Wat Toong Shetthi on the outskirts of Khon Kaen, Thailand

I found to my pleasant surprise that Khon Kaen, Thailand is a city of unknown world wonders.

The above Thung Sethi has been compared to the Taj Majal. It’s certainly not that, as this architectural astonishment isn’t recognized on a world scale. Only the locals and a small percentage of travelers know it. Although easy to access, Khon Kaen is not a tourist town per se, but I predict that it’s on its way.

I hadn’t heard of Khon Kaen until I saw it on the screen in the train station in Bangkok a few months ago. It’s on the line that goes from Bangkok to Nong Khai, on the border of Laos. I forgot the name until it came back to me after returning to Thailand from Laos a few weeks ago.

Vista of SE Asian style architecture, a manmade lake, pedestrian bridge, greenery and blue sky above.  In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders
View, Bueng Kaen Nakhon Reservoir from Wat Nong Wang, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

Thailand and SE Asia are obviously loaded with historical Buddhist architecture. Founded in 1935, Khon Kaen is no different. Today it’s been designated a modern Smart City.

This pleasant municipality is a perfect place to pass time. The laid-back locale has a couple of surreal sites.

There are multiple night markets in walking distance. They’re loaded with quality Thai, Japanese and western fare.

People fill tables eating, conversing and waiting alongside many food stalls. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders
Full house, Ruenrom night market, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

You see few western tourists in Khon Kaen. Most bypass it or only stay a night and have no idea of the magic this jewel of a destination encompasses.

Khon Kaen isn’t well-known yet, but when the new high-speed train that runs from Kunming, China, to Vientiane, Laos, connects to Bankgok, Khon Kaen will be one of the station stops. This fast, modern transport marvel will eventually connect down to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

People outside in daylight leaving and getting on a high speed train on a platform at a new modern station. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
The brand new Laos-China high-speed train, Luang Prabang, Laos.

The extensive engineering endeavor is already a big boon for the Lao people and will be for more of the region.

Six weeks ago I took a one-and-a-half-hour glide ride from Nateuy, near Luang Namtha, to Luang Prabang. A year before that, I would have had to endure 10 or more uncomfortable hours on a bus or heinously squeezed-in minivan to cover the same rugged distance.

For me, Khon Kaen was about admiring a few terrific temples, frequenting quaint cafés and getting my Indochinese-gastro fill in one of the night markets each night. Unlike Luang Prabang and Chiang Rai, the low number of foreign tourists makes Khon Kaen one of my favorite cities –that I know of– in Thailand.

Three food hawkers smile in front of a table filled with food and a man made lake in the background. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Vendor spontaneously smiles for me, Bueng Kaen Nakhon night market, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

Genuine Thai smiles are more likely in less touristy areas.

Wat Thung Setthi: The First Architectural Wonder

A stunning temple behind a lake with some greenery and a hazy sky at sunset.  In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Wat Thung Setthi, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

If you’re in Khon Kaen, the Thung Setthi Temple is a must see. It lies on the outskirts, so you have to take a taxi or tuk tuk.

The wat is surrounded by tropical nature.

Plan to pay nung roi (100), Baht or more each way. I tried to walk twice. The first time I gave up and turned back; the second time I made it just before dusk. It took much longer than I had anticipated. There are parts of the road that are not conducive to walking so don’t attempt it.

Highway sign with an arrow pointing to the wat beside a two lane highway under a wide hazy late afternoon sky. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Sign, Thung Setthi Temple, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

At at this sign I was hugely relieved to be 15 minutes away by foot. This highway was not designed for walking. In hindsight, I knew I should have saved a ton of time and paid a driver.

There’s a nice café besides the exotic complex. They called me a taxi back that cost exactly 100 Baht. Two days later I took a taxi back from the site and it cost 130. The meter seemed to move faster than it had two evenings prior. The tuk tuk to get there cost 80 Baht ($2.50). You could get a motorcycle driver to do it a little bit cheaper.

Unlike many travelers who rent or purchase motored bikes in South East Asia, I prefer to keep things simple and walk, only using extra transportation when I need to. Like most things and ideas, this current travel philosophy has its pros and cons.

Three toddler statures over a circular display in front of a pond and forest. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Statues at the Wat Thung Setthi, Khon Kaen, Thailand

Finding out about Wat Thung Setthi and seeing it first hand was an incredible blessing that triggered a former epiphany:

We as humans ought to get out into the wondrous world.

Wat Nong Wang: The Second Architectural Wonder

A pretty padoda pyramid style temple under a pure blue sky. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Shaped like a pyramid with nine distinct floors with balconies, Nong Wang Temple, Khon Kaen, Thailand

Since it was easy to walk to, I managed to visit the remarkable Nong Wang Temple several times. I can’t say which work of architectural art is better, since they’re so different in their wondrous ways.

Like the Thung Setthi Temple on the outskirsts, Wat Nong Wang in the city is also unmissalbe if you’re in Khon Kaen.

Upon exotic Buddhist style architecture with views of a pond and downtown in the distance. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Balcony on the 9th floor of the wondrous Nong Wang Temple, Khon Kaen, Thailand

Each level and its balcony gets smaller and more narrow as the temple floors ascend.

Me looking up at sunning, pagoda and pyramid style Buddhist architecture. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Selfie looking up at the wondrous Wat Nong Wang, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

There are a few night markets with good cuisine-dream opportunities. While drifting around cities and in night markets I’m reminded that this is an omnipresent Indochina town.

Chinatown used to me my favorite neighborhood in Boston. Here I’m enjoying many nice culinary options available, but mostly of the non flesh food variety.

Vegan ice cream with peanuts in a coconut shell on a table.  People in the background. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Vegan coconut milk ice cream, COST: 40 Baht ($1.25), Ton Tann night market, Khon Kaen, Thailand

Ton Tann is the most renowned and biggest night market in the city; however, I liked the three other after-sundown markets more than Ton Tann, as they had more vegetable options and were closer to my accomodation.

Being mostly whole vegan these days, I’ve become more limited in what I try. Still, Thailand is such a food paradise that even full-on vegans manage fine. If you’re really strict and want to be fully vegan, learning some Thai food basics can help immensely, especially when you’re outside of tourist zones.

No fish sauceMai nam plaa
A little fish sauceNoi nam plaa
No pork Mai moo
No chickenMai gai
No beefMai nua
No sugarMai nam tan
I am veganPom/chan Jae
English to Thai food ordering translations

l typically say:

Noi nam plaa (a little fish sauce).

This animal liquid is used copiously with papaya and cucumber salad. In the local person’s mind, fish sauce is a key ingredient to these quintessential Thai dishes that are vegan, except for the fish sauce.

Fresh, inexpensive sushi is ubiquitous to Thailand’s night markets. This is no different in Khon Kaen. Although mostly marine fare, there are vegetable and egg options, especially seaweed.

There’s crab and tuna if you care to lightly diverse from a vegetarian regimen. From my experience, wasabi in Thailand is stronger than in the US.

A huge sushi stall, vendor and patrons walking outside.  Thai night markets are wondrous. In post: Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders.
Huge sushi stall at the Ruen Rom night market, Khon Kaen, Thailand

I have a hard time enjoying a city if I’m not able to find a good place to stay. This has not been an issue in non-touristy cities of Thailand, as these areas can provide some of the best accommodation values on the planet.

Big hotel room with chairs, two beds, pillows, wall hanging, bathroom and and balcony doors.
Spacious room at the Ruen Rom Hotel, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

I liked this basic but spacious room at the Ruen Rom Hotel on Ruen Rom Road, just a five-minute walk from the train station. The price was right at 400 Baht ($12), per night. This included a small bathroom with hot water and even a small balcony.

The A/C wasn’t needed although it was included. I felt like I experienced a very short –one week– winter as their were five consecutive chilly mornings where a sweatshirt felt required. Like the majority of hotel rooms across Thailand, the room included two bottles of water per day and cleaning. I like space and am pleased when able to find such value.

I liked my stay in Khon Kaen as I had a great-value accommodation, mostly good walking options, excellent cafés and two previously unknown world wonders to visit and gaze upon.

While the Thung Setthi is not the Taj Majal, it also doesn’t charge $13 like the Taj Majal does. There’s a great chance you will get it all to yourself compared to the colossally-crowded site in Agra. . . at least for now.

Have you had the privilege of witnessing any wonders of the world? Leave a comment below.

Set of photos from Khon Kaen, Thailand.

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7 thoughts on “Khon Kaen: A City of Unknown Wonders

  1. Such informative travelogue.
    Love the pictures and storytelling of these fareaway places.
    Never visited Asia so this is perfect virtual voyage. Thanks Earthdrifter!

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