Savannakhet

Situated on the banks of the Mekong at the start of Route 9 to Danang in Vietnam, Savannakhet - or Savan as it is usually known - is an important river port and gateway to the south. The city has a sizeable Chinese population and attracts merchants from both Vietnam and Thailand, while the ubiquitous colonial houses and fading shopfronts are an ever-present reminder of earlier French influence. Savannakhet Province has several natural attractions, although the majority are a fair hike from the provincial capital. For those short on time in Laos, Pakse makes a better stopover than Savannakhet.

Sights

Savan's colonial heritage can be seen throughout the town centre. Perhaps the most attractive area is the square east of the Immigration office between Khanthabouli and Phetsalath roads. Wat Sounantha has a three-dimensional raised relief on the front of the sim, showing the Buddha in the mudra of bestowing peace, separating two warring armies. Wat Sayaphum on the Mekong is rather more attractive and has several early 20th-century monastery buildings. It is both the largest and oldest monastery in town, although it was only built at the end of the 19th century. Evidence of Savan's diverse population is reflected in the Chua Dieu Giac, a Mahayana Buddhist pagoda that serves the town's Vietnamese population. The Dinosaur Museum houses a collection of four different dinosaur and early mammalian remains, and even some fragments of a meteorite that fell to earth over 100 million years ago.

For those unable to get to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, there is some rusting war scrap in the grounds of the
Provincial Museum
.The museum offers plenty of propaganda-style displays but little that is terribly enlightening unless you are interested in the former revolutionary leader Kaysone Phomvihane. If it looks closed just go across to the School of Medicine and knock on the curator's quarters, housed in the wooden building.

That Inheng

This holy 16th-century
that
or stupa is 12 km northeast of Savannakhet and is the second- holiest site in Southern Laos after Wat Phou. It was built during the reign of King Sikhottabong at the same time as That Luang in Vientiane, although local guides may try to convince you it was founded by the Indian emperor Asoka over 2000 years ago. Needless to say, there is no historical evidence to substantiate this claim. The wat is the site of an annual festival in February or March akin to the one celebrated at Wat Phou, Champasak .

Dong Phu Vieng National Protected Area

The Provincial Tourism Office runs excellent treks through the Dong Phu Vieng National Protected Area, home to wildlife such as Siamese crocodiles, Asian elephants, the endangered Eld's deer, langurs and wild bison (most of which you would be incredibly lucky to see). Located within the NPA is a
Song Sa Kae
(Sacred Forest and Cemetery), revered by the local Katang ethnic group, who are known for their buffalo sacrifices. The well-trained local guides show how traditional natural produce is gathered for medicinal, fuel or other purposes. The tours are exceptionally good value. Most will only run during the dry season.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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