With over 20 million visitors each year, getting off the beaten track in Thailand and trying something different and unusual is proving ever more difficult. But for those of you with a touch of adventure in your soul and perhaps a little time to spare, making a trip to Ubon Ratchathani could prove to be just what you needed to make this trip to Thailand an unforgettable one.
Don’t fancy fighting for a spot on the packed island beaches? Ever thought of joining a self-sufficient Buddhist commune instead? How about learning muay thai, the traditional sport of Thailand, in a professional training camp? Or are you more inclined towards meditation with monks at an international Buddhist temple? How about teaching schoolchildren at remote schools in the Isaan countryside? If the answer is yes to any of these, then Ubon Ratchathani could just be the hidden gem you’ve always been looking for.
Ubon Ratchathani Airport (UBP), Rai Noi, Mueang Ubon Ratchathani, Ubon Ratchatha
Bordering both Laos and Cambodia, Ubon Ratchathani is the easternmost province in Thailand,and although only an hour’s flight away from Bangkok, tourists are still few and far between in the region. But it is here that you can have some of the most unusual holiday-defining experiences of any trip to Thailand.
Stay with the Ratchathani Asoke Community - a vegetarian Buddhist commune.
Imagine a self-sufficient community of vegetarian Buddhists living organically on an idyllic 40 acre compound of natural forests. Does it sound too good to be true? Well, the Ratchathani Asoke Community have been doing just that in Ban Satha Asoke village, on the outskirts of Ubon Ratchathani, since the early 1990’s.
The Ratchathani Asoke community is part of a bigger community called Santi Asoke. It was founded by a renegade monk called Bodhiraksa, who broke away from mainstream Thai Buddhism in 1975. He is still viewed by many as a religious heretic, mainly due to his recognition of women’s rights to be fully ordained as nuns. If you visit the Asoke village today , you will be able to witness the unusual sight of Buddhist nuns living within, and serving, the community.
Ban Satha Asoke village lies well off the beaten track on the road between Ubon and Phibun. It boasts its own primary and secondary schools, a small library, a museum and a very impressive temple. The temple itself is worth a special mention as, in keeping with the Asoke founder’s principles, it doesn’t contain a single image of the Buddha.
Putthasathan Ratchathani Asok, Kham Nam Saep, Warin Chamrap, Ubon Ratchathani 34
Community members live in houses around the main temple, some of which are restored Chinese houseboats. Members are expected to work six days a week to help maintain the community. Types of work vary, from working in the fields and communal kitchens, to working in the Asoke vegetarian restaurant and organic store in the city.
They community welcomes visitors who are genuinely interested in their philosophy and teachings and provides free accommodation for those who wish to stay for any length of time. In return, you are expected to do your fair share of chores.
There are plenty of unusual tasks to do within the community, which must produce food for 400 people. You could opt to teach at the school, or tend the gardens, or perhaps even help in the production of Asoke's own organic shampoo, soap and cosmetics.
Every New Year, the Ratchathani Asoke community holds a huge three day market when foodstuffs and Asoke products are sold to the general public and the village plays host to around 80,000 Thai visitors.
Join the English Crazy Club at a weekend English camp for disadvantaged children.
Ever wondered what it would be like to see the “real” Thailand? Or perhaps you fancy yourself as a bit of a showman? Do you like working with kids? Why not try your hand as a volunteer staff member at the English Crazy Club, a charitable organisation for underprivileged kids in Ubon Ratchathani?
Who are English Crazy Club?
English Crazy Club are a volunteer teaching organisation set up and run by English undergraduate students from Ubon Ratchathani University. The club’s main aim is to bring fun and excitement to underprivileged rural schools in Ubon Ratchathani in the form of weekend English language camps. They travel to schools well off the beaten track and run fun-filled weekend camps in English. Volunteers are provided with a place to sleep at the camp, although this may sometimes be as rudimentary as a mattress on a classroom floor shared with the other staff members.
How do you join a camp?
You can contact English Crazy Club through their blog or their yahoo group. They love to have foreign volunteers participate in their camps as it gives rural students a chance to meet and chat with people from countries they have only vaguely heard about. Remember though that the club is run and managed by full-time students, so it may bea couple of days before you get a reply to your enquiry.
Meditate with the monks at Wat Pa Nanachat, International Forest Temple.
Around 15 kms from the city of Ubon Ratchathani, the forest temple of Wat Pa Nanachat remains one of the most truly unusual temples in Thailand. Why? There are no Thai monks at the temple. In fact, everybody at the temple comes from abroad (the abbot, the permanent monks and the novices).
Wat Pah Nanachat, Bung Wai, Warin Chamrap, Ubon Ratchathani 34310, Thailand
Anyone is welcome to visit the temple for morning services and there are usually plenty of local Thai villagers there to tam bhun (make merit) by joining in the morning vespers and donating food to the resident monks for their first and only meal of the day.
After the morning prayers, some of the monks and the abbot hold a question and answer session for people looking for spiritual guidance and/or those looking to find out more about Buddhism.
Then, the congregation make their way home and the monks head to their quarters, to study and meditate. They meet again at 4.30 pm for drinks and sometimes sangha(lessons about Buddhism).
How can you stay there?
Visitors wishing to stay at the temple are expected to act and live as the monks do, rise at 3.30am for cleaning duties, share one meal a day at 8am, and in the case of men, shave their heads if they intend to stay at Wat Pa Nanachat longer than two nights. It helps to have previous meditation experience as the temple is not a retreat and as such provides no real guide to meditation.
Those interested in staying as Wat Pa Nanachat are asked to contact the temple in writing at: Wat Pah Nanachat, The Guest Monk, Ban Bung Wai, Amphur Warin Chamrap, Ubon Ratchathani 34310, Thailand or telephone