Khon Kaen: The Jewel of Isaan in Thailand

Recently I visited Khon Kaen one of the major cities of Isaan, Thailand. Isaan has four major cities of which Khon Kaen is seen one of the big four along with Udon Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) and Ubon Ratchathani. It lies 450km north-east of Bangkok and is the Capital of Khon Kaen province. Khon Kaen City Centre has all the major facilities of a modern city, Mall, Airport, University and top quality hotels.

It is a growing city that has recently seen the influx of domestic airlines at the expanded airport. Not really a tourist city but there are still plenty of attractions to make it well worth a visit. The climate makes it a little cooler than Bangkok especially during months of November to February. As the photo shows the skyline isn’t as crowded as Bangkok, but just as beautiful in the evening.

People often say it’s a university town and that is true, it has a huge university with students going to Khon Kaen from all over the province and beyond. There are plenty of students walking around during the day which makes you feel like you are definitely on campus, but outside of the city centre you will see a wider variety of people.

There are a huge number of foreigners now living in Khon Kaen and when you walk around the city you can’t help but notice how many there are for what is essentially not a tourist town. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these foreigners or “farangs” haven’t got out of the Pattaya bar culture. No doubt they have met their girl from when they were working in the entertainment industry and have settled near their girl’s family home. These farangs have moved to Khon Kaen to support their loved one and probably get married. What they have failed to do is adapt to Thai culture. They still walk around in their shorts, vests with their bulging guts and spend too much of their time in the bars. Fortunately for them Khon Kaen is a lot less expensive than the tourist towns so they can afford to live on very little income. What you do notice about these farangs is that have been in Thailand just too long and just like to whinge as much as possible. There are very few farangs in their 20s or 30s, many in the 50s upwards.

As for nightlife in Khon Kaen, there is definitely a growing bar scene targeting the farangs, especially on the road near The Pullman and Kosa hotels, both very decent hotels popular with farangs and visitors. There are also quite a number of bars catering for the student population and locals. Many bars have live bands and there are quite a few upmarket clubs springing up. There really is a local feel when you walk around in the evening or nighttime, most of the small café bars play Thai songs and only in the raucous farang hostess bars will you get the inevitable YouTube hits.

During the day there is very little to do in the city centre itself. Apart from the big Central Plaza mall and a few shops there isn’t much on offer. Khon Kaen centre is small in comparison to other Thai cities and dominated by the big hotels, shopping centre and University. If you are looking for temples or places of natural beauty then you need to venture further afield outside the city. To explore Khon Kaen province you will need to hire a car. This then gives you the time and freedom to do your own thing. There are tours available but going from one place to another can take a long time so enjoy being part of the journey and explore by car. There are some temples nearby well worth a visit, notably Wat Nong Wang on the south side of the city which is just a short drive from any hotel. Alternatively, Khon Kaen has a very nice National Museum being the home of many artifacts from archeological digs in the north and north-eastern Thailand.

All in all, Khon Kaen is well worth a visit but don’t stay too long or you will be very bored. Hire a car and explore other parts of the province or if you feel more adventurous drive up to neighbouring Udon Thani which has a much bigger population but by contrast is not as nice. 

To find out more about this beautiful city, see the various guides at

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