In a nutshell
Khon Kaen is one of the biggest cities in the Northeast of Thailand and the capital of the province with the same name.
Why go to Khon Kaen
Attr: candyschwartz (cc by)
Located roughly 450 km northeast of Bangkok, Khon Kaen is the most important commercial, political and educational centre in the whole Isaan region. Despite Khon Kaen itself is a relatively modern city founded less than two centuries ago, the whole area has a long history dating back to the dinosaurs’ era.
Prehistoric civilisations have lived there for thousands of years and several other cultures have later inhabited these territories until the Khmer took control of it. After the fall of the Khmer empire, the region remained abandoned for centuries until King Rama I decided to establish a new town that quickly became a major trading hub in the Indochina area. The Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian have been trading mainly silk for the last 200 years and their influence on Khon Kaen culture and tradition is clearly visible nowadays.
Khon Kaen hosts the biggest University in Isaan with more than 25,000 students and thanks to them the city has a palpable vibrant and youthful atmosphere. Khon Kaen is literary heart and soul of Isaan, but Western tourism is not really developed, mainly because of the lack of attractions that the city has to offer. Many travellers just make it a starting point to visit the Northeast or stop here simply to get a visa for Vietnam and Laos (both the countries have their consulates in town).
Nevertheless a couple of beautiful museums and some religious sites, plus a national park with remarkable dinosaur fossil museum will keep your days occupied while the fantastic Isaan food will take care of your evenings.
When to go to Khon Kaen
The best time to visit Khon Kaen is between November and April.
The rainy season lasts the rest of the year with July, August and September being the worst months in terms of precipitations. Khon Kaen is well known in the Isaan region as one of the best places to celebrate Songkran (Thailand’s New Year). If you’re around in April (usually between the 10th and the 15th) make sure you don’t miss it.
At the beginning of December the Silk Festival takes place in front of the City Hall and for ten days several shows, traditional performances and local products fair will give you a closer look to one of the main source of income of the city.
Where to stay in Khon Kaen
Hotels are scattered all over the city and there’s plenty of choices to accommodate everyone. Don’t expect to find any exceptional western tourists friendly solutions especially in the low budget range; there are simply not enough tourists to support this market. Affordable options are still available in aged and quite characterless buildings and this type of accommodation will not be the highlight of your trip, but will do the trick for a couple of nights. Some more solid options can be found in the mid and high budget range.
Where to eat in Khon Kaen
If the lack of accommodation may disappoint some of the travellers, the dining scene in Khon Kaen will reward everyone who decide to spend few days in town. Day and night markets, countless street vendors, traditional Thai and Isaan restaurants, Vietnamese cafes – you name it and you’ll find it. Close to the train station, a small expat and nightlife area delivers quite a few choices for everyone who is missing Western food.
How to get around in Khon Kaen
Khon Kaen is quite a big city and you’ll need to rely on public transport to move around if you do not have your own wheels. The easiest option is to take a tuk-tuk – they can be found everywhere in town. Rates will depend on the distance and your negotiation ability; expect to pay THB40 for a short ride and up to THB100 for a longer one.
Metered taxis are getting more and more common but they are obviously more expensive yet still affordable; make sure that they’ll switch on the meter, since the flat rate they will offer you will be more expensive.
The cheapest option is to rely on public songthaews system that cover the whole town with fixed routes (usually THB10); unfortunately if you don’t speak Thai it can be really confusing and a clear map with all the routes is not available. Useful routes include number 2 running downtown from Central Plaza and number 8 connecting the University to the city centre.
How to get to and from Khon Kaen
Several daily flights to/from Bangkok are operated by the regional low cost airlines – Air Asia, Nok Air, Lion Air; check the rates in advance to find some good deals for less than THB1000. In Khon Kaen, the airport is located few km west of town and a metered taxi will cost you less than THB100.
Train is probably the best option to get from Bangkok to Khon Kaen since the train station is centrally located and travelling by a night train saves you some baht on accommodation. Trains coming from Bangkok stop in Khorat and after reaching Khon Kaen keep running north to Udon Thani and Nong Khai.
From Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok there are four daily departures; the cheapest option is train number 134 that leaves at 9.09pm and takes 9 hours; a 3rd class seat will cost you THB187 though spending 8 hours in a hard seat is not what everyone’s dreaming about. The most comfortable train is number 70 leaving at 9.38pm. It offers first class sleeper cabins for THB1400. 2nd class sleeper tickets are available in all the trains for THB1000.
There are two bus stations in Khon Kaen but the old one, centrally located, has been almost completely abandoned in favour of the new one opened in 2015. The new bus terminal, or Bo-Ko-So, is located 6 km south of downtown. The transition of the operators between the bus stations is still in process at the moment (August 2017) and some long distance buses can still arrive and depart from the old terminal but the city plan is to move them all to the Bo-Ko-So to improve the traffic situation. Unfortunately this will slightly affect your budget since a taxi to town will cost you around THB200.
Buses to/from Bangkok’s Morchit terminal leave all day long and the trip takes 8 hours; fares range from THB280 for a second class to THB700 for an overnight VIP bus.
Khon Kaen has direct daily links to almost everywhere in northern and northeastern Thailand (e.g. Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nong Khai, Surin, Khorat) and to some destinations in the south as well (Rayong, Phuket among others). Please check the schedules at the bus terminals as there is no any reliable information on that because of the changes due to the new terminal coming into operation.
Is Khon Kaen a safe place to visit?
Despite being a big city, Khon Kaen is still a tranquil town with a very low crime rate. The biggest problem you’ll have is the lack of English speakers. If you decide to rent a motorbike be extra careful with the traffic and always wear a helmet. Several hospitals are available in town ready to treat any emergency.
Khon Kaen station guide
Khon Kaen - train
Khon Kaen is the second largest province in the Northeastern side of Thailand and is reachable by train and other land transportations. Khon Kaen Railway Station lies on the Northeastern route - on the Bangkok to Nong Khai line. Taking the express train to Khon Kaen would take about 8 hours of travel. Trains leave Hua Lamphong Station at 8:20 am, 6:30pm and 8:45pm daily. It is quicker to take a bus, but the main highway via Korat is one of the most dangerous roads in Thailand.
Khon Kaen - Bus
The Khon Kaen Bus Terminal 3 itself serving various type of regular buses leaving from Bangkok’s Morchit bus station and the other.
Khon Kaen, located some seven hours by road from the capital, is the rural region’s hub for commerce, with its transportation options including trains from Bangkok as well as daily flights to its airport.
Bus station are located on Mueang Khon Kaen Ring Road, 20 minutes away from Khon Kaen Airport. VIP air-conditioned buses to Khon Kaen leave from Bangkok’s Morchit Bus Terminal half-hourly between 06:00 and midnight, arriving in the city between six and seven hours later. Tickets are best booked in advance online as the VIP buses can be busy during holidays and the high season.
Other VIP bus routes to and from Khon Kaen include Chiang Mai, a twice-daily. Buses from Udon Thani arrive every 20 minutes after a two-hour journey, and four buses daily run between Nong Khai, taking under four hours.
Ban Phai - Bus
The small Isaan town of Ban Phai is located in northeast Thailand’s Khon Kaen province, just over 400kms from Bangkok. Even though it is rather small, it has its own bus station and railway station, both of which are in the town centre and within walking distance of one another. Buses leave Bangkok’s Mochit terminal to make the six-hour drive 13 times per day, while trains leave from Hua Lamphong four times per day and arrive seven to eight hours later.
Ban Phai’s town centre has a number of ATMs, a post office and a 7-Eleven. There are also a few hotels in the town, such as Inpawa Boutique plus Whanchai hotesl and Goodview Boutique Resort. Points of interest worth visiting include Wat Kilomet Sip Hok and Wat Sanuan Wari Phatthana Ram.
Chum Phae - Bus
Chum Phae is a friendly market town in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, a far cry from the Thailand that most foreigners see. It is served by buses from Bangkok’s Mochit terminal. Travellers should disembark at the market, which sells all sorts of weird and wonderful snacks.
As is the case everywhere in Thailand, it's easy to hail a tuk-tuk or songthaew in Chum Phae to take you to your destination. The Phu Kradueng National Park is well worth a visit. From the market, take a bus to Pha Nok Khao and a songthaew will take you into the park. Chum Phae boasts a number of accommodation options including the Cheewin Palace and Major Grand hotels plus the Phuchumphae Resort.
Phon - Bus
Phon is a district located in the southern part of Khon Kaen province in the northeastern, or Isaan region of Thailand. It is about 75kms from the larger centre of Khon Kaen to Phon. Phon boasts beautiful farmland with many rice fields, and the local people still carry with them much of the old culture.
With a district population of under 90,000 people, visitors will find themselves submerged in Thai culture, from vegetable markets to food stalls and small shops tucked down every alleyway. Phon town does not possess much in the way of tourist attractions so expect a small local bus station with limited facilities.
Ban Phai - train
Kranuan - Bus
Approximately 500kms northeast of Bangkok, Kranuan town is located in the tranquil countryside of Amphur Kranuan in Khon Kaen province. The district lies to the east of the main road connecting Khon Kaen in the south to Udon Thani. Visitors wishing to travel to Kranuan should seek local transport from either of these larger centres.
In the middle of the beautiful Isaan region of Thailand, this area boasts beautiful views of rice paddies, and offers a glimpse at true rural Thai life. Kranuan town is very small, with little to see, though it does boast a few shops and local eateries.
Phu Wiang - Bus
Located in Thailand’s northeastern province of Khon Kaen, Phu Wiang is a district with a population of around 72,000 people most known for its national park. Phu Wiang National Park is renowned for its dinosaur bone paleontological site, which is thought to be one of the biggest in the world. There is also a dinosaur museum within the park.
Provincial buses make the 70-kilometres trip from Khon Kaen, itself connected to Bangkok by buses from Mochit terminal, to Nong Bua Lam Phu, stopping at the bus terminal in Phu Wiang town. From here you can get tuk-tuks or motorbike taxis to the park’s entrance around 20kms away.
Nong Ruea - Bus
The town of Nong Ruea is located on the main route across the top of northeast Thailand. Highway 12 runs from Phitsanoluk to Khon Kaen. Nong Ruea is 40kms from Khon Kaen. It is a good start point for exploring the beautiful landscapes of Ubolratana Reservoir as well as Phu Wiang and Nam Phong national parks.
Nong Ruea is 540kms from Bangkok and best reached via Khon Kaen. This city has both train and bus stations. The bus journey from Bangkok’s Mochit terminal takes a little over six hours. There are quite a few buses that run along Highway 12 and they take 45 minutes to get to Nong Ruea.
Nong Na Kham - Bus
Nong Na Kham is a town at the heart of a famed national park area in the northeast Isaan region of Thailand. The parks at Phu Wiang, Nam Phong and even Phu Kradeung are easily accessible from Nong Na Kham. Ubolratana Reservoir is another great attraction in the locality and a must for those who like the outdoors and amazing landscapes.
Nong Na Kham is about 80kms from Khon Kaen and 500kms from Bangkok. Visitors have the option of train or bus from Bangkok’s Mochit terminal to Khon Kaen. Bus service from Bangkok is an easier choice as it allows easy connections to provincial buses for Nong Na Kham. Total travel time is between eight and nine hours.
Ban Fang - Bus
The small northeastern town of Ban Fang sits around 475kms from Bangkok and around 22kms from the city of Khon Kaen. There is no regular bus service here from Bangkok, but minivans connect the town to the local bus station in Khon Kaen, which is accessible by bus, rail and air from Bangkok.
The Ban Fang bus station is in the town centre next to the Khon Kaen Provincial Land Office and Ban Fang District Agriculture Office. Places of interest in the area include Wat Si Chom Chuen and Hin Chang Si view point. There are a few hotels here, including the Ville Resort and Fahfang Sport Resort & Hotel.
Sam Sung - Bus
Sam Sung is a northeastern Thai town 20kms from the city of Khon Kaen. It is on rural highways leading in the general direction of the Lam Pao dam and reservoir. The town is 480kms from Bangkok. People wishing to travel to Sam Sung need to go via Khon Kaen.
Buses for Khon Kaen depart from Mochit terminal on the north side of Bangkok every 30 minutes. Departures are from 06:30 until 23:00. Average journey times are 6 hours 30 minutes. It is then about 30 minutes in a local bus to Sam Sung. There are also three trains in each direction as well as frequent flights between Bangkok and Khon Kaen every day.
Waeng Noi - Bus
The district of Waeng Noi stands in southwest Khon Kaen, a province in northeastern Thailand. Waeng Noi's two major attractions are the Wat Siriwanmore temple and the
Waeng Noi District Museum, which stands just 200m from the bus station; from here passengers can travel the nearly 400kms to Bangkok’s Mochit terminal.
Waeng Noi is located southeast of Tat Ton National Park, named after its most impressive waterfall. Another waterfall, Tat Fa, is compared to a natural waterslide. The park also contains three Laen Kha mountain peaks as well as Mo Hin Khao, often called Thailand's Stonehenge. Waeng Noi's closest good quality hotels are located in nearby Chaiyaphum. Lertnimit Hotel is within walking distance of the bus station, while Phusuay Park View and Dee Prom hotels are other noteworthy places to stay.