Savannakhet (commonly abbreviated to 'Savan') and more officially known as 'Kaysone Phomvihane' (district name), is the capital of Savannakhet Province in Southern Laos and is located alongside the Mekong River. With an estimated population of 120,000 it is the second largest city of Laos. The city is an important hub between West (Mukdahan, Thailand) and East (Vietnam), and between North (Vientiane) and South (Pakse).
Travelers visiting Savannakhet are often surprised by its old French colonial architecture and the friendly, sleepy atmosphere of the town which conserves many aspects of Lao traditional culture. The small but blossoming tourist sector offers various eco-trekking programs to the outskirts of town and to preserved forests and other places of interest in neighbouring districts (such as Champhone). The welcoming and generous character of the local people makes you easily feel part of the community. Although recently a large casino was established, Savannakhet has no touristic night-life scene. Over the last two decades dinosaurs have become a theme of Savannakhet, with a Dinosaur Museum and decorations in the streets.
Savannakhet probably was founded in the 17th century by forty families who immigrated from Phonsim village around twenty km to the east. It is said that the settlement at the Mekong riverside was called Tahae village, and researchers assume that Buddhist Temple 'Vat Xaiyaphoum' is an important remainder of that era.
France expanded Indochina by obtaining the eastern bank of the Mekong after a border dispute in 1893. Initially the French used the Mekong river as the main street of transport. Soon afterwards a network of water transportation, post & telecommunication facilities and a railway were completed. A road, connecting Savannakhet with Quang Tri (Vietnam), was also established. In the 1920s and 1930s Vietnamese and Chinese people started to settle in Savannakhet. Nowadays, the Chinese and Vietnamese still live in the same parts of the city, while other parts are still redolent of the French administration that was located at the Southern part of town.
Recently an important chapter was added to the history of Savannakhet, with the opening of the 1600-metre Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge II in 2007. The bridge connects Savannakhet (and Vietnam) to Mukdahan (Thailand). Foreign investors and NGOs are considered to be crucial for the development of the town and province.
Savannakhet has an airport. Lao Airlines is the only domestic carrier, and provides direct flights from and to Vientiane. Alternatively, Vientiane can be reached by flying via Pakse, a trip that takes two and half hours. One way to Vientiane costs around $US110, and round trips around double.
The only domestic direct flight is to Pakse. It leaves Savannakhet at 15:00 and arrives at 15:35 three days a week: Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. At the same days there are flights from Pakse to Savannakhet, leaving 09:25 and arriving 10:00. As schedules might change suddenly it is recommended to contact Lao Airlines in advance.
On Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, Lao Airlines also offers direct flights from/to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, taking 2 hours and 20 minutes. Leaving Savannakhet at 10:40. Flights from Bangkok leave at 13:00. One way trip costs around US$115, with a round trip twice that.
There is bus service from Vientiane to Savannakhet. It is a 9 hour paved road bus ride. While a long journey, it is an excellent way to see the local villages and lush country side of Laos. Buses from Vientiane to Pakse, stop either in Savannakhet or Seno. There are two different types of buses that service the route from/to Vientiane:
Local Bus - The public bus leaves Vientiane and Savannakhet throughout the morning, and make lots of stops to for both passengers and goods. Takes approximately 9 hours, costs 75,000 Kip one way. A genuine experience of Laos.
VIP Bus - much like the local bus, but there are less stops, assigned seats, there is a toilet and all important air conditioning. Less frequent and costs more, but it's worth it. The journey takes approximately 8 hours. There are two types of night buses: one with bunk beds (120,000 kip) and one with seats (110,000 kip). Each bunk bed accommodates two people - it's recommend to buy the space next to you if you are traveling alone or traveling in odd numbered groups as you will be sleeping next to a stranger in a twin-sized bed.
There are direct local buses from and to less traveled domestic destinations, such as Sekong (60,000 kip, 5 hours), Salavan (via Pakse, 60,000 kip, 8 hours), Attapeu (70,000 kip, 10 hours) and Sepon (40,000 kip, 4-5 hours).
For locals, a tuk-tuk to the bus station from the town centre costs 5,000 kip, for foreigners it's more likely to cost between 10,000 and 15,000 kip.
The Savannakhet bus station is located ~2 km north of the old town centre (16.5752 104.7525). ~50b for a tuk tuk rider into the city.
The Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge across the Mekong to Mukdahan, Thailand opened to the public in January 2007. There is a regular bus service between Mukdahan and Savannakhet, with departures approximately twice an hour. A one way trip between Savannaket and Mukdahan costs 50 baht or 14,000 kip. If you have to obtain a tourist visa at the Laos immigration, ask the bus driver to wait as otherwise they won't.
Daily buses make the five hour trip (35,000 kip) from / to the Lao Bao border in Vietnam via Sepon. Local bus 07:30am, 09:00 and 12:00.
VIP buses to Dong Ha in Vietnam go via Lao Bao, and are only available on weekdays at 10:00. The 350 km trip takes around seven hours and costs 90,000 Kip. Local buses leave every day at 10:00 80,000 kip) and take seven hours.
VIP buses to Hue (Vietnam) leave on weekdays only at 9am. The 410 km journey takes eight hours and costs 110,000 kip. Get information and your reservation at Savanbanhao hotel. The local daily bus to Hue (leaving 10:00, 90,000 kip) is not recommended as you need to wait at the border checkpoint from 03:00 until the checkpoints opens at 08:00, which will lead to insufficient night rest due to immigration officials, vendors and beggars trying to get your money. For local buses to Danang (also Vietnam) the same details apply.
The easiest way to get around Savannakhet is by foot or bicycle. Tuk-tuks are also available around the city and are an easy way to get quickly to a specific location. Be cautious about the fee for the tuk-tuk, and always set the price in advance. Because the minor roads of the districts around Savannakhet are often badly paved, a reliable cheap motorbike for rent in Savannakhet town might be hard to find.
The Tourist Information office is located between the Mekong riverside and the 'Plaza', the central square of the French historical town. A must visit for those wishing to see the city/area. The office offers many different local walking tours as well as a wide variety of eco tours. They also have a comprehensive free map of the city (extremely important). The staff is attentive and speaks English well. Lin's café (100m north of the same Plaza) is connected to the Tourist Information and offers the same service.
That Ing Hang Stupa - This 16th century stupa is one of the most revered in the country of Laos. Each year in December, many Buddhists travel to this holy site for the annual 'Boun Pha' ceremony. It is located 13 km north-east of Savannakhet. There are two roads that lead to the stupa: the first one is the busy main road to Seno. Tuk Tuk rides should cost 70,000 kip for a round-trip. Far more recommended is the alternative road through the green rural outskirts, passing the Beung Va lake, which is best experienced by bicycle or motorbike.
Kaysone Phomvihane's House Part of the Historic tour. See the former Laotian leader's residence.
Wat Xayaphoum - a 16th century temple located in the centre of the city along the bank of the Mekong river. Now serving as both temple and high school for novice monks of Savannakhet. Pee Mai Lao (The Lao New Year celebration) and Boun Suang Huea (boat racing festival) following Buddhist Lent are held here.
Dinosaur Museum - 5,000 kip. Exhibits dinosaur fossils or 'big lizard bones' as called in Lao. They were excavated from Xonbouly District. Three kinds of dinosaur bones have been discovered; Pode, Iguanodon and Sauropode. It's likely a staff member will show you around and explain the exhibits to you. If you're lucky he'll even take you out the back and show you a pair of French scientists cleaning (?!) a (more or less) complete skeleton. Strangely, photos aren't allowed of them working. The museum opens daily from 08:00-11:30 and 13:30-16:30.
Old French colonial buildings. Old French Style buildings can be seen in the central city area, especially around the Catholic Church and the central plaza. These building are heritages from the French colonization of Laos in the mid 20th century. You can find a free exhibition about this history on the 2nd floor of Lin's cafe.
UXO SVK is the abbreviation of 'Unexploded Ordnance Savannakhet', an American/Lao organisation. The exhibition found at their office intends to raise awareness among the citizens of Savannakhet, who generally spoken don't care much (not even know) about the severe UXO problems in the Eastern side of their province, which was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war. A lot of UXO accompanied with photographs and information about demining projects can be found here. There is English reading material available as well. Located south-east of town at Makhaveha rd, next to Mama's Home restaurant.
Swimming Pool - As temperatures may get really high in Savannakhet, a swim in the public swimming pool among local children and teenagers is fun, cooling and therefore recommended. On the main road near Nan Hai hotel. Price for foreigners 30,000k in Febr. 2013.
Savannakhet Tennis Club - (on Khantabuli Road) While the tennis clubhouse may look it needs upgrading, the three courts are in good condition. Court fee is 20,000 kip. Bring your own racquets.
Eco-tourism treks advertised in most guesthouses are fantastic. Homestays, forest food, school visits, local guides, etc... Highly recommended. The eco centre has one, two and three days treks. Some of which include visits to the Ho Chi Minh trail and to see the Dinosaur Footprints.
As part of eco-trekking, or just discovered on your own, explore Dong Natad Forest, a 'Provincial Protected Area' which extends to 8,300 hectares and hosts two tribal villages. There is a beautiful lake called 'Nong Lom' in the centre of the forest where you can observe wild birds like teal, butterflies and rare plants. The entrance of the forest is near the That Ing Hang stupa.
Lao Massage one hour for 35,000 kip at Dok Champa Khao on the main street. A clean, discreet and welcome place comfortable for Westerners. Excellent after a trek.
Just relax in some of the cheap cafe's around, maybe rent a bike and explore this little French colonial town. In the evening catch a beer by the river and take some time out from the road.
Urban teenagers depend on foreigners to practice and improve their English skills. Don't hesitate to visit a classroom and have a chat in either the Sangha High School at Wat Xayaphoum (on Mekong riverbank) or the TTC (Teacher Training College), which is five km out of town along the road to Seno.
Visit the Eye Hospital Savannakhet, located next to Wat Ponsavangthai. Meet the English speaking eye doctors, bring your collected spectacle frames or financially support cataract surgery for the people of the countryside. Part of this hospital is a vocational center and home of ten blind people who offer Lao Massage for 25,000 kip (1h30min).
Historic Exhibition, Latsaphanit rd, ☎ +856 20 9988 1630, . 08:30-20:00. Located on the second floor of Lin's Café, this is a private exhibition about the history of the French colonial architecture of the town centre area.Free.
Take a Walking History Tour Lin's Cafe (which is part of the circuit) has a pamphlet that gives you the history of some of Savannakhet's historic buildings. This is easily done in a few hours with a bicycle or on foot and gives you a good idea of the richness and cultural diversity of Savannakhet's architectural history.
Savan Vegas Casino, Nongdeune Village, Kaishonephomvihan District, ☎ 041 252 200, . 24/7. Savan Vegas Hotel & Casino has more than 500 slots, 100 table games and sport betting facilities.
That Phon Festival
Boun Pha That Phonh is a festival taking three days and three nights, held at full moon in February at That Phon, a sacred stupa in Phon Village. There are different exhibitions of traditional goods, sports, dance, songs, etc. Local people offer rice balls to the stupa and local monks.
Heuan Hin Festival
Boun Heuan Hin is a festival held at Heuan Hin ('Stone House') in the middle of March, another important sacred place, dating back to Khmer Empire. This annual festival is organised to respect ancestors. As part of the ceremony Buddhist monks make offerings to the persons that built the Stone House. Visitors enjoy shopping of local products. At night there is a traditional dance called lamvong, where men and women dance together in a big circle.
Lao New Year Festival
Boun Pee Mai Lao. This festival is held all over Laos, from 14-16 April. It celebrates the passing of the old year and welcoming the new. In Savannakhet the biggest festivals are held in the city. There is a Miss Lao New Year contest; the winner parades through the town on the back of an artificial animal. Some families organize baci ceremonies, big arches made of rice plants in order to show their respect to the earth and sky spirits as well as to the land spirits who facilitate rice production. People splash or pour fragrant water with flowers to other people passing by, to wash bad things out from their bodies.
Bounpavet (Elephant Parade) and Boun Bangfai (Rocket Festival) are held in Champhone district (55 km from Savannakhet) at the end of April to early May. There are many activities including traditional dancing, artificial elephant and horse riding and men wearing traditional Lao women clothes and cosmetics. Each village prepares a rocket and a rocket competition is held. The village with the highest rocket launch, wins. This competition is held for showing appreciation to the Payathan, deities who give rain for successful agriculture.
Boat Racing Festival
Boun Suang Heua is annually organized to express people's appreciation to the Mekong River as source of their life. It is held at mid October, at the last full moon of the Buddhist Lent (rains retreat). The ceremonies take place at the Mekong River bank and each temple. Vat Xayaphoum is the main temple. People make Kathin offerings to the temples and temple parades and traditional dances are being organized. Long boats, made out of bamboo and banana trees, are filled with offerings like cakes, foods, flowers and candles. On the first day around 11:00 a boat racing ceremony starts at the river bank. Prior to this race, Lao and Thai river banks welcome each others boats.
Ing Hang Stupa Festival
In December, Boun Pha That Ing Hang is visited by people from all over Laos and Thailand. This festival is organized to show respect to Buddha and the people who built the stupa. People make offerings, Khanmarkbeng, bringing flowers and small towers made of banana leaves. Nuns who are around the stupa are available to give blessings by tying cotton strings around the visitors wrists.
There is an ATM in front of the BCEL Bank on Th. Ratsaphanith that accepts Visa and Mastercard. BCEL charges a fee of 20,000 kip per transaction. Maximum amount per transaction is 1,000,000 kip. Phongsavanh Bank also has an ATM with the same limit and fee (the highest building at the same main road just northern of the old market). Phongsavanh's ATM accepts Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus.
One District One Product (ODOP), This large beautifully decorated shop is a showcase of products from the ODOP-project and includes a wide variety of handicrafts made from bamboo, hardwood, cotton and silver from Thailand and Laos. A good place for souvenirs at reasonable prices. Located at km 6 on the road to Seno.
Savanxay Market. The main market of Savannakhet City, also known as Singapore market as it was started by an investor from Singapore. There is a wide variety of goods on sale, including local products as well as imported Thai and Vietnamese foods, along with a wide selection of souvenirs and a huge gold jewellery section upstairs. Near the bus station, open daily from 06:00 to 17:00.
Dao Heuang Duty Free Shop - (on Sisavangong Road adjacent to the Dao Heuang coffee shop) a duty free shop that offers a variety of products including cigarettes & cigars, chocolates & alcohol. Also, a wide variety of products from Dao Coffee, the largest coffee producer in Laos.
There is a wide selection of small bars and cafes upon the river front at the north end of town. For baguette (with jam, scrambled eggs or pâté) and roti (from 4,000 to 10,000 kip each) street vendors, head to Ratsavongseuk street. The waterfront along the Mekhong river also has many vendors selling local snacks.
Lin's Café, Latsaphanit rd (100 m North of Plaza (old central square)), ☎ +856 20 9988 1630, . 08:30-20:00. Local, Japanese and Western food. Original organic Lao coffee (served hot or iced), fruit shakes, pastas, vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals. Free Wi-Fi, free tourist information, book exchange, handicraft souvenirs. Quiet location, good service, friendly staff, amazing food!8,000-30,000 Kip.
Cafe Chai Dee, Ratsavongseuk rd (near Catholic church), ☎ +856 20 5988 6767, . International & Japanese food, vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals. It's a good choice for vegetarians. Offers 1 to 1 book exchange, travel library, wi-fi and handicrafts. English speaking staff. Open 09:00-21:00. Closed on Mondays. Formerly called Cafe Anakot (http://cafeanakot.blogspot.com/)5,000 - 37,000 Kip.
'Hanarhan J' ('Vegetarian Food restaurant'), Ratsavongseuk rd (between '7 restaurant' and 'Dok Champa Khao massage'). 8am-8pm. This is one the two entirely vegan restaurants in town. Delicious Lao / Vietnamese food. Very busy during certain periods that (even!) Buddhist Lao people observe vegetarianism. No menu, so every day they serve something slightly different including: vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, snacks, soups and fruit/vegetable juices.10-30,000 kip.
Tonenam restaurant, (between Hoongthip Hotel and Old Market). Excellent local and western food for a small price in a comfortable setting surrounded by trees. Good menu design and attentive service.10-45,000 kip.
Vasana restaurant, (opposite of Hoongthip hotel). 09:00-23:00. A bigger restaurant serving local and Western food, open until around midnight.10-60,000 kip.
Sabaidee Restaurant, Ratsavongseuk rd (at Old Market). 07:00-21:00. One of the bigger restaurants in town that serves a good mix of Lao and Western food. Very attentive staff. It's popular with locals for dinner and a few Beer Laos. Can be quite busy and noisy.10-50,000 kip.
Lonely Planet for South-East Asia focuses on the southern tip of town, and unfortunately most of the listed restaurants have closed. However, just north of the concentration of guest houses are various good restaurants. (30-40,000 kip)
Dao Savanh Restaurant
French Restaurant Dao Savanh, (off Khantabuli Road near the court yard in front of the Catholic Church). Serves both lunch and dinner meals for a reasonable price - the 3 course "Menu Dejeuner" for lunch (around 65,000 kip) is scrumptious, and a larger dinner menu costs from 100,000-300,000 kip, although 1kg imported fresh lobster, flambéed in whiskey, costs 1,000,000 kip. The staff are very attentive and all the presentation of the dishes is excellent.
There are many different street café's and restaurants that serve a variety of drinks, especially the ubiquitous Beer Lao.
Many local cafés serve traditional Laos coffee with condensed milk at the bottom and the coffee on top.
For traditional cappuccino, latte or ice coffee, there are two Dao Hueang coffee shops, one in the court yard in front of the Catholic Church, the other on Sisavangong Road just down the road from the bus station.
Many guest houses just outside the town center, not in the list below, rent rooms mainly to young Lao people for short adventures which they won't risk to experience at home, often involving drugs abuse: these guesthouses are not recommended.
Phoulavane Guesthouse, ☎ +856 30 967-1606. New, nice and affordable. It's family-run with friendly and helpful staff. Frequented by many Laos studying in and/or visiting Savannakhet for a few nights.50-70,000 Kip.
Leena's Guesthouse, (on Chao Kim Road), ☎ +856 41 212404. Receives many foreigners. The service is so-so, and it's a little far out from the center & riverside although still within walking. Has 38 clean rooms with one double or two single beds, cable TV, air-con.60,000-90,000kip.
Nongsoda Guesthouse, (on Tha He Road next to Wat Xayaphoum at the Mekong), ☎ +856 41 212522. Eleven clean though dingy air-con rooms with good views of the Mekong, but no TV or restaurant.US$11-15.
Xayamoungkhoun Guesthouse, (on Rasvongseuk Road), ☎ +856 41 212426. Located in a colonial-era building at the main road. Friendly staff, and whilst the rooms are spacious rooms they need upgrading.50-80,000 kip.
Rattanasawan Hotel, Makhaveha Road (In the south of the city, near the airport). checkout: 12.00. A reasonable hotel if a little far from the center. Free wi-fi which works. Rooms are large and clean and the TV has a few English channels. The breakfast is very simple: 2 fried eggs and a baguette.180,000 kip.
Hoongthip Hotel, (near the Savannakhet Tennis Club), ☎ +856 41 251279 / +856 41 213229 / +856 41 212262 (email@example.com, fax: +856 41 213230). Within walking distance of the Thai consulate. The price is inclusive of a modest breakfast. The wi-fi is free for guests, but a fee is charged for the computers in the lobby. It also has a disco with a live band that is frequented by prostitutes.US$25.
Savan Vegas & Casino is to the north of town. The hotel has 482 rooms, accessed by four glass elevators and features a large swimming pool as well as a spa offering massages and treatments. Rooms range from the very affordable to the luxurious complete with jacuzzi tubs & plasma televisions. There are on-site restaurants, bars, gift shop, bank, money transfer, hair salon and coffee shop. Open 24 hours a day and has more than 500 slot machines and 100 table games. It mostly caters to Thai guests, It is also a welcome stop for the occasional backpacker ("occasional" because they will need to have 4800 THB for a room, or good negotiating skills). The staff speak English, Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. 
There is a new hotel at the Mekong, at the Northern part of town. Its name is Dao Savanh Resort & Spa. All rooms offer the comfort of privacy with spacious size and wooden Lao handicraft décor. There are 83 rooms, a swimming pool and a pool bar.
The Provincial Post Office - (on Khantabuli Road). A PO Box can be rented for 100,000 kip a year.
Phone numbers you see in the city, 041, is not related to 042 in Thai side (in Mukdahan), as if you want to dial to Mukdahan, Thailand, it is +66-42-xxxxxx, but if you want to dial to Savannakhet, it is +856-41-xxxxxx.
Savannakhet Regional Hospital - (on Khantabuli Road down from the post office) A public hospital which offers the highest level of care in the Savannakhet province.
Phongsavanh bank- (on Latsavongseuk Road) Two ATMs located outside of bank. It accepts most foreign ATM cards. To exchange foreign currency, go inside the bank and bring a piece of identification.
Lao Development Bank - (on Oudomsin Road) offers many of the same services as the other bank.
As a pedestrian, watch where you walk during your visit in Savannakhet. There are many holes in the pavement which could lead to falling into the sewer system. Also be careful at night by staying on main roads that aren't well lit. Don't wander down dark alleys and beware of dogs. For some unknown reason Savannakhet has some very surly canines and they have no qualms about attacking (or at least behaving aggressively) whether it's day or night. Keep your wits about you, especially after it gets dark, and use good sense by taking alternate streets should you see any dogs ahead of you.
Watch the traffic as well. The traffic situation has rapidly changed during the past two decades, from slow dusty streets to straight concrete roads with speeding teenagers on motorbikes, overtaking both left and right, not wearing helmets and not aware of any traffic rules. Speeding is easy as the roads are straight, there are not too many policemen, and there is a total lack of speed bumps and roundabouts. Riding a motorbike can be dangerous. Keep right as much as possible, as you won't be overtaken from the right side, which often causes accidents. Beware of those driving at the wrong side of the road, waiting for an opportunity to cross to the right lane. Finally beware of traffic participants not showing any light or direction.
Don't take pictures of the military base at Seno town (35 km north-east of Savannakhet). There are no warning signs telling that taking a picture is prohibited. To be sure whether an area is safe, ask the local people. Not rarely, travelers find themselves in an awkward situation, losing their passport, getting it back after a long and non-transparent process in which police, army, embassy and other parties might be involved.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!