In the north of Thailand, lies one of the major provinces of Isaan known as Khon Kaen (เทศบาลนครขอนแก่น). Within this province, you will find two national parks and a zoo. The zoo itself (located in Khao Suan Kwang district) can make a nice day out and there is also a water park within the grounds. But even better than that, there are a bunch of sandstone boulders which we have permission to climb on. In fact, they are very welcoming to climbers coming to visit.
You can even stay in the zoo if you want to spend a few days surrounded by animals and boulders!
What kind of climbing is there?
The main type of climbing here is bouldering, all found within the zoo complex. The rock is sandstone and you can probably expect a layer of skin missing from your fingers after a couple of days of climbing.
There are also some sport routes being developed within Si Chom Pu district in Khon Kaen.
Getting to Khon Kaen
The first step is to travel to Khon Kaen. The quickest and easiest way is to take a plane from Bangkok. The journey will take about an hour and if you book in advance, you can usually buy the ticket for not much more than a bus.
Another option is to take a VIP bus which will take around 7 to 8 hours. The other alternative is to catch a train. The journey will be longer and timings can be unpredictable, but you can take a 3rd class train for next to nothing, or a sleeper train with your own bed.
If you are coming from Udon Thani, you can get on a train which will stop off at Khao Suan Kwang (เขาสวนกวาง) train station. This is then just a 5 to 10-minute tuk-tuk ride to the zoo. The train journey takes about 1 and a half hours and costs just 15 baht!
Check out our Khon Kaen province page for more details on times and prices.
How to get to Khon Kaen zoo
You have a few different options once you are in the city center:
Rent a motorbike or car:
This is probably the most convenient choice. The zoo grounds are quite big so it will be easier to get around. A scooter will cost around 200/300 baht a day and a car will be about 800. It’s then an easy drive to the zoo and you can explore the whole place when you are not climbing. It is also possible to rent a scooter from the zoo if you contact them.
It is possible to take a taxi to the zoo, although I am not sure what the price of this will be. It shouldn’t stretch the budget though.
There are often people driving to and from the zoo to go climbing, usually on a weekend. The best thing to do would be to write a post on one of the Facebook groups and see if anybody else can give you a lift (see bottom of post for links).
You can also contact the Khon Kaen Climbing Club, who will sometimes offer you a ride if any of the community members are heading out to climb.
There is a train station just a short drive away from the zoo. The ticket will be very cheap and you can then catch a taxi or tuk-tuk for the rest of the way.
You shouldn’t have any problems finding somewhere to stay on your trip to Khon Kaen. There are many hotels in the city center, most of which are conveniently located near the train station.
Check out Booking.com to see what is available.
We find our accommodation on Booking.com by first searching for the town or province and our dates, we then filter out any rooms with a score lower than 7 or 8 (depending on availability) as well as any rooms out of our budget. After this, we open the map and hover over all of the pins in the rough location we already decided we want to stay in. Hovering over the pins gives us the price for x nights plus the review score. We click on each pin to open those hotels in a new tab, review them and book our favorite.
Sleeping in the zoo:
If you want to wake up and be right next to the climbing areas, you can stay in the zoo itself! Imagine waking up, with a view of the animals below and then heading off to the boulders just a short walk away. There are three different options to choose from:
Bungalows: They are basic but have a private bathroom, hot water, air conditioning and a nice view overlooking the skywalk. They cost 700 baht a night.
Tents: There is also a campground you can stay at. If you bring your own tent, it will cost 150 baht to pitch it for the night. If not, you can pay 400 baht for a 2-person tent, including bedding and a sleeping mat.
Dorms: The zoo also has dorm rooms available but they may only rent these out in busier periods or at the annual bouldering festival.
To book accommodation, you will need to contact the zoo directly. There was a bit of a communication barrier when I phoned up but we managed to work it out.
Phone: +66 86 455 6341
Note: There is no wifi available. I was able to get good enough 3g signal on my phone to use as a hotspot but I wouldn’t rely on it.
Staying close to the zoo
If you want a cheaper option but don’t want to take the long journey to and from town every day, there are options available just outside of the zoo.
My top pick is Well House Hotel in Khao Suan Kwang (เวลล์เฮ้าส์โรงแรม). It is a short ride from the zoo, walking distance to the train station, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and the price is a bargain at just 400 baht. I just turned up in the morning and they had a room available but you may want to contact them on Facebook through the link above. You can find the hotel on Google Maps through this GPS location.
There is a small market just around the corner but it was only open in the morning when I was there. For dinner, you can head to the main road, turn right and walk for 15 minutes to a nice restaurant. Or there is a 7/11 available opposite the market.
Entrance fee for Khon Kaen zoo
The ticket price is 100 baht for locals or 150 baht for foreigners. If you say that you are there to climb, 40 baht will go the Khon Kaen Climbing Club (KKCC) development fund.
Parking is 50 baht for a car and 10 baht for a motorcycle.
If you are staying outside of the zoo, you will need to pay the entrance fee each day you go.
If you stay in the zoo, you only need to pay for it once.
Where to eat
There is a restaurant on-site in the zoo, or there are some places to eat just outside the entrance. My recommendation would be Taiban Cafe (ไทบ้าน) very near to the zoo. The food is clean and delicious, the coffee is really good and the owners are super friendly. They can also deliver your food to the zoo!
You can rent all the gear you will need from Khon Kaen Climbing Club (KKCC). Here is a list of their prices at the time of writing:
Bouldering pad: 200 baht for a small and 300 for a big (1000 THB deposit)
Harness: 150 baht
Quickdraws: (set of 10): 350 baht
ATC & carabiner: 100 baht
GriGri & carabiner: 300 baht
Sling & carabiner: 75 baht
Prussic & carabiner: 50 baht
Locking carabiner: 50 baht
Rope & rope bag: 500 baht
Helmet: 100 baht
Climbing shoes: 100 baht
All rental prices are per day.
Head over to their website in the link provided above for contact info. Alternatively, you can send them a message on Facebook.
Climbing etiquette and safety
It took a lot of meetings and convincing for us to be allowed to climb in the zoo. Part of the acceptance was because of the trusting and caring nature of climbers. Please don’t break this trust we have. Leave the site how you found it. Take all your litter away with you and pick up any you find along the way.
Climbing is an extreme sport and so it carries risks but we can minimize this by protecting ourselves properly. Have a spotter and a crash pad (or a few) and make sure you have the correct travel/health insurance that covers climbing activities.