of the belltower in front of it to the 2nd floor. Head to the pond further back and get treated to an even bigger temple sitting on an even bigger royal barge in the middle of a green pond, which can be seen from all around if you follow the shaded forest path. This temple continues to expand by building more ornate temple structures, so we expect it to be even more spectacular in the future. Located at the center of town, by the airport.
Wat Pra That Nong Bua
This masterpiece of a monastery towers above like a white and gold pyramid, and the gold-everywhere interior is even more dazzling. The golden exterior decorations of Garuda and Naga are definitely worth checking out as well. We suggest arriving before sunset in the winter (around 4:30PM), so you can get daytime, sunset and nighttime photos. Open 8AM to 6PM and located in the northern end of town, near the Big C Bazaar
“Big C Bazaar” Though not the official name of the market, this is definitely a noteworthy area for diverse foods and goods to get on the cheap. Behind the McDonald’s on Chayangkun Road at the north end of town is a Big C supermarket, and surrounding that is a bazaar with plenty of clothes and electronics for discount prices and open to haggling. A neighbouring food market with plenty of affordable Thai specialties will keep your belly happy and full. Conveniently located across the street from our recommended accommodations (see below).
Toong Sri Mueng Park
Most of the in-town tourist attractions and points of interests are located around this park and it is conveniently located in the center of town. The park itself is a nice open green space that is used for recreational sports or dance routines by youth, dog owners to walk their dogs, and even hosts a makeshift outdoor weightlifting gym.
Candle Sculpture to Honour His Majesty the King
Yes, that’s the real name, as long as it is. It serves as the centerpiece of Toong Sri Mueng Park and stands tall as a dauntingly large golden barge featuring incredibly well-detailed Hindu characters and imagery. Best viewed and photographed during the day, while the nighttime spotlights add a nice look as well.
Ubon Night Bazaar Food Court
This pops up every evening just past the the southeast corner of the Toong Sri Mueng Park. You can find the food court across from a 7-11 as it exclusively features food stalls hosting a diversity of inexpensively delicious Asian foods. This includes Vietnamese banh mi and rice paper rolls, Thai soups and grilled meats, fruit shakes and lassis and Malaysian dessert roti. NOTE: Google Maps reports it as “permanently closed” at a different location, which is correct for that location, so please make sure you go to the area southeast of the park.
Sunday Street Market
An impressively massive affair for such a small town, it starts from the southeast corner of the park and stretches for a number of blocks, with food, clothing, electronics and more. Very well-priced when compared to touristy towns, so definitely look into picking up a few items if you get the chance.
WHERE TO STAY
Fundee 1 Mansion
We were thoroughly satisfied with our stay at Fundee 1 Mansion, a motel-styled building but our room was in like-new condition, fully furnished (hello sofa) large, well-located, and only $12 (that’s $6 a person!) a night during high season. It’s also located right across the street from McDonald’s, Big C supermarket and the “Big C Bazaar” mentioned above.