While various artefacts have been found in the region that hint at its dinosaur era and early human inhabitants, what we know today as Khon Kaen came into being when the ancient Khmer empire expanded into the area in the 12th century. The current town was established a little over two centuries ago during the reign of King Rama I.
In addition to being a university town, Khon Kaen is a historic centre of silk production. In Chonnabot, Mudmee silk is delicately woven by hand and then tie-dyed.
Thai AirAsia flies from Bangkok (DMK) to Khon Kaen (KKC) several times a day; there are also flights from/to Chiang Mai, Pattaya (UTP) and Phuket. Nok Air and Thai Lion Air each has a couple of flights a day to Bangkok (DMK) as well. Thai Smile Airways flies from Bangkok (BKK) five times a day, and can be booked in one ticket with an international Thai Airways flight.
Khon Kaen is on the branch of the Northeastern Line that runs to Nong Khai and Laos. The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) runs one reasonably timed overnight train, Train 133, which leaves Bangkok at 20:45 and is scheduled to arrive at 06:11 in Khon Kaen.
As of 2018 the main railway station is being rebuilt and trains stop instead at a temporary station along the same line 3 km to the south. A 30-minute walk to the center, or else taxis are available.
Until 1 December 2017 Khon Kaen had three bus terminals. The newest, Terminal 3, is eight kilometres out of town and, for that reason, inconvenient. The city fathers want to get buses out of the city’s core. The taxi cartel support that initiative for obvious reasons: the cost of a tuk-tuk or taxi to downtown may well cost more than your bus ticket to Khon Kaen.
- 1 Khon Kaen Provincial Transport Station (Baw Kaw Saw 3), Muang KK By-pass Rd (On the ring road 8 km S of city centre. Any tuk-tuk can take you there). 24/7. Since 1 December 2017, the long-distance KK bus terminal. Also has minivans to nearer destinations. Opened in 2014. (updated Nov 2015)
- 1 Air conditioned bus terminal, Ammat Rd (Central KK. Nearest cross-street is Klang Mueang Rd.). Minivan station to places such as Udon. (updated Nov 2015)
- 1 Central Khon Kaen Bus Station (Baw Kaw Saw 1), 46/16 Prachasamoson Rd (Central KK). Closed on 1 December 2017. (updated Nov 2015)
Buses to/from Bangkok’s Northern (Mo Chit) Bus Terminal depart every 15 minutes from early until late.
For quicker service, avoid the touts at Mo Chit, and ask for Chan Tour. This company provides only VIP buses, which have very large seats and a bathroom. Alternatively, Nakhonchai Air has nice VIP buses which are cleaner (meals, drink, in-coach toilet) than Chan, but with small seats. Both will cost 420 baht, highly recommended. Both have terminals separate from Mo Chit, about 1 km away, where you can wait for your bus in an air-conditioned waiting room.
From Chiang Mai Arcade Terminal 3, Phetprasert and Sombat Tour have buses throughout the day from 08:00. Evening buses run at 19:00 and 20:00 from Platform 6. The price is approximately 641 baht one-way and duration of journey is 10 hr. The only problem is at the Khon Kaen end: you are dropped off at Terminal 3, far from the city center, near the intersection of Highway 2 and the ring road south of Khon Kaen. This terminal is new (Aug 2014) and lacking in amenities (coffee shop, hotel, etc.), but there is a new (Feb 2016) 7-11 about 100 meters to the south of the Nakhonchai Air terminal. NCA has a free shuttle service for its customers between its downtown and ring road terminal. A yellow songthaew service will take you downtown to the rail station and the in-town bus station (non-air-conditioned bus station) for 10 baht (Jan 2015).
From/to Udon Thani, several air conditioned buses depart hourly from Udon’s Bus Station 1 downtown. Fare is 80 baht (Nov 2015) and the duration is approximately 90 min. Minivans depart from the same station to Khon Kaen continuing on to Roi Et. They are slightly faster than the bus, but probably not as comfortable. As the downtown terminal is now closed, the buses now arrive to Terminal 3 on the southern outskirts of the city, but before they will pass the city center, stopping a few times to drop off the passengers – for the main tourist area, the best location to get off will be after an underpass near CentralPlaza, and tuk-tuks seem to wait for the buses there (alternatively, or if they ask for too much, use the Grab app).