Cool Khon Kaen, at the centre of Thailand’s northeast Isaan region, is a hip little city. Short on sights in comparison to the cities of the north, such as Chiang Mai, the appeal for us is the upbeat atmosphere of the place.
A university city, Khon Kaen has a youthful vibe, a lovely lake skirted by leafy paths, lively weekend evening markets, and street vendors serving up delicious Isaan food, whose stalls seem to dot every footpath and roadside around the entire city.
Khon Kaen is the kind of place where we wished we could have stayed longer and is a place we’re already planning to head back to. But, sadly, we were on a tight magazine deadline – the Isaan road trip story we’d been working on was due the day we returned to Bangkok! – and we had less than 24 hours in town.
There, we watched ladyboys flirting with each-other as they made offerings and young novice monks taking photos of pretty girls with their mobile phones. And we wandered around the grounds of the wat with a friendly monk who told us how much he loves to travel and meet people.
We also strolled around Beung Kaen Nakhon, the lake that is Khon Kaen’s centre-piece, where locals love to power-walk, jog, ride their bicycles, walk their dogs, feed the pigeons, rent pedalos, breakdance, fool around with hula hoops, and do laps of the evening markets, grazing on the fantastic fiery food.
At the market, young hipsters hung out and flirted, sold handmade jewellery and second-hand clothes for less than one dollar a piece, and traded in all kinds of kooky services.
There was an elaborate nail stand set up where several young women were painting wild designs onto customers’ artificial nails. There was a pottery-making stand, where you could paint a ceramic at low tables by the lake then pop it in the kiln and pick it up your creation later on.
At another stand, a student sold all kinds of helpful IT services from two laptops he’d set up on a blanket on the ground – he could do anything from clean your hard-drive of viruses and download software to help you set up your Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
And then there were the food stalls… ah, the food stalls. I’m salivating just thinking about them, but I’m going to tell you about those in another post…