Tung Sri Muang of Ubon Ratchathani Thailand

In the heart of Ubon Ratchathani city lays a large field.It is watched over by Wat Suthatanaram and the provincial court to the north, Provincial Hall and Wat Si Ubon to the West, an educational institution to the East, Ubon Hotel and Joss House to the South.

A photograph from 1968 shows Tung Sri Muang, City Field, as not much more than a large grassy bare area. It is difficult to find historical archives so I must just imagine it was basically there for provincial ceremonies and functions, religious ceremonies and functions, and festivals. Looking at the photograph I was reminded of the many parade fields I stood and marched upon for change of command and other military ceremonies during my days in uniform.

Today Tung Sri Muang looks much different than it did even back in 1968. It has evolved and expanded its character and the services it provides.

Joss House at the end of red brick road

Joss House at the end of red brick road

Entering through the north gate you confront a wide red brick road that leads directly to Joss House. Maybe this should be the first place visited to pray for luck and good fortune. You will have crossed the moat that surrounds the city park and inside that a red brick jogging or walking path that mirrors the moat.

Pumping Cement Station

Pumping Cement Station

Looking around at 11:00 the park is mostly deserted. The visitors I see are lovers catching some semi-private time on benches beneath shade trees, talking and just being close. A few motivated individuals are pumping cement, building muscle with the weights provided by Tung Sri Muang. Others are catching a late morning nap stretched out on one of the many benches.

Lone morning jogger at Tung Sri Muang

Lone morning jogger at Tung Sri Muang

A lone jogger is braving the sun and unseasonably warm temperatures to get an aerobic workout. Another was testing out one of the many circuit training sets scattered around the park.

Circuit Training Station

Circuit Training Station

At this time of day it might be lonely but as the sun begins dipping into the western horizon to bring a new day to other places, the locals begin migrating to Tung Sri Muang. Many come to participate in community exercise. In the evening you will find the park crowded with people doing aerobics, jogging, playing basketball, making the rounds of circuit training, pumping cement, or maybe just walking and talking with a friend.

Station 8 Sign - Circuit Training

Station 8 Sign - Circuit Training

It maybe be labeled as exercise but observing the scene I think you will agree it is more a social event. A place to catch up on gossip, the latest news and secrets, share stories of the day and enjoy company. As the masses begin departing sweaty and spent many make their way to one of the many food vendors around the perimeter of the park to pick up some dinner.

Monument of Merit

Monument of Merit

I began walking around the field with my trusty JVC cam trying to capture the essence of Tung Sri Muang past and present. In the far northeast corner there stands a concrete platform. It is mostly used in the evenings by an aerobics instructor and speakers to guide the crowd moving their bodies to the rhythm of the music.

But this same place is home to a monument of historical importance in the history of Ubon Ratchathani. During WWII Japanese soldiers “occupied” portions of Thailand. Many were involved in the major project of  constructing a railway to Burma. Ubon Ratchathani played a role in this project however minor it might have been.

Allied prisoners of war, mostly Australian, British, New Zealand and French, were brought to Ubon for the purpose of forced labor. The plight and treatment of the POW’s didn’t go unnoticed by the locals. A feeling of sympathy towards fellow humans caused many Ubonites to risk death or injury to supply aide to others.

After the war ended and the allies returned home they did not forget the charity and kindness the received from the people of Ubon Ratchathani. They got together and raised funds to commission a monument to commemorate those who risked so much to help them.

Monument of Merit dedication plate

Monument of Merit dedication plate

This monument, named, “Monument of Merit“, resides on that platform in the northeast corner of Tung Sri Muang Ubon Ratchathani. This day sadly, I had to clean the dirt and bird calling cards from the surface of the plaque to read it. It was translated from Thai with errors but the gist and message is clear, gratitude and appreciation for those from Ubon who helped them survive. For me, I wish there was more information and stories about those for whom the monument stands.

Engraving identifying Monument of Merit

Engraving identifying Monument of Merit

Moving away from the monument I passed a university student doing her homework and a young couple on a bench, the male stretched out with his head on her lap. Then there is another monument much better taken care of commemorating one of the founding fathers of Ubon. Here at the feet and around the statue lay garlands to pay homage.

Part of Ubon history

Part of Ubon history

Next, a relatively new fixture in the park, is an open air lanai populated with a family of exercise machines. They seemed to be resting before the nightly visitors arrive to give them their daily workouts.

Fitness Lanai

Fitness Lanai

Crossing the red brick road to the large grassy area, I looked to the south at the Joss House and noticed Ubon Hotel staring back at me. In its time Ubon Hotel towered as the tallest structure in Ubon. It has surrendered this status to other Ubon giants today.

Ubon Hotel

Ubon Hotel

In the cnter of the grassy field stands the Provincial Shrine. It is, of course, a large wax sculpture candle creation to signify Ubon’s strong connection to the annual Candle Festival help each year in celebration of Khao Punsaa or Buddhist Lent. It has become an unofficial logo or icon of Ubon.

Big Ubon icon Candle

Big Ubon icon Candle

Walking along the jogging path I noticed the exercise machines of the many stations of the Circuit Training Program. Lost in observation I was startled by the sound of some young voices, “hello, hello.” A group of students who were out on a field trip for Science Day were taking a break in the park and wanted to practise their English with the lone farang walking around the place.

Students on break in the park

Students on break in the park

The conversation was short lived as their English was extremely limited. They were surprised that this farang could speak to them in Thai. It was a pleasant interlude and one of the nice experiences to be enjoyed when out and about amongst the locals.

Joss House Interior

Joss House Interior

After a brief visit to Joss House I made my way back to the northern gate to head out somewhere to grab some lunch. I entered the southern gate and to my right are basketball courts and bleachers. Now, in the hot morning sun, the courts were deserted. In a few hours time groups of young Thai male Michael Jordan wannabes will be there showing their skills and talents. The quiet will be replaced with jump shots, lay ups, free throws, dribbles, passes, hand checks and body checks.

Tung Sri Muang Basketball Courts

Tung Sri Muang Basketball Courts

As I made my way passed the cement weight training station I heard and another hello and noticed it came from a Caucasian gentleman this time, I guess I wasn’t the only farang in the park.  He turned out to be a fellow American from Virginia. He was in Ubon with his wife, an Ubon native, visiting her family. Though he is from Virginia he lives and works as a teaching in Japan.

My intention had been to take some action to cease the noise erupting  from my stomach but it turned out I had a pleasant 45 minute conversation with my new friend. Though I have visited Tung Sri Muang many times during my tenure in Ubon I left on this day, as with every visit, feeling I had learned something new and added another memory to my library.

Tung Sri Muang Ubon Ratchathani holds on to it’s past and continues to provide the people of Ubon a sacred place in the center of town to host ceremonies and festivals. It had also added design and a place to get and keep fit. It is also a place for socializing, meeting old friends and making new friends. This might just be the social center of Ubon whether its impromptu or by design.

Go make a friend at and of Tung Sri Muang of Ubon Ratchathani Thailand today.

Comments

  1. Yeah, I was surpised to see all of the workout stations in the park when we went last. Certainly an evening gathering place with the stations, lanai (where we rode bike machines for an hour) and the corners of the park where they were doing aerobics and other group exercises. Good blog Darwin.

    p.s. the word “lanai” sooooo brings me back to Hawaii…I can feel the morning ocean breeze!

  2. I met the same people today Darwin at the water park and also had a nice conversation with them. They thought it was funny that i had already read about them on the internet!

  3. It’s definitely a small world when out and about in Ubon.

  4. Hey Guy,

    There seems to be most everything you would need for fitness at Tung Sri Muang. But if you are a serious fitness person I think you need to get there early in the day. As there is a large crowd in the evenings.

    Lanai is the word that came to mind which of course never was part of my vocabulary until my time in Hawaii. Could have used patio or there is a Thai word sala but lanai seemed appropriate.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Semper Fi from an army guy.

  5. great place for just having a stroll at night, watching others exert themselves at the aerobics etc

  6. Scotty,
    Thanks for the comment. Yes you’ve got that right. Very interesting social interactions and community exercise gathering.

  7. Odyssey says:

    Your excellent writing and accompanying photos so bring me back to my childhood at Tung Sri Muang back in the early 70’s. From the ages 5-10, I was growing up in Ubon where my Thai father worked as a local employee at an American airbase. Can’t wait to go back later this year (2010) for a visit to experience my past and soak up sweet memories. Sobs.

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