A trip which would be worth making from Ubon is to the Buddha Sathan Ratchathani Asoke village, at about km 5 on the road from Warin Chamrap to Phibun Mangsahan (217). However, you should not visit unless you have a genuine interest in learning about their beliefs, their philosophy and their way of life. ‘Buddha Sathan’ translates as ‘Buddhist place’ and ‘Asoke’ means ‘no suffering’. It is a branch of the Santi Asoke movement founded in Bangkok by a controversial monk who is, at the very least, frowned on by the monastic authorities and is regarded as a heretic by many, not least because Santi Asoke ordains women. The website at www.asoke.info puts their side of the story.
Briefly, the community is strictly vegetarian, grows organic vegetables and other foodstuff, and integrates the three parts of their community, the ordained monks and nuns, the lay followers and the school for children. They hold that this is the traditional form of Thai and Thai-Lao society and that it is sustainable in modern times
.The site is very much still under construction although the village was founded here more than ten years ago. Currently the community consists of about 400 people. As well as houses such as you see in any village, there are wooden meeting halls and a large central 4-storey building which serves as a meeting and education centre, library, museum, administration offices and dormitory accommodation for students attending residential courses. You may also notice several large wooden boats, improbably balanced on mounds of mud, and more boats on the creek between the village and the nearby Mun River. Every year in the rainy season the area floods up to a depth of 3m, so houses have to be evacuated and the inhabitants move into accommodation on the boats. There are about 100 boats so local people sometimes refer to the community as Boat Town.
At New Year a three-day market is held here, at which foodstuff and other products are sold by Asoke followers from all over Thailand. Prices are very low, below factory price in the case of things bought in, as a key tenet of the movement is ‘Our loss is our gain’, so not surprisingly this market is very popular and they expect about 80,000 visitors during the course of the three days. At any time of year surplus products are sold, and Ratchathani Asoke most often sells organic tomatoes and potatoes. However, they also specialize in organic soy sauce and fermented soy beans (the black bean sauce so often mentioned in Chinese recipes and menus).
A large sign on the Warin – Phibun road marks the turning to the village. Follow the straight tarmac road for 800m to a school. Turn left and then right to go around the school, then follow the dirt road and signs for almost 3km. If you do not have your own transport, it would cost about 400 Baht to hire a tuk-tuk from Warin to bring you here, wait, and then return you. However, please remember that this is a working community that does not particularly seek visitors, but will welcome you should you arrive and be interested in their way of life. They also neither solicit nor accept donations, although it might be worth gently offering one in order to hear their reason for not accepting it!
The community also operates a vegetarian restaurant in Ubon in a beautiful, wooden, open-sided sala building at the corner of Srinarong Road and Thepyothi Road. It is open for breakfast and lunch and is self-service. Food is cheap, organic, and delicious . A small shop on the same premisies sells vegetarian foodstuffs in small packages as well as various herbal pills and remedies.