I have always enjoyed visiting and exploring the bigger provinces in Thailand. They always provide a way the larger scope of things and give a wonderfully educative insight on what Thailand is all about. As it is a very diverse country, you rarely get to see what it is first hand. However, I was gifted with the opportunity to pay a visit to Khon Kaen the fifth-largest northeastern province in Thailand. It is one of the hugest ones I have visited up till with26 district divisions in it and a further 198 sub-districts. I found it fascinating to know that this province is home to almost 2140 villages. That just increased the possibilities of seeing all the different sides and faces of Thailand for me.
The National Museum at Khon Kaen
Of course, given how big this province is anyone can guess that it has a very remarkable historical past. I guessed as much and the first place I headed to was the national museum after I landed. And boy, was I stunned with the findings that are assorted in this museum. From precious pieces of art from periods that one can’t even imagine existed to an actual 3000-year-old human skeleton which I am sure was from the New Stone age. As I walked around the place multiple things caught my attention and others that truly educated me on the past and history of mankind. Truly a fabulous thing!
The museum’s building was officially erected in the 1970s and later on updated and redone in 2010 to properly execute the charm and effect of the sculptures and antiques available. One of my favorite things about the place was that the descriptions of the artifacts were available in both Thai and English, unlike other museums that I have visited. I didn’t have to translate every letter on my phone’s translate app, so that was a relief!
Khon Kaen’s National Museum contained 6 zones that took me back to the Stone Age and right up to the 20th century. Everything is labeled, described and brought in perfect light (literally, the lighting there is wonderful) in a way that everyone can understand how far mankind has come and the progress we have made as humans. Educational and highly engaging, the place highlighted the history of Issan and Khon Kaen for me without boring me to death.
Chao Por Lak Muang Khon Kaen Shrine
One thing I picked up pretty fast about all the provinces of Thailand that I have visited is that they are very particular about their religious activities. They greatly honor their shrines, temples, and places of worship thus a great deal of effort is input in sites like those. So it hardly makes sense if you visit any place in Thailand and not check out these gorgeous locations because they will surely never disappoint.
I decided to pay the Chao Por Lak Muang Khon Kaen shrine a visit on Thursday after I had toured the museum of the place and spent a day in my lodging just lazing about. The shrine was located in the heart of Khon Kaen in the midst of the busiest city life in there. However, that does not make any difference in the holiness and sanctity of the shrine as it is properly adorned and designed for dedicated worshippers. Before entering the shrine, you are welcomed with two Siho finials which are embellished with serpents. I guessed the designers were trying to execute the Naga tradition in the best possible way. And surely, it wasn’t disappointing. The gold and blue designs are grand and very beautiful.
In addition to the serpents, there are also lions incorporated in the structure which stems from the Chinese tradition which is very influential in Khon Kaen.
However, regardless of all this beauty; you truly get to see the full effect at night time when they light up the place. The whole area explodes in color like Fourth of July fireworks. Every inch of the location is covered in colorful lights, from the shrubs to the trees as well as the shrine. Most people like to come in the mornings to worship because of the quiet and the cool weather but it is at night when everyone comes out to admire the nocturnal charm of the place.
Khon Kaen’s Markets
I visited two major markets in Khon Kaen while I was there and to say the least, the Walking Street market was my absolute favorite. It is open every night and it is known to be more of a food market rather than one that sells clothes or artifacts like the other one I visited; Rim Bueng Market.
Of course, you will find your fair share of souvenirs, fruits, and other such small items but most people come to the walking street market for the legendary food that is ready to be wolfed down. There is a metaphorical division in the market for the food stalls and the other shops for miscellaneous items and fruits. It is not a distinct or marked division but instead one that you can just figure out once you visit the place.
The food is just phenomenal! Remarkable! Simply drool-worthy, I had the tastiest Hoi Tod I’ve ever tasted from one of the stalls there. The deep-fried mussels were fried to crispy perfection and after them, I had the Khao Maan Gai which is chicken served on chicken fat rice. There were multiple delicious options but I chose to pick ones that I hadn’t tried before just for the awesome experience.
There are seating arrangements around the street although you can choose to eat your food on the go like myself. I found it incredibly interesting and wonderful to walk around while eating my food and exploring more stalls. In this way, I saved up time and didn’t feel too bloated after my food. Usually, after I eat, I like to rest but in this way, I got to save my time, eat and still reach back to my hotel on time. The walking street market is open for 6 hours between 5-11 pm and I reached it after 9 pm. It wasn’t that busy as many of the people were already leaving because it had gotten late, but a decent crowd remained.
The Rim Bueng was, of course, incomparable to the charm and exclusiveness of the Walking Street market but I managed to still have a good time there. Street food was also sold there but not exactly up to the standard of the other market. However, Rim Bueng had something that I hadn’t tried out or seen anywhere else and it was the pottery painting stalls. I painted a small flower pot which I later could take home with me.
The Cobra Village
In every expedition of mine, I always seek out the craziest experiences to make the best memories and stories 10 years from now. And surely this one is for the books. The King Cobra Village is just outside of Khon Kaen and is famous to the point where it was even featured on CNN. That was where I derived the inspiration and guts to pay a visit there. The place looked like it was straight out of a horror movie with peculiar homes propped up on stilts and elderly folk that make a living entirely off farming. The snakes do not help the families to earn any money but instead, the people keep them as pets and friends to themselves. Almost every family has its cobra or snake which has been with them for years. And each family is 100% willing to always show you their snakes. I got to talking with one of the villagers who could muster enough English for me to understand as he at some point was a trader overseas. He explained to me the details of how the village keeps its snakes.
According to him, the village does not keep the snakes for shows (although shows are held with the snakes, they just are not bred for this specific purpose). Instead, people like to keep their leathery friends around for years because of mere companion purposes. The kids of the village are also trained and taught how to handle these positively poisonous beasts as every one of the cobras are liable to kill. From a young age, all the village kids are schooled and introduced to Snake Handling 101.
However, if anyone is unlucky enough to get a snake bite, the farmers in the village have prepared for this. With certain herbs like the wan paya ngoo which is mixed with lime and rubbed on the wound to reduce the poisonous effect, this is how the village people have survived this long. Among other herbs, this is how the farmers make a living while residing in their peculiar little village of snakes. They never sell any of their snakes. They regard it as a big impossible offense exactly like you wouldn’t sell your best friend. Who does that?