If you head down to the southern region of Laos, you’ll come across the wonderful city of Savannakhet as it lies next to the famous Mekong River. When translated from its native tongue, it means the city of paradise. One of the best ways to reach Savannakhet is to drive down from the capital city of Vientiane.
The trip might take about 6 hours, but is seems to fly by as you pass some amazing Mekong River scenery along the way as well as some breathtaking hills. It’s also quite easy to reach Savannakhet from neighboring Thailand as you can cross over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge – the Thai city of Mukdahan.
(photo credit: electrostatico)
Savannakhet is Laos’ second-biggest city and is a bit of an Asian cultural melting pot with many residents from other parts of the continent such as Thailand, China, and Vietnam. There are plenty of attractions and historical sites for visitors to check out here such as That Ing Hang Stupa, which is a sacred and famous Buddhist destination. The architecture is also a sight to behold as much of it is French Colonial in style.
The Mekong River will never disappoint you and when you head downtown to its banks you’ll come across some charming cafes and restaurants. If you head upriver from the city, you’ll also come across some quaint villages with some fine establishments.
The surrounding countryside is quite scenic with 20 national protected areas of land in it, including Dong Natad, which is one of the most popular. It’s an ideal location to hike through the tropical monsoon forest and get a close up look at some of the country’s diverse wildlife.
Savannakhet and the surrounding region haven’t developed as quickly as Lang Prabang and Vientiane, but it’s still an important community for commerce and communication. Because of its location and closeness to Thailand and Vietnam, it’s considered to be a sort of marketplace for Laos and its two closest neighbors, with quite a bit of trading going on here.
There are numerous resorts and hotels to stay in while visiting Savannakhet and you should be able to find accommodations to meet all types of travel budgets. The dining opportunities are also eclectic and all quite exceptional. You’ll find a fusion of traditional European dishes such as mouth-watering steaks and thick stews along with exotic and spicy Asian cuisine.
Of course, since there’s an historical French connection between Laos and France you’ll be treated to some wonderful baked goods, such as baguettes, and desserts as well. Small restaurants run by local residents can be found just about everywhere in Savannakhet and you’ll also be able to taste the best of the traditional regional dishes from the numerous street vendors. Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine is also quite easy to find and is very popular.
The nightlife in the city is a little subdued compared to some of the other larger Asian centers, such as Bangkok and Tokyo. That doesn’t mean the city turns into a ghost town once the sun goes down though. There are quite a few open-air bars and restaurants alongside the riverfront where you can enjoy some of the country’s and continent’s finest beer.
Shopping in Savannakhet is quite popular as the Savan-Seno special economic zone is located here. This is basically the point where Savannakhet meets Mukdahan, Thailand, and hundreds of people from both cities congregate here to find the best deals available when doing their weekly shopping.
This tremendous city is easy and enjoyable to explore by foot, but if you get tired there are hundreds of tuk-tuks available to scoot you around from site to site. You may want to visit the Catholic churches and Vietnamese temples as well as the Heuan Hinh Stone House, That Phone Stupa, the Dinosaur Museum, and Wat Xayaphoum.