Have you ever chased a dream? And if that is too dramatic to say, have you ever chased down something that didn’t hold much of a chance, but you decided to give it a go anyway? Because that is where my Ubon Ratchathani story begins, with a pursuit.
Ubon (as it is called for short) is located in Northeastern Thailand and I think it is one of Thailand’s best kept secrets. In fact, I would agree with Lonely Planet and Bangkok Glutton, Northeast Thailand or Isaan has a lot more to offer than it gets credit for. Tourists either head for the beaches down South or the North (Chiang Mai), but after my quick respite in Udon Thani and my few days in Ubon, Isaan has turned into a place that I seriously will consider moving to in the future.
A lot of the things I like about Thai culture are really Isaan culture such as morlam or luk thung music, Muay Thai and the food. Isaan people are also known as hard-working and honest. What amazing qualities to be known for, even if it is a stereotype. And I found those qualities to be true during my time there. It was a positive first impression and I had my mom’s past experience to also add to the picture.
But before I go any further, it’s important to understand that I was under the impression that the Northeast was HOT, dusty and poor. I’d always heard about how folks from Isaan moved to the North or Bangkok to look for work. It seemed like everyone was leaving Isaan, so why would anyone want to go there?
But during the Vietnam War, my Chinese American father was stationed at the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, which at the time was a front-line facility for the US Air Force. He was an aircraft mechanic and I’m fairly certain he joined the military because of his adopted father. However, his real father was in the Chinese Air Force as a parachute jumper, but I never met him as my father fled to Taiwan with his mother and aunt after China’s Civil War (when the Communist Party took over).
My mom is originally from Lamphun (up North), but to make a long story shorter, she moved to Ubon to be with my father. They lived there for a year a half before they left for the States. And when she did move to Ubon she had her records transferred, too. Although, I’m not sure exactly what was transferred because my mother’s birth was never officially recorded.
She was the first to be born from a big family, and a poor one at that. So, the reasoning was, she’s a girl, so why bother. She’s not going to have to enroll in the military and when she gets married she’ll change her name anyway. So when my mom got married there became an official record of her existence. Yeah, let’s not get started on that…
We came to Ubon to find her records of existence or proof of Thai citizenship. But because we experienced a delay, we went spent the weekend in Ubon sightseeing and relaxing. Okay, that’s not entirely true. We spent a morning wandering and talking to the locals, as my mom wanted to know if the bungalows that she lived in with my dad were still around.
It was cold in Ubon (who knew?), so I delightfully stood in the sun while my mom conversed with the taxi drivers, ladies exercising in the park and the man on the street corner and so on until I became ravenous. Since this was my childhood modus operandi whenever my mom walked through Hawaii’s Chinatown, I never grew impatient.
But when I got hungry we ducked into a streetside “restaurant” where I watched my mom continuously look back at the female cook. She obviously wanted to talk to her and by now had started to approach folks who were as old if not older than her because it had been 40 years since she had last been to Ubon.
It took a while for the woman to understand where exactly my mom was talking about because the bungalows have since been destroyed. However, we serendipitously found the brother of the woman who sold coffee across the street from the bungalows my parents stayed at, as he walked from behind the building to talk to us. It turns out his sister now lives in Udon Thani. My mom was disappointed, but she took it all in good stride.
We spent the rest of the day going on a 9 temple tour. Apparently, 9 is an auspicious number for temple visiting and Ubon sure has some interesting temples. I felt sufficiently “tam boon” (to make merit) out by the end of it. If you are interested, you can catch the free trolley at Thung Si Muang Park. The driver was courteous and kind enough to just take my mom and me, when normally they wait for a group and he even found water for us when we couldn’t.
The following day we hired a taxi to take us to Pha Taem National Park which is about 2 hours away. It was 1000 baht with an additional 500 if we wanted to go anywhere else. The driver dressed professionally and was on time.
He and my mom chatted a great deal and when we arrived at the National Park ticket gate, they told me to be quiet and I was admitted under the Thai price which is 40 baht. The vehicle fee was 30 baht and my mom being a “senior citizen” was free. Normally, the foreigner price is 200 baht, and don’t get me started on the dual pricing system here…another blog post for another time.
I was unprepared for the National Park so if you go, you need to bring food, water, a hat, sunscreen, an umbrella and good walking shoes. There is a restaurant there, but since the driver told us there is no food at the park we bought grilled chicken and sticky rice for our lunch. I wouldn’t depend on the restaurant being open or it even being decent. This is Thailand, after all.
We had plenty of water, but we could have really used some sort of hat or umbrella from the sun. It was cold and hot and the ground was rocky and uneven. I did okay with my flip flops and my mom with her sandals, but proper shoes would have been better.
Thais hate to walk so I kind of envisioned those parks where you just drive from sight to sight. There was absolutely no information or exhibit at the visitor center and the coffee machine was broken at the café so the staff just played on their smart phones. But rest assured, photo ops and clean bathrooms are there, as are the famous 3,000 year old prehistoric rock paintings.
The trail is steep and there are lovely children there to guide you, if you wish.
Afterwards, we ventured on to Nam Tok Soi Sawan which was roughly another 30 minutes away. Our driver napped while my mom and I walked into the park. The waterfalls were on our right and the famed “largest flower field in Thailand” was on our left and so we went left because I wanted to see all of these amazing flowers.
Apparently, last year was really spectacular (or at least better than this year’s) and so we continued on to the waterfall. Well, I continued because by now my mom was plum-tuckered out and I was actually reaching the end of my proverbial rope since we got up very early. Although, now that I think about it, reaching the end of one’s rope is a very bad idea…okay, I wasn’t at the end I was maybe a ¾ of the way down.
The following day we asked for directions to the records office and luckily, my mom was helped by the head honcho (that wasn’t his title) who explained to her that everyone in her family BUT her was listed as existing and she would have to do these xyz things to prove she was a Thai national.
Then, just for the heck of it (who says that anyway), we went to the office that holds the marriage records because that was one of the things my mom needed. Our attempts there were in vain and a big waste of time looking through old records because my mom can’t remember when she got married so we were just taking a chance anyway.
It’s okay though. She has a copy of her marriage certificate at home in Hawaii and we were able to get a friend to email it to us. All of this brings us to the present. My mom is bringing 3 of her siblings to Ubon so they can vouch for her. Isn’t this crazy? She already inquired about doing all of the citizenship paperwork in Lamphun, but they said it had to be done in Ubon.
I’m sure it will be an epic 12 hour van ride and I will be waiting for updates. I mean, surely, if she has to lug her family across the country, show up with pictures and paperwork, then they will let her get her Thai National ID card, right? Hopefully, they won’t expect her to produce the coconut leaf that her name was written on in the obscure language that no one reads anymore. Seriously. I’m not making this up.
And if my mom gets her Thai citizenship, this means I should be able to get mine. We’ll see though, lots of steps and faith-forward walking. I’ll at least be happy if my mom has the choice and the privilege to have dual American and Thai citizenship. I’ll keep you posted. xxoo