Lying at the core of the northeastern Isaan region encircled by Laos, Khon Kaen is the most prominent city in this lesser-travelled part of Thailand. Unlike big tourist centres like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen is a city where a foreign face is a rarity, meaning that overseas tourists tend to generate genuine curiosity among locals.
The Khon Kaen region has typically shown a greater cultural affiliation to Laos, particularly in language and social practice, meaning it’s a unique part of Thailand that makes a refreshing contrast to the well-worn tourist trails elsewhere in the country.
Despite the lower tourist numbers, Khon Kaen is a destination that is coming to the fore with its impressive scenery, lakes and reservoirs and variety of fascinating animal parks. The main city is surrounded by a number of spectacular national parks and is also home to a burgeoning traditional textile industry. Finding authentic Thai souvenirs here is therefore rarely a problem.
Tourists and locals alike are drawn to serene Bung Kaen Nakhon, a small lake that dominates the centre of the city and flanked by waterside restaurants that serve up traditional local dishes like marinated grilled pork. On the edge of the pond you will find the remarkable chedi of Wat Nong Wang, which is a good photo subject with it’s unusual multi-tiered shape. The Khon Kaen National Museum (Open hours: 09:00-16:00, admission: 30 baht, tel: (043) 246 170) is the cultural highlight here featuring bronze sculptures from nearby Ban Chiang and other artefacts found in the area.
A little further out of the city but within easy reach of those with transport, the greater Khon Kaen area is a patchwork of natural splendour. Just over 50kms away, Phu Kao-Phu Phan Kham National Park is worth a few days exploration with its jungle camps, mixed forests and cave paintings. A similar distance out of town is Phu Wiang National Park, a protected wilderness famous for its dinosaur remains and a Buddha image carved into a rock face.
The most popular wildlife attraction in the area is at Turtle Village which is a sanctuary for a local species known as Tao Phek. Souvenir hunters generally head straight to Chonnabot Silks, 16kms outside of Khon Kaen, as the place to get hold of the famous locally-produced Mudmee designs.
Transportation to Khon Kaen
Khon Kaen is easily reached from Bangkok 445kms to the south. From the capital, trains heading north pass through Khon Kaen on the way to Udon Thani and Nong Khai on the Laos border. Otherwise, daily flights and buses leave from Bangkok meaning it’s a convenient place to get to.