Khon Kaen, Thailand has been my favorite get-away-from-the-big-city spot for years. One of the Isaan areas biggest cities, Khon Kaen is a wonderful city to visit if you’re the type of tourist who hates typical tourist spots and wants to experience something authentic and interesting. Khon Kaen has fun markets, interesting attractions and excellent restaurants but, on any first visit to Khon Kaen, these are the best must see and do things there.
Khon Kaen National Museum – I love old-fashioned museums, and Khon Kaen National Museum is certainly that. But if you love true Thai atmosphere, something a little bit old-fashioned, and interesting exhibits, the museum provides them, and more. It has a huge number of items from some of Thailand’s oldest civilizations and kingdoms, long before what is now known as present day Thailand.
Look for the various pieces that were found on archaeological digs all over the Isaan area as many are rare and historically important — there’s everything from ancient pottery to farming and cooking implements, intricate jewelry, arrow heads and human bones. Look for the wandering groups of archaeologists and history students too, as they visit Khon Kaen National Museum often, and know which pieces are the most important.
Admission to Khon Kaen’s National Museum is only 100 baht ($3.30).
You’ll find Khon Kaen National Museum on Lang Sun Ratchakan Road.
Wat Chai Si – Probably the most famous temple or ‘wat’ in Khon Kaen and the must see place, Wat Chai Si is famous for its incredible wall paintings. Once thought of as just murals, like in many other temples in Thailand, the intricacy, beauty and perfection of these paintings was realized just a few years ago, particularly as the artist who painted them was completely self-taught. The Wat was finally named a national monument recently and, since then, much more care has been taken over preserving this incredible art.
The paintings are both inside and outside the temple and depict traditional Thai life, Thai gods and devils, and religion. To say these paintings are beautiful is an understatement. Anyone who appreciates art of a more unusual nature should run, not walk, here.
Wat Chai Si is open daily, from 8am to 5pm. Just walk in and take a look around.
Ban Khok Sanga Cobra Village – If you want to see the most unusual thing you will ever see in your life, then a visit to Ban Khok Sanga Cobra Village must be on your agenda. A village that centers around snake shows, with every house owning a cobra,it’s not known as “Snake Village” for nothing.
See one of the daily shows where tiny girls perform traditional Thai dances, while a snake wraps itself around their necks. Men, and often boys, ‘box’ with snakes — a type of match where the human stares down the snake. Sometimes the snakes win, people are bitten and, in the last few years, several have died. These are not de-fanged or de-venomed snakes. These are regular cobras the villagers catch in the fields surrounding the village, and then use in their shows.
There’s even a wonderful market set up, where you can buy unusual handmade Isaan products.
Ban Khon Sa-Nga Cobra Village is at Khok Sa-nga Rd., Sai Mun, Nam Phong, Khon Kaen, about 48 kilometers (29 miles) outside Khon Kaen, but well worth the pretty drive.
Khon Kaen’s Night Markets – Finally, don’t miss shopping at several of Khon Kaen’s night markets. You’ll find cheap Thai snacks, handicrafts, clothing, shoes, accessories, household products, scarves, Thai silk – whatever you’re looking for is sold at one of Khon Kaen’s markets.
Khon Kaen markets are also much more authentic markets than many of the ones you’ll see in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, including the food, which really is traditional Isaanian fare. The market on Glang Muang Road is one of the best, but there are several more. Ask your hotel for directions to them.