Last year my 16 year old brother was sent over to Bangkok from the UK by our mother during the summer holidays. Instead of taking him to the usual tourist hotspots I decided that we should be a little more adventurous by flying pretty much anywhere new and hiring a motorbike for a few days and head out into the countryside.
This was my first trip to Isaan and it, for the most part, was breathtaking.
We took an early morning flight from Don Mueang airport in Bangkok to Khon Kaen. Quick flight, around 700b each way. We found a reputable motorbike hire place and headed out into the unknown after planning very, very little. All I knew about the area really was that there was a dinosaur museum about an hour away, so this was our first destination and we were pretty eager to get out of Khon Kaen, it really isn’t a pretty town aside from the university grounds.
The dinosaur park really isn’t worth the trip if you aren’t in elementary school and the drive on the motorbike is mostly highway, so overall, not great. After that we decided to get a little adventurous and took a few turns down some roads that looks as though they were heading away from civilisation which ended up being the beginning of the adventure. From that point on we started coming across temple after temple, each one more grand and more golden than the last. The very last one that we came to was recommended by a VERY old woman in a small shop after she tried to hook me up with her granddaughter and convert us to Buddhism, I still have a CD of one of the local monks talking about the path of life, I did politely refuse the marriage proposition though.
It was a bit of a mission to find, we stopped a few times to ask the locals in the village but eventually arrived to a few uninterested monks that were smoking and observing the view. The Wat overlooked the Nam Phong “lake” which at this time of year was nearly dry but the whole scene was incredible, it was exactly what I had hoped Isaan to be.
The highlight of the whole trip is that we didn’t once bump into any foreigners the whole time and I was instead forced to use and improve my Thai language whilst I was there. At the time I was still quite an novice speaker so there were a few barriers especially when it came to talking about the ways of Buddhism but it was great attempting it.
Khon Kaen city is not a popular tourist destination, the local bars are filled with ageing westerners escaping from their girlfriends/wives for the evening. You do see a few international students and English teachers around but very few travellers which is a shame because I see Khon Kaen as a sort of gateway to the beauty of the Isaan countryside.
Because of the lack of full-on tourism, hotels are lacking and aren’t priced very competitively so don’t expect budget prices until you leave the city area.
The night market is a great place to hit up in the evening for a amazing Thai food at great prices.
Hire a motorbike and just head out into the countryside, you can’t get lost so just do it. Take any road off the highway and just drive, it’s a beautiful area with many hidden surprises that you’re not going to get in the guide book.
Khon Kaen has a couple of night spots but the nearest thing to a club that they have is U-Bar which is open every night and attracts all the younger generation of Khon Kaen residents. The students, however, usually stay up in the student village area and hang out in the local bars listening to live music.
Before the night out, make sure you head to the night market for an abundance of amazing food.