Khon Kaen has everything I like in my city: an attractive body of water alongside which one can stroll or cycle or run, huge forests and mountains close enough to ease the mind of the nature addict during a day trip or a weekend adventure, even a rock-climbing community! On top of that the popular university makes for cozy coffee shops and a vibrant music and art scene. It’s like Mainz in the tropics!
Khon Kaen is one of four major cities in the North-East of Thailand. But unlike Udon Thani and Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), which count for two more of the “big four of Isan” there is rather few expats living here and near to no foreign tourism going on. As a result there is little infrastructure catering for the particular needs of these groups.
Instead there is a very special blend of modernity and tradition that is driven by the curiosity and demand of the local businesses, the students and artists of the region. It reveals what a budding city in Thailand looks like when it’s not developed from direct foreign influence and the urge to make a quick buck with visitors from abroad. There is a very friendly and relaxed vibe around town which I also felt in small cities like Songkhla in the far south or Mae Hong Son in the north. Just that Khon Kaen also offers design conventions, countless live music events and the Thai version of cool hipster hang out places.
Needless to say there is a whole array of well-worth-a-visit kind of temples in town. At the time of my visit they were packed with Thai mourners paying their respect for the much-revered monk Luang Phor Koon Parisuttho from Korat, one of the most beloved abbots of Thailand, who had died back in 2015.
He had instructed that his body will be donated to Khon Kaen University for medical students to study, reports Bangkok Post. Well, Khon Kaen university claims to have “outstanding programs in humanities and social sciences” and to be “a top-flight university ranking second among universities that people would most like to attend in Thailand”. The wise monk seemingly went along with that!
The university was once again involved, when it came to the design and construction of the crematorium for Luang Phor Koon Parisuttho when the time for the funeral had now arrived. As usual when a highly revered member of Thai society dies, a unique and elaborate crematorium was built over months. The fine and applied arts department of the alma mater made sure that “many artists were collaborating, aiming to showcase Thai-Lao art, traditions and culture.” The result, which I unfortunately could not witness in person, is once again stunning:
Here some more coverage from the event, which was observed nationwide:
For a visit of Wat Nong Wang the descriptions of Isan specialist Tim Brewer are very helpful: