I am a participant in the professional program in Thailand. I have been living and teaching in Khon Kaen for the last 9 months.Khon Kaen is located in the Isan region of Thailand which is in the Northeast near the Laos border.Often confused with North Thailand it is a full 12 hours away from the more well known, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai.
Isan is unique for many reasons including having its own dialect (called Isan), cuisine (spicy!!), and music. It is a pretty untouched region of Thailand in terms of foreigners and tourism, which makes for authentic Thailand experiences and full cultural immersion.
While a pretty significant distance from the more commonly known tourist spots in Thailand, the Isan region has many natural wonders to explore that are easily accessible from Khon Kaen for a day trip by bus, van, or hired driver (approximately $50/ day). There is a good community of foreign teachers in Khon Kaen that exchange knowledge including where to get your shoes fixed and what are some cool spots to explore in the area. Additionally, the Isan locals have a lot of local pride and are always excited to make recommendations of things to do and see. Thai people are quick to Facebook friend you and post their daily adventures, which is another way to see what there is to do and see in the area.
The Red Lotus Sea, located in Udon Thani, is in season from November to February. The Sea is an easy hour drive from Khon Kaen, so make sure you get to the Sea early in the morning (before 9 am) as the flowers close as the sun rises to its midday position. An affordable 50 baht boat ride will get you an hour ride among these beautiful flowers, an experience truly unlike any other in Thailand.
While Khon Kaen is not a mountainous or densely forested region, it does have a few impressive national parks. Phu Wiang National Park is home to the first discovered dinosaur fossils in Thailand and boasts some impressive views. The rock formations of Hin Chang Si are reminiscent of the American West and make for some good hiking.
Ubolratana Dam is a personal favorite day trip spot. The dam created an impressively large lake where you can swim and boat. It is also peppered with “coffee shops” where you can enjoy beverages, meals, and dessert in rice field huts while overlooking the water. With authentic Thai prices your group can enjoy a multi course meal completed with Bingsu (giant, Korean ice cream) for approximately $20 total!
Khon Kaen is a great starting point to explore the Isan region with sights truly unique from the other parts of Thailand. Isan people are some of the nicest in Thailand and the lack of tourism makes for authentic (see: cheap) pricing. Day trips are affordable, fun, and create opportunities to meet some amazing locals who have great pride in their home.