Laid-back and relaxing best describes Savannakhet in Southern Laos.
Apart from seeking out the many lovely old French colonial buildings to photograph and numerous cups of coffee whilst waiting for a visa to Vietnam, there isn’t much to do around Savannakhet but it is a peaceful stop-over.
As the Thathek bus station is a little too far to walk with heavy packs, have to wake up a tuk-tuk driver that’s sleeping heavily in his vehicle.
Annoyed for waking him up from his slumber, I barter hard for a price to the station, but he’s not impressed and not budging. So, can only bargain the fare down to 15,000K per person, which is a rip-off for just a few kilometres.
I have to apologise in advance for the lack of photos in this post, regardless of the cool buildings in this city. But, after seven months of taking photos whilst travelling, think I’m suffering from photographer’s burn-out – not feeling very creative and just want to relax.
Promise that my next post will include a few more photos for your delectation.
Savannakhet is a quieter city than most in Laos.
Missing the colourful Boat Racing Festival (Boun Suang Heua) here, we did manage to catch this event a few days later in Pakse. Typically, this festival is held in Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Champasak province at differing times. Along the brown banks of the Mekong, you’ll see boats practicing and parties happening during this festival.
The locals are super friendly in Savannakhet and know how to make you feel at home. So much so that after dinner one night, walking along the Talat Yen Plaza (Night Market but no market to be found), a bunch of giggling inquisitive locals call us over. They’re having a great time with blaring music, drinking beer, and eating dried (stinky) squid.
Forcing us to take a seat, we have to try the dried squid, which is like chewing on a tough smelly leather shoe then washing this down with Beerlao (local beer). After spending an hour laughing and trying to communicate – not much English on their part and not much Laotian on our part – we part company and they party on – wonderful time.
Other sights and things to do in Savannakhet include the swimming pool, tennis club, eco-tourism treks, picturesque Nong Lom lake, a Lao massage, and there’s also the Savan Vegas Casino if you’re interested in parting with some cash.
Savannakhet doesn’t offer too much accommodation for travellers.
Along Road No 9, the great newish hotel with lovely staff is about 5kms out of the city centre, so it’s better if you have your own wheels as free parking is available.
This hotel is spotless throughout with a good-sized comfortable room offering a comfy bed, TV, AC, wi-fi, fridge, serviced daily, bottled water, and toiletries. The hotel is close to a market area, which does sell cheap BBQ meats and sticky rice with fruit and veg also available.
Not much around in this area and we attract loads of strange looks from locals. The hotel is about a 10-15,000K/person (one-way) to the city by Sŏrngtăaou, which is the only reason for the move closer into the city.
The first night is very quiet but the 2nd night is rowdy as many locals checked in and the room next to ours has several guys drinking and playing loud games until early hours of the morning.
Wanting accommodation closer to the centre, walked around Savannakhet and stumbled upon this small guest house on 152 Senna Road.
This abode is in walking distance to everywhere in town and the Mekong riverfront. Although the room is in need of a lick of paint, it’s clean, and you can’t go wrong at only 100,000K/night (low season) for a double including A/C, TV, hot water, and okay wi-fi in room.
The owner is very helpful, accommodating, good to chat with about Laos, and speaks English, so instead of 2 nights, we stayed 4 nights. The owner also rents bicycles and motor bikes.
Food in Savannakhet isn’t expensive and if you hunt around this town, there’s always something delectable in which to indulge.
Having arrived at the Barradleun Gxay Hotel late afternoon and with nothing around food-wise – strange for Laos – walk for about 5-minutes from the hotel and stumble on a local market, which is closing for the night.
A plastic bag full of sticky rice (5,000K) and a couple of odd bits of chicken later – fed the chicken to a dog as it isn’t great – venture back to the hotel for the night.
Bar & Restaurant
Not sure of the name although from the Barradleun Gxay Hotel, cross the road and walk down the casino road a few blocks.
This bar is on your right and serves good cheap local food – drinks are average price.
The owner is very friendly, speaks English well and this bar is pretty busy with locals but very few tourists.
One of the better cafés in Laos (Latsaphanit Road, Xaiyaphoum Village) and quite busy with locals and tourists serves delicious food and fresh juices.
Excellent service and ambiance – consistently great, so ate here most days.
‘Art’ is very attentive and looks after you continuously topping up your icy cold water. For the quality, think this is the cheapest western-style restaurant in Savan.
The coffees are very good, the breakfasts are excellent, lunch is also very good. Fresh cakes/muffins are baked in-house and very yummy.
If you want quieter time to relax, read, or chat there’s an upstairs comfy lounging area, which has a free exhibition on at the moment – have your meals here for a change. Closed on Wednesdays.
Cafe Chai Dee
On Unit 01, Lattanalansy Thai village, this cafe offers a good atmosphere and food although it’s only Japanese and Western food on the menu.
Great friendly service but prices are a little higher than other cafes in town. Free wi-fi and some good herbal teas on offer.
Although the next overland border crossing from Laos is into Cambodia, read too many stories of rip-offs and corruption by officials issuing visas there so, instead, decide to stop off in Savannakhet for longer than usual to obtain a visa for Vietnam.
The visa takes several business days to process. You can choose from a 1, 2, or 3-month visa, which starts on your preferred date. The 3-month visa is the most economical at USD$80.
Staff at the Vietnamese Consulate General on 418 Sisavangvong Khanthabury are lovely and very helpful.
Another short hop heading south and onto Pakse, which is supposed to be a 5-hour bus ride – hope so…