Khon Kaen Travel Guide
Introduction to Khon Kaen
As the biggest city in Thailand’s Issan region, Khon Kaen is a great place for a new traveller to this part of the country. With plenty of temples and museums and local charm, but enough services to help one get ready for trips into more rural parts, it makes sense to start your adventure here first.
Cultural Attractions in Khon Kaen
Get up to speed on the history of this city and province in Issan by visiting the Khon Kaen National Museum. Officially opened by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the early 1970s, this institution doesn’t just talk about regional issues, it also delves into the history of Khmer rule when this part of Thailand was under the control of the kingdom that would become Cambodia in the modern age, as well as the common heritage people here share with those in Laos.
Like many places in Issan, Khon Kaen is home to a number significant Buddhist temples. Start by checking out Wat Nong Wang. Situated at the south end of a lake called Kaen Nakhon, this place’s claim to fame is its nine-storey high stupa. Decked out with floors within the structure, visitors won’t just be privy to amazing views out over the city of Khon Kaen, but they’ll also get to see murals depicting religious lessons, as well as a collection of rare Buddha images on the 4th floor. There is also a small folk museum within, so take a look if you want to see how Thais dressed in the past.
Next, head over to Wat Thung Setthi. This temple stands out from most Thai Buddhist temple by sporting a gold and blue colour scheme over the traditional gold and red, as well as by having popular culture figures featured in artwork inlaid on its windows (e.g. zodiac signs, Mickey Mouse, etc). Be sure to check out the garden out back, as it contains depictions of hell to keep the faithful on the straight and narrow. The lily pond in the front of the compound is also worth a look – don’t forget to bring your camera to this stop.
Still up for seeing another temple during your time in Khon Kaen? Include Wat Pa Thamma Utthayan in your travel itinerary. While this place is certainly off the beaten track, you’ll be mystified as to why that’s the case, as its numerous Thai and Chinese style Buddha statues and impressive water features are anything but pedestrian.
The grounds of this temple is also home to a restaurant which serves meals for free, and they permit outsiders to camp and volunteer here – something to think about if you need to get away from the world for a while.
Other Attractions in Khon Kaen
While Khon Kaen city and province are very much part of Thailand in the present, this wasn’t always the case. Centuries ago, this part of Southeast Asia has controlled by the Khmer, with Prasat Pueai Noi being a classic example of a castle and temple built in their architectural style.
Boasting three main structures built of brick which are all orientated towards the east (facing Angkor Wat), it is not the biggest Khmer ruin you’ll ever see, but it either makes a good substitute for Angkor Wat if you can’t make it to Cambodia, or it serves as an excellent warm-up if you are.
Back in town, be sure to include the City Pillar Shrine of Khon Kaen in your sightseeing plans. While this sort of monument is common in many cities in Issan, the one here is particularly grand in its scale. Established by a former governor of Khon Kaen province (and a well-known monk), this is a place where many locals come to pray. As a foreigner, it is an impressive place to snap some pictures, especially after dark, when this structure is lit up brilliantly in various colours.
After a long day spent seeing the sights of Khon Kaen, relax and unwind with residents of the city at Bueng Kaen Nakhon. A popular park, it is where you’ll find locals exercising and relaxing by the shores of this scenic lake. Some opt to cast a line in the hopes of hooking a catfish, while others jog and cycle along the paths ringing this body of water. Some great photos can be snapped by the lakeshore of temples which sit on the other side, so plan your visit here for blue hour in the morning or afternoon.
Lastly, don’t leave the area without sampling the day and night markets in Khon Kaen. Ton Tann market is one of the most popular, as it puts a modern spin on the traditional night market, with a wide variety of vendors selling various products, including a bar selling imported beer.
Want a market with a more local feel? Head to the Saturday Night Walking Street, where the food stands make their specialities in the typical Issan style (i.e. flaming hot).