Despite promises of VIP buses with air-con, our transport for the eight hour journey to Savannakhet was barely fit for the road. The tyres were looking very light on tread, and there were holes throughout (in the body work, seats, internal fascia etc). To make matters worse, on top of the aisles being used for storage, huge sacks stuffed full of who know’s what were crammed under every seat, leaving us little to no room for our legs. Not the most comfortable way to travel, but it did give us an insight into how Laotians normally get from A to B – no more moaning from me about the London Underground at rush hour!
After happily arriving in one piece in Savannakhet, we negotiated well for a ride in Laos version of a tuk tuk. Unlike Cambodia’s Remorques consisting of a trailer attached to a motorbike, these were more aggressive looking and colourful machines, made from one single vehicle. We were once again staying in bungalows, although were more substantial than in Kampong Cham, and the floor, walls and ceiling were all fully sealed – no risk of visits from spiders / scorpions!
Savannakhet is laid out in a grid style and has always been an important trade town for Laos, being close to the Thai border and en route to the Vietnam border too. Given how quiet and desolate the streets were, it was difficult not to draw comparisons with some of the scenes in The Walking Dead we’ve been watching on the iPad!
While searching for suitably tasty replenishments that evening, we neared the banks of the Mekong and were pleasantly surprised by the old town area. It consisted of lovely french style housing (from colonial times) centred around a quaint and rustic square full of bars and restaurants, where we enjoyed some surprisingly good live music alongside refreshing BeerLaos.
For dinner we put our trust in Lonely Planet’s recommendation, and headed to Lin’s cafe. It turned out to be a charming little establishment, complete with an indoor water feature, blackboards illustrating the coffee and a menu bursting full of local and Western delights. The decor wasn’t too far away from the hipster cafes back home in London! Although the Green Thai Curry was lacking in oomph, it filled us up adequately.
Day 1 – Booking bus tickets (and being hustled by scary dogs)
After some bananas for breakfast, gifted to us by the lady at Mali Guesthouse in Don Khong, our first mission of the day was to book a bus out of town over the border to Hue in Vietnam. Despite our best attempts to locate a bus booking office in the nearby old town, we were left to admit defeat and walk two miles to the bus station. At least this gave us more of a chance to explore Savannakhet, out with the old town – who knew it once hosted the Olympic Games (apparently?). This also resulted in getting tickets at the lowest price, without paying a middle man. I had a rather nasty surprise when choosing refreshments for our walk back – Genmai flavoured green tea (the bottle on the right), tastes like watery wheatabix, so not the most refreshing, and Joella made me finish it – domestic abuse!
That evening we found ourselves back in the old town square for dinner, this time in what felt like someone’s living room; the family where watching TV on one side of the room, while we sat on the other slurping our flavoursome Chinese noodles. After a brief conversation with one of the regulars, half in French and the other half in English, helpfully translated by his shy daughter, we were on our way.
Up until now we hadn’t paid too much attention to the numerous dogs (of all shapes and sizes) that roam the streets, night and day. They didn’t seem to be strays, just left by their owners to do as they will. However, on our walk back to the bungalow we got the scare of our lives as one of the larger brutes crept up and growled aggressively within inches of us. For a second, my decision to opt out of receiving the rabies jab flashed before my eyes (even though this only gives you an extra few hours to receive medical attention). Fortunately however, he let us walk slowly away without any injury. We became quite cautious of the street dogs from that point on.
Day 2 – Visiting the dinosaur museum (and hiding from the rain)
On the second day we were glad to be alive, considering the torrential winds and rain our little wooden hut was battered with! As the heavy rain showed no signs of stopping, we decided to spend the morning chilling over some tasty Laos coffees made by the owner of the Homestay. Two hours later, not wanting to let the weather get the better of us, we headed out in search of the dinosaur museum (armed with umbrellas).
The museum consisted of just two large rooms, full of glass cabinets containing numerous rare bones and ancient fossils (and cuddly toy kangaroos…!?). As the place was dead, we were lucky enough to be taken on a private tour. Just as well considering it was set up by a French guy, so unfortunately most of the written information was only available in French and Laos. Although there was one colourful poster in English, perfectly suited to our intelligence level too…
For dinner we couldn’t resist some of the Western restaurants, so we treated ourselves to quesadillas, hamburgers and fries. Apart from being double charged (the card transaction didn’t seem to go through so we paid in cash too), it was all rather scrumptious!
Originally we hadn’t even planned to visit Savannakhet, and were instead going to go via Laos’ second biggest city: Pakse. But based on our experience, and general consensus that Pakse is little more than a big city, we were very happy with our decision! Overall our stay in Laos has been short, but oh so sweet. Their dish of Lahp is possibly one of my favourite meals of all time, and BeerLaos one of the best lagers. Thank you and good night, next stop – Hue, Vietnam…