The good city of Khon Kaen, deep in the heart of Thailand's Isaan region in the north east, rarely makes it on to travellers' itineraries. The ethereal landscapes and ambience of this area don't really feature in the official Thai tourist board's marketing campaigns. Yet, if you're looking for an antidote to those resort towns and tourist strips that now dominate many of Thailand's destinations, Isaan offers history, excellent food, a quirky pop culture and incredibly friendly people.
This is the hotbed of Thailand's burgeoning pro-democracy movement. This is also home to the 2010 Cannes Palme d'Or winner, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the creator of the sublime and mysterious film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. If you've seen it, a visit here will confirm that it resonates with the folklore and atmosphere of Isaan.
Here, too, you'll find the Supanniga Home Boutique Hideaway, a complex of three villas run by extremely friendly staff and set on the edge of town in vast grounds strewn with exotic flowers and graced with ponds.
Of the three villas, the best is the recently added Velu or Bamboo Villa. This two-bedroom space (a good choice for families or groups) will please those on a brief rural retreat. It has sleek, modernist, open-plan interiors furnished with giant beds, flat-screen TVs, and a giant private Jacuzzi. Second choice is the Lom Laeng Villa, which keeps up the modernist theme and has two double beds set on a platform in front of huge bay windows with views of the gardens. Banyan Villa is disappointingly tatty and filled with tired, chintzy furniture, though the huge veranda, set with large plump sofas and chairs, is a pleasant place to laze.
The food and drink
The breakfast menu changes daily and usually features dishes such as rice soup with prawn, fried local mushrooms and scrambled eggs, served with freshly squeezed juices, oolong tea and great coffee. Throughout the day, the café offers a decent snack menu with a few, basic but well-prepared and tasty Thai dishes such as khao kluk krapi (rice mixed with shrimp paste) and khao pat pla kem (fried rice with salted fish). A full dinner menu is available but must be pre-ordered at least two hours ahead. It is designed to offer a gentle introduction to authentic Isaan food – try the nua yang jim jaew (grilled beef strips with a spicy, zesty, herby lime dip) served with khao niaow (sticky rice).
The 12 acres of private gardens include tree houses and numerous well-placed benches, other seats and tables. The flowers and trees have a soothing effect, while the exclusive access to a meditation hall adds to the overall sense of peace and relaxation. Traditional Thai massage is available on request. Quad bikes are provided free. Supanniga offers excursions to local rural Isaan sites, including the King Cobra Village at Kok Sa-nga, and various archaeological sites such as Ban Chiang, which, at 6,000 years old, is the oldest Bronze Age discovery on the planet. Khon Kaen hosts a decent night market, and there's lakeside dining in the city centre.
The hotel has no specific modifications designed for people with limited mobility but staff will do their best to accommodate them. Children are welcome.
Supanniga's website has prices starting at 8,000 Thai baht (£165) per night for two, including breakfast, transfers and Wi-Fi. However, the prices at reservation tend to be lower and usually start at about 4,800 Thai baht (£100) for the Banyan and Lom Laeng Villas. The Velu Villa is priced from 12,000 to 18,000 Thai baht (£250 to £375).
Supanniga Home Boutique Hideaway, 130/9 Potisarn Road, Muang, Khon Kaen, 40000, Thailand (00 66 89 944 4880; supannigahome.com).
Andrew Spooner is the author of Footprint's Thailand Handbook. Price £15.99