This is the sequel to a blog entry a few days ago with John reminiscing about life in Ubon as an American soldier during the Vietnam war.
Once again, I let John explain things in his own words.
“Ubon I remember was a culture shock at first having come from the States but I got used to it quickly. I remember there were Indian tailors shops (had a few suits and shirts made) and a shoe maker shop (had a pair of elephant hide boots made).
The open air market near the river was something to see, basically no refrigeration.
Downtown ubon open air market (these days it is known as market number 1)
I can still see the old Thia women chewing on beetle nuts. Sent a bunch of Thai silk back home bought at one of the shops. Spent time (won’t say how much) at the Ford Fairlane Club and drank a lot of Shinghigh beer and Mekong whisky. The bar girls were all ways friendly.
The Ubon Hotel was another spot we hung out at. You could get a Thai dish called Khaophat from the street vendors. It was rice, peas, chicken and cucumber really very good and cost next to nothing maybe 5 Baht.
Downtown Ubon street
Getting back and forth from the base to Ubon we rode on the Baht bus (something to see the way they had them decorated), during the dry season the dust would choke a horse.
Pedal cab driver
Ubon street with shops
The monsoon season quickly had everything flooded seemed to rain every day at 3 pm. The clouds looked like you could reach up and touch them they hung so close to the ground.
The result of a heavy monsoon down pour.
The Buddhist temples in and around Ubon were beautiful and the people of Ubon could not have been more friendly. I would truly love to go back. My tour ended January 1971, discharged May 1972.
Buddhist temple. There were several around Ubon.
Ubon looking from the bridge
I think this was the road outside the airforce base. (Uppalisan road - perhaps this building is where Peppers now stands??!!)
I recently received an email from a Mr John Bemiss. He had been reading through my various posts about Ubon Ratchathani at around the time of the Vietnam war (you can find all these posts grouped together here) and decided to make contact.
I am glad he did as like everyone who has provided this blog with information about old time Ubon it makes for compelling reading and viewing.
John has given me permission to share some of his photos and a little of his time in Ubon. I will let John take up the story with his own words and photo captions….
Sign you see after getting off C-130 flight from Bangkok, home for the next 12 months.
John Bemiss in front of A1E9
“My job classification was weapons mechanic (462X0) munitions loader. Prior to Ubon I was at a SAC base (B-52) in NY. I was sent TDY to train on C-130 gunship repair and had orders to work in the gun shop at Ubon.
FG 433rd squadron with pave ways loaded.
When I got to Ubon end of January 1970 the gun shop was fully manned and they assigned me to the 408th munitions maintenance squadron. I was the third crew member on a four man load crew that loaded munitions on the F-4 fighter (pictures show what we loaded). We worked the 6:00 pm – 6:00 am shift 6 days a week (sometimes 7 days). There were 4 squadrons of F-4s let me see if I can remember them 25th TFS, 497 TFS, 435 TFS, 433 TFS. My crew loaded mainly the 25th but we loaded the others when needed.
Trailer of napalm waiting to be loaded, remember the white phosphorous fuses delivered in ammon cans filled with water. Some bad stuff.
FO 515 435th returned with damage.
We lived in a 2 story cinder block barracks which were originally open bay.
Hooches to the right and enlisted quarters at the end of the road.
We used old bomb crates and plywood to make rooms for 4 guys. We had house boys that did our laundry and to this day I can remember the rice starch they put in our fatigues. Told them after a while no starch, you would sweat and your fatigues would get all sticky. I wish I could remember the house boys name – nicest guy. He would bring us fresh pineapples and we would grab a bunch of apples from the mess for him as Thais loved apples.
Trailer with 200 lb pave way bombs.
Trailer with CBU's cluster bombs waiting to be loaded.
Load of AIM 9 Missles.
Load of Mk 82s with fuse extenders.
Rice bugs were something else, we had a line supervisor who had a bungalow and girlfriend down town so during brief down time from loading he had us collecting rice bugs that were attracted to the flight line lights. Thais would roast them or pop their heads off and eat them, never had the courage to try one Night shift was the best not many supervisors around we would race the jammers (bomb loaders) on the flight line for fun. I haven’t thought about this in years.
A1E fully loaded. Awesome to watch at night when they took off.
C-130 leaving Ubon
Thai Air Force T 28, don't ever remember them doing much, buzz the flight line every now and then.
Ubon flight line
Part two with more about life in Ubon and photos of the city will follow shortly.
Another day, another great new email from Bob. I realise I could wait a few weeks and save all these photos and videos up and post them all at once but I am really enjoying the interaction between a few of the vets and some of the current locals so will keep them coming as often as Bob digs up another classic.
Over to Bob…..
I took this video of the Mekong River in early 1969 in Nakhon Phanom. From where I was standing, if I’d look to the north I could see the water was a little deep, but as I’d look to the south, the water was shallow or non existent.
I found the picture I took at the on-base barber shop and I’m including it. If you enlarge the picture, you can see the prices in the reflection in the mirror. You can also see the barbers were required to wear masks. I do remember seeing the barbers under the trees.
Ubon has changed so much since the 60s that I can’t remember where many things were located downtown.
Things are getting busy here in Ubon as we prepare to leave town. In the last few days there has been a lot of packing and organising of power/phones/internet etc. Unfortunately things are not as quick and easy as back in Aust/NZ where you just pick up the phone and they organise everything for you. Here you need to visit the phone company, visit the internet company, visit the – well you get the idea. Take a number, line up, show them more half a trees worth of paper and then fingers crossed that they are in a good mood.
I have completed one fully loaded 4wd trip to the village and will do another three more between now and Saturday. I also squeezed in a visa run which of course included 18 holes at the Sirindhorn Dam Golf course with a friend.
We plan to start our road trip very early next week and we are all really looking forward to it!
In the mean time, I thought I would continue the popular Ubon history theme from last week. This was the first bit and this was the most recent.
In this instalment I am very happy to show you some more old footage taken by Bob. This one for me at least is very exciting as it goes right past the current location of Peppers and follows the road that I have driven on average twice a day for the last 18 months.
I will hand over to Bob who explains his video in more detail.
I’m sending another video clip. The quality is not good. As I said before, I used an 8mm camera and had the old film transferred to VHS tape and that tape transferred to digital tape so I could upload it to my computer. I trimmed the clip and saved it at a reduced quality so I could get the file size below 10Mbytes. You can make the judgement call as to whether you think it is worth posting on your blog.
The road that runs in front of the camp (Uppalisan I believe) was a dirt road in the 60s and many times was impassable after a rain storm. At its best, the road was rough to travel by car or truck. I was driving my Honda truck west on Uppalisan road towards checkpoint Charley (the entrance to the camp) so the camp is to the right in the video clip. I gave my camera to my friend and told him to do the best he could to film the road and immediate surroundings. If you look closely, you will see many taxis waiting across the road from checkpoint Charley to take the GIs to town. I stopped at the intersection with Chayangkun Road and turned right or north. The video shows the narrow asphalt road that was Chayangkun in the late 60s. The video clip stops when I was probably just north of where Robinson’s Department Store now stands.
Bob also replied to something he read that was posted by Rob who was also stationed here at the same time.
I was reading your blog about a guy named Rob who was stationed at Ubon about the same time I was there. He mentioned several things that brought back memories. He spoke of the open-air barber shops downtown and I do remember those. A guy would get a pair of shears and a stool and set up shop under a tree. I have a picture I took in the on-base barber shop. You can see the prices in the reflection in the mirror. I believe it shows haircuts for 30 cents and a massage for 25 cents. You can see the barbers had to wear masks because of tuberculosis.
Rob also mentioned tailored clothes and Playboy magazines. I went to a tailor named Kiat Poosa. She would hand me a Playboy and ask me to pick out a style for a shirt or a suit then I would select the material and she’d make the shirt or suit. I would get tailor-made shirts for 50 baht ($2.50) and I got tailored suits made from Thai silk, Italian silk, sharkskin, etc. with two pairs of pants to each suit for 700 baht ($35).
Rob also mentioned a shoe maker near the Ubon Hotel. It may be the same one I went to. He would have me step on two pieces of cardboard and draw an outline of my feet. He would take a couple heel and toe measurements and have me pick out a sole and top made from elephant hide or other leather. I went back in a couple days for a fitting. He had the basic shoes completed and I would try them on and walk around. I would point out where they were a little snug or a little loose. He’d remove the insert, scrape out some leather or add some leather and then put the insert back in the shoe for me to try again. Once the shoes were comfortable, I’d come back the next day and he’d have them completed. A pair of tailored shoes cost 140 baht ($7).
In this blog entry Bob told us that he paid 24,000 baht for his new truck. I emailed him back and said that it seemed rather cheaper even 40 years ago so I asked him about other prices back then in the late 1960′s.
This is his reply. “In 1968, the American dollar was worth 20 baht. The Thais paid a housegirl 100 baht ($5.00) per month. You could ride the “baht bus” from camp to “downtown” Ubon for one baht (5 cents); a samlor cost 3 baht (15 cents) and a taxi cost 5 baht (25 cents). The waitresses at the clubs were paid 100 baht ($5.00) per month. They made more money in tips from the GIs. I thought the best fried rice was at the Playboy Club Restaurant for five baht (25 cents). A large bottle of Singha beer was 20 baht ($1.00) at the clubs or 13 baht (65 cents) at the open-air Thai restaurants. The best restaurant on the 9th floor of the Ubon Hotel served a great steak dinner for 30 baht ($1.50). I believe the beef was imported from Australia. You could get a Kobi steak dinner (huge hunk of meat) for 60 baht ($3.00). Gas cost about 2 baht (10 cents) per litre.”
Along with his reply he sent some more pics. Judging by some of the online comments received and some personal emails it would seem that a lot of readers are enjoying this series so I will keep it going.
He first of all sent two photos of a round-a-bout that used to exist on Upparat Road just north of the bridge over the Moon (Mun) River. The first picture was taken during the dry season and the other was taken during the rainy season.
In another email Bob wrote “I noticed on your blog that Michael Hare mentioned some information about buses in Ubon. I found a couple pictures of buses that I took in Ubon in 1968. I took the first picture near Base Supply (on base). This bus was free and was used to transport people around the base.”
“I took the second picture of a bus on the same road that runs in front of the Ubon Hotel and near the first intersection to the east of the hotel.”
“I took a lot of 35mm slides when I was in Ubon but the humidity caused some damage to them. I scanned them into my computer anyway. I imagine you have many Australians who follow your blog and perhaps some who were stationed at the base in the 60s. My picture 3 is of the inside of the Australian NCO club at Christmas 1967. Sorry about the poor quality of the print.”
Bob has sent me a few more photos as well as some video footage.
This photo he took at the intersection of Chayangkun (main road) and Sapphasit Road in 1967.
Bob mentioned that “the young people in Ubon don’t remember the days of the 2-lane asphalt main road. There was dirt on the sides and many vendors put up blankets as awnings to keep out the dust and the sun.”
On a visit in 2001 he took another photo from the same position. Bit of a difference over 34 years!
I was also very excited to receive a video taken in 1968. I will let Bob explain.
“I’m sending you a video I took from the 9th floor of the Ubon Hotel in 1968. In the late 60s, the Ubon Hotel was the best hotel in Ubon and the restaurant on the 9th floor was the “in” place to go late at night. I used an 8mm camera and later converted the 8mm to VHS video. I generated a .WMV file from the video and to keep the file size small, I had to reduce the quality of the video. The video shows the traffic in front of the Ubon Hotel as it intersected with Chayangkun Road. As you can see, there weren’t any enforced traffic rules and everyone did their own thing.”
The history of the Ubon hotel has been mentioned once before on my blog by long term resident Michael Hare. You can see that blog here.
I was unable to upload the video direct to my blog so ended up having to host it on You Tube.