While various artefacts have been found in the region that hint at its dinosaur era and early human inhabitants, what we know today as Khon Kaen came into being when the ancient Khmer empire expanded into the area in the 12th century. The current town was established a little over two centuries ago during the reign of King Rama I.
In addition to being a university town, Khon Kaen is a historic centre of silk production. In Chonnabot, Mudmee silk is delicately woven by hand and then tie-dyed.
Thai AirAsia flies from Bangkok (DMK) to Khon Kaen (KKC) several times a day; there are also flights from/to Chiang Mai, Pattaya (UTP) and Phuket. Nok Air and Thai Lion Air each has a couple of flights a day to Bangkok (DMK) as well. Thai Smile Airways flies from Bangkok (BKK) five times a day, and can be booked in one ticket with an international Thai Airways flight.
Khon Kaen is on the branch of the Northeastern Line that runs to Nong Khai and Laos. The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) runs one reasonably timed overnight train, Train 133, which leaves Bangkok at 20:45 and is scheduled to arrive at 06:11 in Khon Kaen.
As of 2018 the main railway station is being rebuilt and trains stop instead at a temporary station along the same line 3 km to the south. A 30-minute walk to the center, or else taxis are available.
Until 1 December 2017 Khon Kaen had three bus terminals. The newest, Terminal 3, is eight kilometres out of town and, for that reason, inconvenient. The city fathers want to get buses out of the city's core. The taxi cartel support that initiative for obvious reasons: the cost of a tuk-tuk or taxi to downtown may well cost more than your bus ticket to Khon Kaen.
- 1 Khon Kaen Provincial Transport Station (Baw Kaw Saw 3), Muang KK By-pass Rd (On the ring road 8 km S of city centre. Any tuk-tuk can take you there). 24/7. Since 1 December 2017, the long-distance KK bus terminal. Also has minivans to nearer destinations. Opened in 2014.
- 2 Air conditioned bus terminal, Ammat Rd (Central KK. Nearest cross-street is Klang Mueang Rd.). Minivan station to places such as Udon.
- 3 Central Khon Kaen Bus Station (Baw Kaw Saw 1), 46/16 Prachasamoson Rd (Central KK). Closed on 1 December 2017.
Buses to/from Bangkok's Northern (Mo Chit) Bus Terminal depart every 15 minutes from early until late.
For quicker service, avoid the touts at Mo Chit, and ask for Chan Tour. This company provides only VIP buses, which have very large seats and a bathroom. Alternatively, Nakhonchai Air has nice VIP buses which are cleaner (meals, drink, in-coach toilet) than Chan, but with small seats. Both will cost 420 baht, highly recommended. Both have terminals separate from Mo Chit, about 1 km away, where you can wait for your bus in an air-conditioned waiting room.
From Chiang Mai Arcade Terminal 3, Phetprasert and Sombat Tour have buses throughout the day from 08:00. Evening buses run at 19:00 and 20:00 from Platform 6. The price is approximately 641 baht one-way and duration of journey is 10 hr. The only problem is at the Khon Kaen end: you are dropped off at Terminal 3, far from the city center, near the intersection of Highway 2 and the ring road south of Khon Kaen. This terminal is new (Aug 2014) and lacking in amenities (coffee shop, hotel, etc.), but there is a new (Feb 2016) 7-11 about 100 meters to the south of the Nakhonchai Air terminal. NCA has a free shuttle service for its customers between its downtown and ring road terminal. A yellow songthaew service will take you downtown to the rail station and the in-town bus station (non-air-conditioned bus station) for 10 baht (Jan 2015).
From/to Udon Thani, several air conditioned buses depart hourly from Udon's Bus Station 1 downtown. Fare is 80 baht (Nov 2015) and the duration is approximately 90 min. Minivans depart from the same station to Khon Kaen continuing on to Roi Et. They are slightly faster than the bus, but probably not as comfortable. As the downtown terminal is now closed, the buses now arrive to Terminal 3 on the southern outskirts of the city, but before they will pass the city center, stopping a few times to drop off the passengers - for the main tourist area, the best location to get off will be after an underpass near CentralPlaza, and tuk-tuks seem to wait for the buses there (alternatively, or if they ask for too much, use the Grab app).
It's easy to get to Khon Kaen by car from Bangkok. Just follow the four lane Hwy 2. Hwy 2 also heads north to Udon Thani, Nong Khai, and Laos.
Khon Kaen's centre is characterised by a strict grid system of wide streets and long blocks. It appears to have been designed for road traffic in mind, pedestrians be damned. Thus getting around on foot is fairly unpleasant.
Numbered songthaews charge 9 baht/person/trip (pay when you get out). Just wave your hand and the songthaew will stop to let you get on; ring the bell and it will stop again to let you get off. There are at least 10 routes serving Khon Kaen. Signage in Thai only.
The ordinary bus station ("baw kaw saw") is the interchange for all songthaew routes.
- Songthaew 2: Central Plaza-town
- Songthaew 3: Big C-Central Plaza-town
- Songthaew 8: KK University-town-Fairy Plaza
If you need to take a tuk-tuk the driver will normally quote 40 to 50 baht for trips within the city. Taxis (similar to those in Bangkok) are available too, as well as Grab ride-hailing service (with fares a bit more reasonable than in nearby Udon Thani - 55-65 baht for a few kilometers in the city center, 90-100 baht to the main bus terminal at the city outskirts (January 2019)).
- Bung (Lake) Kaen Nakhon (บึงแก่นนคร). Occupying an area of 603 rai (96 hectares), the lake is in the town's southeast quadrant. By the lake is a monument of Chao Phia Mueang Phaen, founder of Khon Kaen. The shady park around the lake decorated with sculptures attracts many visitors.
- City Pillar Shrine ((ศาลเจ้าพ่อเทพารักษ์หลักเมือง) (in front of Sala Suk Chai, on Thepharak Rd in the compound of the Khon Kaen Municipal Offices). A famous monk and former governor of Khon Kaen placed a stone inscription from an ancient site in Chum Phae here for a Buddhist rite and set up the city pillar shrine.
- Khon Kaen National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ ขอนแก่น) (on Lang Sun Ratchakan Rd), ☏ . Daily, 09:00-16:00. exhibits antiques and precious art pieces from pre-historical periods as well as a skeleton of the New Stone Age man and tools found at Ban Chiang. Interesting exhibits include stone lintels from Khmer ruins in the region as well as art from other periods, namely the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and native tools. These exhibits deepen knowledge of the history, archaeology, and the lifestyles of Isaan. Admission, 30 baht.
- Khon Kaen University (มหาวิทยาลัยขอนแก่น) (4 km from downtown Khon Kaen. Visitors can travel to it via Mitraphap Rd (Khon Kaen-Udon Thani route) or Pracha Samosorn Rd (Khon Kaen-Loei route)). On the hill called "Mo Din Daeng" on a 5,000 rai plot of land, the university is the largest educational centre in Isaan.
- Art and Cultural Centre ((หอศิลปวัฒนธรรม) (on the Khon Kaen University campus). the Isaan barn-style building displays local arts, geography, and history. The centre can be accessed through the Si Than Gate.
- Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon (The 9-storey stupa) (พระมหาธาตุแก่นนคร หรือพระธาตุ ๙ ชั้น) (at Wat Nong Waengon on Klang Mueang Rd). A royal temple, the Phra Mahathat houses relics of the Lord Buddha and important Buddhist scriptures. Doors and windows of the 9 storeys of the stupa are beautifully carved, featuring the life and former incarnations of the Lord Buddha, 16 classes of visible deities in the Brahma’s world, and Buddhist rites. Murals within the stupa feature the history of the town. The top floor, on the 9th storey, houses relics of the Lord Buddha. Visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the town from there.
- Sim Isan (Wat Pa Saeng Arun) (สิมอีสาน) (approximately 3 km from Khon Kaen City Hall on the Khon Kaen–Kalasin route). Sim Isaan, a term for northeastern ordination halls or Ubosot, is within Wat Pa Saeng Arun, Phra Lap. The Sim Isaan’s outstanding features lie in its typical shape and style and solidity, as well as the beauty of the murals of Mudmi patterns of the province’s famous tie-dyed silk. This has been intended for later generations to learn from and treasure as well as to conserve local architecture.
- Treasure Hall Museum (โฮงมูนมังเมืองขอนแก่น). Daily, 09:00-17:00 except Su and public holidays. Established to strengthen local identity and serve as a study centre, this museum features the history of Khon Kaen and ancient culture dating back 5,000 years, to the city's founding, and Khon Kaen's lifestyle. Admission, 90 baht.
- Wat Chai Si (วัดไชยศรีและฮูปแต้มสินไซ) (at Ban Sawathi). Daily, 08:00–17:00. The temple, of archaeological, historical, and social importance, was declared a national ancient monument in Aug 2001. The ordination hall (sim or ubosot) of this temple houses magnificent murals, both inside and out, painted by a folk artisan from Maha Sarakham known as Thong Thipcha. The building originally had a northeastern roof style with an extended roof on each side. Later, a new roof of the Rattanakosin-style replaced the old dilapidated one. In 1993, the roof was extended to shelter the murals from the elements. There is also a folk museum nearby where rare folk implements of the region are on display.
Every night at the City Pillar Shrine, movies are shown for free on large projectors outside at around 20:00. Most are dubbed in Thai.
- Take a day trip (or stay overnight) to Phu Kradung, around halfway between Khon Kaen and Loei. Popular with young Thais, the mountain is a pleasant climb with cliff views and waterfalls (depending on the time of year) on the plateau. Camp or stay in a lodge overnight if you don't want to do it in one day. See Loei for more information.
- Isan Explorer, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. This local tour company has day and overnight trips in and around Khon Kaen. They follow a slow travel approach and include stops at villages, temples and markets on all tours to allow people to experience the local culture.
Khon Kaen is famous for its silk.
Across the road from the Roma Hotel in downtown, there is a cheap breakfast restaurant. A lady pulls up in a car and unloads stuff to sell on the footpath, including Thai silk. Prices are excellent, and can be bargained down if you buy in quantity. (Initial price was 500 baht, Four of them were 1,500 baht total.)
There are two shopping centres, TukCom (formerly Oasis Plaza) and Fairy Plaza, a Big C, a Tesco Lotus and a Makro. Other major stores include Global House, Homepro and Index Living Mall. Central Department Store (Central Plaza), just beside the City Gate, is the largest shopping complex and hosts SFC cinema, Robinson, Se-Ed Book Centre, B2S, Tops Supermarket, and various restaurants.
There are various night markets, which also are good places to try out many different kinds of foods; a "young and hip" market at Khon Kaen University behind the Complex where students sell many of the goods, a popular one on Glang Muang Rd, and one that sometimes doubles as a carnival, at Bueng Kaen Nakhon.
- Heng Nguan Hieng ((เฮงง่วนเฮียง) 王源兴), 54/1-2 Klang Mueang Rd, ☏ , . Preserved pork, Chinese-style sausage and dried crispy sliced pork.
- Je Ruch ((เจ๊รัช) 廖兰姐), 54/22 Klang Muaeng Rd, ☏ . Preserved pork, sour pork, Chinese-style pork sausage, dried crispy sliced pork.
Along the road from the Roma Hotel (same side of the road), there are several cheap street eateries. There is also a cheap Internet cafe in the area. A 7-Eleven (alcohol sales 11:00-14:00 and 17:00-24:00) is nearby where you can buy beer if you want to drink with your meal, use the shop's bottle opener.
- Duan's Restaurant (Am-Mart St). German and Thai food. Best German food in Isaan. Very friendly and helpful owner, living in Thailand for 35 years.
- Keng Kokoon, 162/4-7 Mitaphap Rd (between Trachoo Temple and the LPG station). Best food in town.
- 1 Khao Tom Restaurant (ร้านข้าวต้ม ก๊ก24น.), 70 Srichant Rd (Srichant is a major road in the Pullman Hotel area. Across from the Hugz Mall and Tom Tom Coffee there is a small entrance leading to a hotel. The restaurant is 35 m or so in on the right.), ☏ . 24/7. Great, but hard to find, 24 hour Thai restaurant. Signature dish is khao tom, boiled rice porridge, but there is much more on offer. Friendly staff.
- 2 Pomodoro Italian Restaurant, 348/16 Prachasumran Road (at the side of the Pullman Hotel), ☏ . An Italian restaurant specializing in pizzas and pastas.
- 3 [dead link] TastyChocolat, 193 Srichan Rd (in RAM Hospital), ☏ . Real Belgian chocolate shop. They offer running chocolate fountain, handmade pralines and truffles, sugar-free Belgian chocolate, cakes, famous ice cream and are also the Belgian chocolate wholesaler for the Isaan region (chocolate for baking and cooking included).
- Blues Bar Khon Kaen, Pracha Samran Rd (About 100 W of the Pullman Hotel), ☏ . 08:00-01:00. One of the more upscale bars in Khon Kaen. Run by David, a Brit, and his Thai spouse. Two very good pool tables. Live music some nights. Have two menus: one for Western food, one for terrific Indian food prepared by an imported Indian chef. All day English breakfast from 09:00, making it very unusual as a (relatively) early breakfast is hard to find outside of larger hotels. Have a Facebook page. Free Wi-Fi. English breakfast, 170 baht.
- The Club (In Hotel Charoen Thani Princess). A popular nightspot for music and dancing.
- [dead link] Dtawan Daeng (Red Sun) Khon Kaen (ตะวันแดง) (Chalermprakiat Rd near intersection with Ammat Rd). Huge brewery/indoor beer garden/concert venue with live guest acts, house band and dancers, performing regional luk thung- and mor lam-influenced rock. You'll find university students, middle-aged locals and families sharing in the mirth all at once. This feels like Isaan. A must-visit.
- Happy Times Bar (On the street fronting the Pullman Hotel). Spacious, modern bar with 2 good pool tables and lots of nice hostesses to play pool with. It appears to be the number one beer bar in the Pullman Hotel area.
- The Rad Club. Consistently the most popular nightclub in Khon Kaen with a selection of rooms to suit your taste. Live music, disco, and coyote girls.
- Sync, 43/2 Pimpasut Rd, Na Mueang Rd (Beside the Khon Kaen Hotel). Sleek and modern dance club with live bands and DJ, with a small after-hours club downstairs. If you're seeking an escape from Bangkok, this is not the place. It's a short tuk-tuk ride from Dtawan Daeng, if you've been there till closing and fancy another drink (and a microcosm of Thailand contrasts in one evening).
- 1 Cana Resort (แคนารีสอร์ตขอนแก่น), 153 Moo 9, Baantoomnoi Ropbung. Quiet and relaxed bungalow style accommodation on the Khon Kaen's outskirts. Clean, well maintained bungalows are set around a yard among a few garden ponds and fountains. Each bungalow comes with a covered parking place, a small veranda (you can hang your hammock there), aircon, TV, fridge and attached bathroom with hot shower. There aren't any restaurants or shops nearby though, so own transport is needed. Definitely great value if you have your own transport available. 380-500 baht.
- Chaipat Hotel, 106/3 Namuang Rd, ☏ . Budget hotel with an option of fan or air-con rooms. City centre location. Off-street parking and free Wi-Fi. Cafe, restaurant, massage and karaoke. Various restaurants nearby.
- D'Ma Hotel, 113 Chi Tha Khon Road, ☏ . Check-out: Noon. Budget hotel with fan or air-con double rooms with own bathroom. all rooms have cable tv. off-street parking and free Wi-Fi. Various restaurants nearby. 280 - 400-700 baht.
- Glacier Hotel, 141 Prachasamran Rd, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Free Wi-Fi. 1,900+ baht.
- 2 Hotel Pullman Khon Kaen Raja Orchid, 9-9 Prachasumran Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: Noon. 2,415+ baht.
- Khok Pia Village Homestay. An authentic village experience (you spend the day with a local resident who shows you village life) rather than just a place to sleep. It's in a village outside the city, but transportation to and from the city centre is included.
- [dead link] Khon Kaen Orchid, 149/96 Soi Wat Pachaiyawan, Mittraphap Rd, ☏ . Thai/European-managed hotel/serviced apartments. 790+ baht.
- Nan's Hotel, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A good quality budget hotel in the quiet Bangkok district of Khon Kaen with fully furnished rooms (air-con, fridge, cable TV, Wi-Fi) available from 400 baht including copious free continental breakfast.
- The Piman Garden Hotel, 6/110 Klang-Muang Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A good quality hotel in city centre, between the two in-town bus stations, 15 min walk to the Pullman Hotel area. No pool, no restaurant. Lots of coffee shops, restaurants, and 24/7 convenience stores in the locale. Free Wi-Fi and off-street parking. The hotel is composed of two buildings. When you enter the courtyard, reception is on your right. That's the older building. Rooms here are bigger, hence more expensive, but with dated electrical and plumbing and dim lighting. Rooms in the newer building are smaller, cheaper, with more modern features. Book a room there unless you need space for ballroom dancing. Booking online with an aggregator will get you much cheaper rates. 2,000-4,000 baht.
- Roma Hotel. 500 baht for a decent air-con room with TV. 230 baht for a fan room with hot water, TV and Wi-Fi. There is also in-house laundry service at a reasonable price. 1 km from the main bus station, a tuk-tuk costs 50 baht. Or take songthaew 9. Some English is spoken depending who is on duty at the time. Breakfast not included, but can get directly across the road very cheaply.
- Tonwa Residence and Resort, 88/103 Laonadee Ave, Soi 10/11, ☏ . Two types of accommodation: villas and terraced houses. 54 rooms, all surrounded by natural beauty and assorted scented trees. Wi-Fi access, car rental, and dry cleaning/laundry. Website rates start at 800 baht.
There are two bus terminals in town. The "big" terminal, where most buses arrive and leave and the "small" terminal, which is somewhat more exclusive and appears to provide the "direct to BKK" type of buses. It really is quite small compared to the other. They are about 1 km distant from each other within the centre of town, unlike most Thai cities where the bus terminals are on the outskirts. Both terminals have air-con buses, but the big one also has non-air-con to the local provinces.
- Bangkok Nakhon Chai Air Bus (6 hours), 420 baht, departs hourly from the air-con Bus Terminal (Prab-Argat). Highly recommended, though their staff speaks Thai only.
- Vientiane (Lao PDR) Thai-Lao International Bus - 180 baht, departs 07:45 (usually delayed till 08:00) and 15:15 daily from the Aircon Bus Terminal (Prab-Argat). Passport (with current Laos visa) must be produced when purchasing ticket. If you do not have a Laos visa you cannot buy a ticket, as the bus will NOT wait for passengers processing their visas on arrival (citizens of few countries outside Southeast Asia who can enter Laos visa-free, notably Russians, may have to insist on that fact and/or to show some solid proof they will not need a VoA, like existing Lao visa-free entry stamps). Tickets can only be purchased on the day of travel. Visas are available at the Lao PDR consulate in town. Thai and limited English are spoken by consular staff. Hours are Monday-Friday, 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. Prices are said to be same as in Bangkok. Visas for American, Australian, British, several EU and New Zealand citizens cost 1,400 baht/US$40, Canadians pay 1,700 baht/US$50, while Chinese pay 600 baht/US$17. Officially, visas can be picked up the next day, or pay an additional 200 baht to have the visa issued within 1 hour. Officially, only baht is accepted although if you don't have baht, they may take US dollars. A 30-31 baht to the US dollar rate has been reported, making it more expensive than getting a visa on arrival and paying in US dollars.
- Bus connections to Ubon, Udon, Nong Khai (Class 2: 110 baht), Maha Sarakham, Nakhon Ratchasima, Chaiyaphum, Roi Et, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, Phrae, Phetchabun, Phitsanulok, Mukdahan (Savannakhet Lao PDR), Amnat Charoen, Nong Bua Lamphu, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (22:00 daily, 335 baht) and Northern Thailand are also available.
|Routes through Khon Kaen|
|Nong Khai ← Udon Thani ←||N S||→ Nakhon Ratchasima|
|Nong Khai ← Udon Thani ←||N S||→ Phimai → Saraburi|