449km (279 miles) NE of Bangkok; 190km (118 miles) N of Nakhon Ratchasima; 115km (71 miles) S of Udon Thani
Thanks to a prominent university and two major television studios, Khon Kaen is Isan’s most heavily populated and busiest city. Its prime location along Route 2, and connections to Bangkok via rail and a large commercial airport, make this city a common stopover en route to places like Udon Thani and Nong Khai. But don’t write off Khon Kaen as a flyover town; it boasts an upbeat market culture and good mid-range hotels, both of which have contributed to an uptick in tourist numbers in recent years. Another boon to the tourist biz: Laos and Vietnam have established consulates in town, making Khon Kaen a charming pit-stop to acquire visas, and a branch of the well-established Thailand Creative Design Center (TCDC), a bastion for local art and creatives, opened in 2018.