Khon Kaen in Thailand’s north-eastern region of Isaan is definitely a road less travelled for most Aussies.
The city is a one-hour flight from Bangkok and home to 1.7 million Thais. On arrival, I’m struck by the warm welcome we receive, and just how authentic this travel experience feels. This isn’t a polished tourist destination. It’s a gritty, bustling urban centre with a large student population. That means two things — well-priced street food and a lively pace!
Khon Kaen is not as refined as Chiang Mai or as picturesque as Phuket, but it certainly has a unique charm and plenty to offer intrepid travellers.
Enjoy this Khon Kaen travel guide.
There are rich cultural pickings all over this town, as a little pre-holiday research on the web reveals.
Make your first port of the call the wonderful City Pillar in the centre of town — a public Buddhist shrine that safeguards the good fortune of the region. There’s an offering area outside and a prayer area inside. During our visit there’s a wonderful display of traditional dance.
Don’t miss the beautiful Wat Nong Waeng buddhist temple, located close to the Kaen Nakorn Lake. It’s well worth a visit.
Khon Kaen’s Hong Moon Mung Mueung museum is a must-visit.
This is not a high tech, polished facility, but that’s part of its charm. A lot of love has clearly gone into putting the collection together. One thing you’ll notice on arrival in Khon Kaen are the large concrete dinosaurs dotted about the place. The museum fills in the blanks — describing the large number of fossilised dinosaur remains that have been found in this area, including the oldest T-Rex ever uncovered at somewhere between 120 and 130 million years old.
As mentioned, with its large university student population, the street food is Khon Kaen is plentiful and excellent.
Try the night market on Reun Rom Road.
For something more upscale, enjoy dinner and a cultural presentation at the wonderful Supanniga Boutique Hideaway — a tiny complex of four holiday villas set in absolutely stunning gardens. The onsite restaurant serves amazing Eastern Thai cuisine. I can’t recommend this eatery highly enough.
There are plenty of things to do in Khon Kaen that will leave you feeling refreshed and revitalised.
Many of them revolve around the delightful Kaen Nakorn Lake in the centre of town. It’s the focal point for local recreation and a nice shady spot to relax and watch the world go by. Lakeside activities include jogging, Tai Chi, bike riding and of course boating. For those up for a stroll, it’s a four-kilometre round trip.
For those interested in a relaxing Thai massage, you’ll find plenty of options in town.
Khon Kaen offers some great market shopping, with a very local and authentic feel.
Expect to attract a bit of attention and the odd photo request as you browse the eclectic stalls, selling everything from garden rakes to silk pashminas.
The Chonnabot Silk Village — 57 kilometres south of the city — is also worth a visit. The village enjoys royal patronage with the aim of preserving the art of traditional silk making and weaving in Thailand.
The brand new Centara Hotel and Convention Centre is located right in the heart of Khon Kaen. This fabulous hotel has 196 guest rooms and suites, superbly finished in a very contemporary style. The pool area is equally impressive.
This hotel has been constructed specifically with the MICE market in mind (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions), so the conference facilities are excellent as you would expect. There’s a themed English pub on site which is a lot of fun, and a plethora of dining options. Breakfast is excellent, as is the buffet lunch.
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Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.