At Isaan’s centre, KHON KAEN is the wealthiest and most sophisticated city in the northeast, seat of a highly respected university as well as Channel 5 and Channel 11 television studios. There’s a noticeably upbeat feel to the place, underlined by its apparently harmonious combination of traditional Isaan culture – huge markets and hordes of street vendors – with flashy shopping plazas and a world-class hotel. Its location, 188km northeast of Khorat on the Bangkok–Nong Khai rail line and Highway 2, makes it a convenient resting point, even though a startling modern temple and the provincial museum are the only real sights in town. However, the wider province has some impressive prehistoric credentials, which you can get to grips with at Phuwiang’s dinosaur graveyard, within day-tripping distance of the city. Local silk is another draw; available year-round at outlets across the city, it gets special focus during the annual Silk and Phuk Siao Festival (usually Nov 29–Dec 10; check with TAT) when weavers from across the province congregate at the City Hall on Thanon Na Soon Rachakarn to display and sell their fabrics; this is also the chance to witness the moving phuk siao ceremony, a traditional friendship-deepening ritual involving the exchange of symbolic wrist strings. During the rest of the year, the foreigners staying in the city tend to be expat husbands of local women, businesspeople or university teachers rather than tourists, though an increasing number of travellers are stopping here for Lao and Vietnamese visas, now that both nations have consulates in Khon Kaen.
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