Savannakhet, or Savan as it’s mostly called, is a sleepy, provincial capital city without any famous attractions. Yet it’s the third largest city in Laos. It’s bizarre, because it seems so quiet. Arriving by bus, I see some big companies, like the Nikon Laos headquarters. I guess the location is strategic, not far from the Thai border and relatively close to Vietnam. Savannakhet used to be colonised by the French and you can see it in many of the buildings. Some have been restored, but many are various states of decay. It’s a strange mix with the old houses on stilts, modern houses and the Lao lifestyle. People here enjoy sitting in front of their houses in the late afternoon, seemingly uninterested in what’s going on. They might look if you pass, and some might should a friendly ‘Sabai dee’. The streets are full of big white cars and colourful tuktuks. Sidewalks are often broken or overgrown with grasses and weeds and there are many cats and dogs about.
Mostly Savannakhet is a place where you just wander through the streets, looking at Lao life. I started my day with a baguette with paté from the main street and then walked tow the Mekong river. There’s a big road parallel to the river, with an old, broken pavement on the riverside. There are a few stalls with plastic chairs where people can enjoy a drink. A small cream colored building is the ferry terminal to Thailand, which lies across the water. A boat has just arrived and tuktuks are being loaded with goods bought in Thailand.
As I walk further it gets quieter. Two novices come out of the monastery with a wheelbarrow full of rubble. They dump it on the side of the river. Some boats come by. A bit further a water buffalo is munching on the grass in what looks like a small vegetable patch. A café still has a big Christmas tree on its terrace. Then the road curves to the left. The big park is fenced off. They are renovating it together with the sports field across the road. I keep walking through a street with some plastic chair restaurants and big houses behind fences. An old man approaches me: “Where are you going?” I tell him I’m just walking and looking around. He shakes his head, laughs and puts his hands up in the air. He must be thinking ‘crazy falang’.
On the corner of a street children yell at me from a school. “Hello! Hello!” Then I pass a huge market. Stalls are standing very close together. It is all covered and hides the vendors in darkness. You can get anything here, from baskets to chunks of meat. Motorbikes and tuktuks are parked in between and all around the market. On the opposite side of the street are some modern phone shops with huge glass windows and fancy displays. Via the bus station I walk back to the historical district. The dinosaur museum is closed for lunch. I just walk around through s street filled with laundry shops and past the old church. On the corner of the night market square I have lunch at Lin’s café. Then I relax until it gets a bit cooler and I walk along the Mekong again, to see the sun set over Thailand. In the evening I avoid the streets. After being bitten by a dog, I’m avoiding running into more aggressive dogs. But that’s a whole different story!