An introduction to Ubon Ratchathani’s temples

An introduction to Ubon Ratchathani’s temples

Treasures await

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Memorised by all local school kids, a line in Ubon Ratchathani’s provincial poem proclaims: “The people believe in Dharma“. Buddhism has long thrived in the area’s multitude of temples, including some as old as the city itself.

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Ubon Ratchathani’s wats aren’t quite as awe-inspiring as those of Bangkok or Chiang Mai, but together they’re an intriguing collection with some highly unusual attributes.

A fascinating interior. : David Luekens.
A fascinating interior. Photo: David Luekens

There are two temples that we would not miss on a trip to Ubon. The first is Wat Thung Si Muang, an atmospheric complex with a haunting 200-year-old ordination hall and a wooden scripture hall that stands elegantly on stilts over a lotus pond. A few kilometres outside of town, Wat Nong Bua boasts a 56-metre-high Thai-style replica of India’s Mahabodhi temple, which marks the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Ubon’s ornate version features a high-roofed interior that blinds you with all of its twinkling gold surfaces.

History buffs will appreciate Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram‘s four-sided ordination hall that was built to mimic Bangkok’s Marble Temple and houses Thailand’s largest topaz Buddha image, standing a staggering seven centimetres high! Wat Chaeng‘s small but beautiful wooden ordination hall is known for its delicately carved gables and crocodile guardians.

Don’t forget to feed the fish. : David Luekens.
Don’t forget to feed the fish. Photo: David Luekens

Ubon’s busiest wat is probably Wat Maha Wannaram (aka Wat Pa Yai), attracting busloads of Thais who pay respects to the sacred Buddha image housed here. On weekends, the riverside Wat Suppattanaram bustles with its own community of meditators. It also contains Thailand’s largest wooden bell to go with a fortress-like ordination hall displaying elements of 19th-century German architecture.

Another temple that architecture enthusiasts should seek out is Wat Si Phradu, featuring a modern Lao-style hall with a sharp angular roof that stretches almost down to the ground. Not far from that is Wat Burapharam and its huge naga-hooded Buddha near an old wihaan housing sculptures of famous Thai Forest Tradition monks. To see a dizzying array of statues displaying the quirkiness of Thai-style Hindu-Buddhist mythology, head to nearby Wat Tai Prachao Yai Ong Tue.

Unlike many Thai temples, Wat Nong Pah Pong has kept the concrete to a minimum. : David Luekens.
Unlike many Thai temples, Wat Nong Pah Pong has kept the concrete to a minimum. Photo: David Luekens

While travellers interested in meditation will find suitable venues in Wat Burapharam, Wat Si Phradu and Wat Suppattanaram, those seeking intensive practice should make their way out of town to Wat Nong Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat. Both founded by the late forest meditation monk, Ajahn Chah, the latter supports a community of foreign monks who use English as their chief language of instruction.

We don’t blame you if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by this barrage of temples with easily mixed-up names. While Wat Nong Bua, Wat Nong Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat all require a trip outside of central Ubon city (the latter two call for a solid half day, at least), all of the others can be hit in one long swoop by hired bicycle.

Beautiful icons. : David Luekens.
Beautiful icons. Photo: David Luekens

Starting near the river in the centre of town, head straight west on Phrommathep Road to Wat Suppattanaram, then double back and cut north up Chayangkun Road to Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram, which is just west of Thung Si Muang Park. Perhaps after a side trip west down Phalochai Road for a bowl of Mae Tae’s unforgettable kuay chab yuan, head east on Sapphasit Road and pop into Wat Chaeng. Continue a few hundred metres further east and you’ll hit Wat Maha Wannaram.

Keep peddling east on Sapphasit—maybe with a detour down to one of Phichitrangsan Road’s excellent eateries—and you’ll bump right into Wat Si Phradu on the east end of town. A short ride south from there on Buraphanok Road will take you to Wat Burapharam. From there, cut back west on Khuan Thani Road and stop at Wat Tai Prachao Yai Ong Tue before heading back towards the east side of Thung Si Muang Park to end the tour at Wat Thung Si Muang.

Nothing if not shiny. : David Luekens.
Nothing if not shiny. Photo: David Luekens

If you’re not into bicycling, you could try the free “tourist car” that leaves from the southern end of Thung Si Muang Park whenever it’s collected seven passengers between 08:30 and 15:00. It stops at nine temples, though they’re not all of the same ones that we’ve mentioned here. (Oh yes, Ubon has plenty more in store for the most dedicated of sightseers.)

You could also hire a tuk tuk to whiz you, or samlor to slowly pedal you, from one temple to the next. The price for this will depend on how much you’re willing to haggle; we’d expect to pay somewhere around 300 to 500 baht for all eight of the temples in town, a bit more if including Wat Nong Bua as well. Walking it would make for one long and tiring day, though passing songthaews could help with some of the longer stretches.

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Admission: Free

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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.

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These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.


Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Ubon Ratchathani

Hae Thian (Candle Festival)
Hae Thian (Candle Festival)

Ubon’s best festival

Wat Nong Bua
Wat Nong Bua

Thai rendition of an Indian pagoda

Baan Pa Ao brass and silk village
Baan Pa Ao brass and silk village

Watch traditional artists at work

Ubon Ratchathani National Museum
Ubon Ratchathani National Museum

A glimpse into Ubon’s past

Wat Thung Si Muang
Wat Thung Si Muang

Arguably Ubon’s most atmospheric wat

Phibun Mangsahan
Phibun Mangsahan

Rapids and steamed buns

Wat Si Phradu
Wat Si Phradu

Rich candle-carving tradition

Wat Maha Wanaram (Wat Pa Yai)
Wat Maha Wanaram (Wat Pa Yai)

Ubon’s centre of merit making

Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram (Wat Si Thong)
Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram (Wat Si Thong)

Thailand’s largest topaz Buddha

Thung Si Muang Park
Thung Si Muang Park

Heart of Ubon