In a nutshell
Typically called “Ubon” by locals and those in the know, this Thai city in the northeastern part of the country has Lao roots and a somewhat slowly budding future.
Why go to Ubon
Back in the 1770s, a group of Laotians founded Ubon, whose name translates to “The Royal Lotus City.” Since then, it’s seen Khmer, Lao, Thai, and even American presence during the American-Vietnam War. If you happen to speak any Thai, you might be a little confused at the language many of the locals speak; a dialect from Laos is still used, even today.
Many people barely notice Ubon on their way in or out of Laos. It doesn’t make too much of a presence on the average tourist trail. However, some travellers do stop by for a few days – sometimes out of interest while passing through, and other times as a destination in and of itself.
If you find yourself in or around Ubon, don’t be surprised by the mix of young adults and monks. This city is home to multiple universities along with a number of Buddhist temples with a constant flow of monks and other devotees. Because of this, trendy cafes overlap with deep spiritual roots and tradition.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for some outdoor adventure, head to any of the three nearby national parks within Ubon province for some wonderful scenery and hiking.
When to go to Ubon
Ubon doesn’t see too much of a variation in temperature. Expect heat – pretty much anytime throughout the year.
That being said, there are some slightly cooler times to visit, especially once the sun has set. April typically sees the hottest temperatures, up to 35 degrees Celsius, while December is a bit cooler, where the lows can sometimes drop down to 16 degrees Celsius at night. You’ll most likely experience your fair share of rain from June through September, so if you aren’t up for frequent downpours, plan your trip outside of those months.
Where to stay in Ubon
Finding accommodation in Ubon Ratchathani is typically easy. The city’s hotels and guesthouses offer good value for your money, although most places are pretty basic and simple. Even if you are looking for an increase in quality from the average hotel, you still won’t find yourself shelling out too much extra money.
Most hotels are situated along the main highway through town, although you’ll be able to find others dotting the area farther out, too.
Another cluster can be found near where the highway meets the Mun River (or Moon River). No matter where you stay, expect low prices compared to Bangkok or other island and coastal cities. You’ll get good value here.
Where to eat in Ubon
If you’re looking for a cheap meal, head over to Thung Si Muang Park, where you’ll find the nearby night market. It’s not as bustling and sprawling as some of the others you might have come across by now, but the food is good and the prices are cheap. You’ll find a mix of Vietnamese and Thai food here, along with some other parts of the globe mixed in. Try a hearty Vietnamese sandwich served on a giant baguette, or go for a classic pad thai. If you don’t mind a little sweat, order a traditional Isaan dish, which is sure to be loaded up with spices.
How to get around Ubon
While we love the adventure that comes with exploring a new city on foot, walking through Ubon isn’t as pleasant as we’d like it to be. The sweltering heat makes it difficult to go too far throughout most of the year. Instead, we opted for one of three options throughout our stay.
Songthaews are typically the cheapest way to get around. These shared vans or trucks follow a specific route throughout the day. Different numbers displayed on the vehicles will identify which route they’re on. For THB10, you can hop on and then signal your stop by pressing a button indicator. There is a vast network of songthaew routes which covers the whole city. The routes are clearly marked with different colours and we think songthaew public transport system in Ubon is one of the best (or simply the best) in the whole country.
Alternatively, tuk-tuks and metered taxis are usually very easy to find anywhere in the city and very affordable, too – you do not ask drivers to turn on the metres – it goes for granted.
How to get to and from Ubon
Flights from Bangkok to Ubon and vice versa run as low as THB700 up to around THB1300 and higher, depending on when you buy. The trip lasts only about an hour, and multiple flights are available daily. This is the easiest choice, as service tends to be good, travel time is quick, and the cost is incredibly low. Air Asia and Nok Air usually have the cheapest flight options.
Alternatively, the Northeastern train line runs into Ubon from Bangkok and takes about 10 hours. There are 6 departure times each day from Bangkok to Ubon and vice versa. The cheapest seat can be had for just under THB100, whereas the most you’ll pay is closer to THB1,080. The price variation is quite large, but on the lower end, you’ll be sitting in a hard seat with no air conditioning for the entire ride. Paying the extra baht will provide you with a sleeper in an air conditioned compartment.
Bussing it in or out of Ubon is another option. If you’re traveling to Bangkok, grab a ticket on any of the numerous buses leaving all throughout the day from Ubon bus terminal which sits west of the intersection of the two main routes – 212 and 231. Almost all songthaew routes originate from the bus terminal, so it is easy to reach it from any part of town though the ride from the Moon River will take you about 30 minutes.
The ride to Bangkok will take around ten to twelve hours, but can often be more comfortable than the train. For a first class bus, which will provide air conditioning and on-board toilets, you’ll pay roughly THB600 for a ticket.
There are direct buses from Ubon to destinations throughout the country with a lot of Isaan and northern cities on the list. Check Khon Kaen (5 hours, THB300) or Chiang Mai (15 hours, THB800) as an idea.
To cross the border into Laos at Chong Mek, you can either take a bus to the border on the Thai side, and then find other onward travel, or you can buy a bus ticket from Ubon all the way into Pakse. Buses to the border take around an hour and a half and cost THB100. Rides leave throughout the day, with service stopping prior to the border checkpoint closing time at 8pm.
If you want to head straight to Pakse, you have a morning and evening departure option for the 3 hour ride, costing around THB200. While this option is far easier in our opinion, do make sure to keep your bags with you as you cross through customs. Bus drivers wait for all passengers to clear, but it’s not unheard of for passengers to accidentally be left behind.
Is Ubon safe?
Ubon is considered safe by most standards. You likely won’t see much or any crime in the area outside of a few tourist scams. Even those are relatively uncommon here, though. Tourism isn’t booming in this city like it is in other parts of the country, and the crime that comes along with that is also thankfully lacking.
Ubon Ratchathani station guide
Ubon Ratchathani - train
From Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok, a trip to Ubon Ratchathani varies from 8.5 hours to 12 hours. Passengers can choose from 3 train classes: 1st class is a private sleeper, 2nd class is with reclining seats and fan or air-con and 3rd class is with a common bench.
The Ubon Express usually leaves Bangkok at 8:30pm nightly(inconstant at times) and arrive at Ubon Ratchathani at 6:30 the next day. Ubon Ratchathani Station is located south of the river in Warin Chamrap. Ubon Ratchathani Station currently has 6 departures to Bangkok per day.
Ubon Ratchathani - Bus
Located in the Isaan province, Ubon Ratchathani is the furthest east city in Thailand. Ubon is around 600kms from Bangkok, and travellers either choose to make the journey by road or rail, although flying is an option too, a one-hour flight with four departures daily from Bangkok. Ubon is close to the borders with Cambodia and Laos, making international travel possible.
The journey by bus takes around 10 hours, and there are around 10 daily departures from Mochit bus terminal along with five daily rail services from Bangkok, taking around 11 hours. A popular option is to catch the sleeper train and travel overnight. Online booking is possible.
It is easy to get to Pakse in neighbouring Laos from Ubon. Buses leave from Ubon’s bus station and will cross the border with you. The international bus waits at the immigration centre at Chong Mek whilst you obtain your visa on arrival, and then continues to Pakse. From Ubon it is also possible to travel to many other Isaan cities such as Buriram, Khon Kaen, and Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat).
The main bus terminal of Ubon is located just northwest of the city. It is a large complex with some food vendors and a Big C super centre across the road. There are also several ATMs here, or if you’re heading into Laos you could change your currency at the bank.
To get into town from the bus station between 6:00 and 18:00 six regular songthaew routes are available; check with your driver where you are headed before you board. Otherwise you can use a tuk-tuk.
The train station is on the south side of town, below the Mun River. Songthaew 2 connects with the rest of Ubon, or you can always get a tuk-tuk.
Det Udom - Bus
Det Udom is a small town in the far southeast of Thailand close to the borders with Cambodia and Laos, although it is easier to get into Pakse, in Laos, from here. Siem Reap and Angkor Wat are around five hours to the south in Cambodia. Buses for Det Udom leave from Bangkok’s Mochit terminal, with the trip taking seven to eight hours.
The bus terminal is southwest of the town centre, with the main street about ten minutes’ walk to the north. There are various mini-marts in the main street. The closest city to Det Udom is Ubon Ratchathani, an hour to the north, from which there are many other bus connections to Bangkok.
Chong Mek - Bus
The small Thai border town of Chong Mek stands across from the Laotian community of Vang Tao in the Sirindhorn district of the province of Ubon Ratchathani. This is the only major border crossing between the two countries which does not involve crossing the Mekong River.
The closest airport to Chong Mek is situated 60kms to the west in the provincial capital, also named Ubon Ratchathani. The journey between the two communities takes less than an hour by car or taxi, both of which can be rented at Ubon Ratchathani Airport.
Ubon Ratchathani is also the easiest place to board buses, which locals commonly call rot air or rot tour, to Chong Mek. The bus journey between the two communities takes between 60 and 90 minutes, depending on whether or not passengers must change buses at Phibun Mangsahan. The Chong Mek bus terminal is conveniently located just a short walk from the border crossing on Sathit Nimankan Road.
The crowds at Chong Mek's border market have decreased since the 2006 Friendship Bridge 2 opened about 260kms to the north in Mukdahan; however, Chong Mek's market is still filled with exotic goods such as barking deer meat, silk from Laos, and wild herbs. Chongmek Kiwi Bungalows is Chong Mek's closest place to stay, but some visitors prefer the Ruean Sabai or La-Mun Ban Puk hotels, and there are other places closer to Ubon Ratchathani.
Khong Chiam - Bus
Khong Chiam is a tiny town sitting on a small promontory between the Mun and Mekong rivers. The town is on the Thai side of the Mekong and faces Laos. Chong Mek border post, the principal crossing between the two nations for international visitors, is 20kms to the south.
Ubon Ratchathani is 110kms from Khong Chiam and the biggest city in the region. Most people use the city as their gateway to Khong Chiam. Standard non-air-conditioned buses ply the route between Ubon Ratchathani and Khong Chiam with fairly frequent departures from 06:00 to 17:00. The trip can take more than two hours and depends on the specific route taken. Buses drop passengers in the town. There are a number of resorts and hotels are nearby.
Some establishments lay on transport from the town for guests who pre-book their accommodation. Options in the locality include the Tohsang Khongjiam and Vijitra Camping resorts. Some resorts overlook the Mekong and offer glimpses of the so-called two-tone phenomenon caused by the Mun flowing into the larger river.
Ubon Ratchathani has a central bus station with both day and night buses from Mochit terminal in Bangkok. The trip takes around 10 hours. There are also several trains a day from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani; these are slower than buses. Another fast option is to fly from Bangkok.
Buntharik - Bus
Buntharik is a small city in Ubon Ratchathani province that sits on both sides of the Dom Noi River, some 550kms from Bangkok and minutes away from the Laos border. The city has a bus station on highway 2182 close to the Buntharik Post Office, with an air-conditioned bus departing from Bangkok Mochit to Buntharik every night.
There is an ATM opposite the bus station as well as a few others scattered around the city. Places of interest in and around Buntharik include Phu Chong–Na Yoi National Park, Huai Sai Yai Waterfall and Wat Pa Udom Chart. There are a handful of places to stay, such as the Watsana, Huan Nul Kham and 222 resorts.
Khueang Nai - Bus
Khueang Nai is a small farming community and district situated in the northwest section of northeast Thailand's Ubon Ratchathani province. A golden Lord Buddha statue and a produce market are the most impressive landmarks in this rural region of wooden houses. Chanapai Tour operates the buses which travel the nearly 478kms between Khueang Nai and Bangkok's Mochit terminal.
Khueang Nai's major temples are Wat Thung Ban, Thai Wat Pa Dong Nong Kaen, and Wat Ban Khok. Another nearby landmark is the Lion Pulpit at Ban Chi Thuan. One of the nearest major hotels is Warinchamrap's Moon River Resort. Even more hotels are available in the city of Ubon Ratchatani.
Trakan Phuet Phon - Bus
In the northern part of the northeastern province Ubon Ratchathani lies Trakan Phuet Phon. The district's proximity to Laos and Cambodia makes Trakan Phuet Phon feel distinctly un-Thai, especially for those used to the bright lights of Bangkok.
Regular buses leave for Ubon Ratchathani from Bangkok's Mochit bus station every day. From the bus station on Chayangkun Road you can take a local bus the further 50kms to Trakan Phuet Phon. It's also possible to get a train to Ubon Ratchathani from Hua Lumphong. From the train station, you will easily find a songthaew or tuk-tuk to the bus terminal.
Khemarat - Bus
Approximately 660kms from Bangkok and 440kms from Vientiane, Khemarat is a district of Ubon Ratchathani province and is an excellent place to stop when travelling the Isaan region of Thailand or when heading through to Laos. The Isaan people are known for their unique dialect and their variations on Thai culture.
Muang Khemarat is an ancient city, rich with culture and history dating back to the Rattanakosin era. However, it became a subordinate of Ubon Ratchathani in the early 20th century. Transport to this area is best achieved by taking a bus from Bangkok’s Mochit terminal to Ubon Ratchathani city. Trains from Hua Lumphong station also service Ubon, and there is an airport nearby as well.
Phibun Mangsahan - Bus
The district of Phibun Mangsahan is located in Thailand’s northeastern Ubon Ratchathani province, just a short drive from the Lao border crossing to Pakse at Chong Mek. The district is around 50kms from the city of Ubon Ratchathani, which is linked to Bangkok by bus services making the 10-hour trip from the Mochit terminal.
Provincial, second-class buses pass through Phibun Mangsahan at regular intervals throughout the day. There are several things to see in the area, including the Kaeng Saphu rapids and the Kaeng Tana National Park. There are some nice little restaurants on the river where you can sample some Isaan cuisine and enjoy the surroundings, while you can also rent tubes and float down the river.