Days 24 & 25 - Savannakhet, Central Laos

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February 11th 2018
Published: February 11th 2018
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Saturday afternoon, we leave Pakse feeling we have made the most of our time here. Taking a photo of our airport transfer vehicle, a beautifully painted Tuk-Tuk, not that flash truck pictured next to it! A quirky 20minutes run, which we shared with a French couple whose destination was Vientiane, same plane, different destination. Very small airport, all formalities completed within minutes and we're up and landed in Savannakhet in 35 minutes, both agreeing that it is our shortest ever flight. On arrival, the weather is sunny and very warm.

Not having booked onward travel to downtown Savannakhet, we take up an offer from a little old toothless guy, holding the hand of a young boy, no older than 5yrs, the most unlikely-looking taxi touts, but touts they were indeed. Asking for a cheeky 70,000 kip for what we know is a 5 minute transfer, we decline his offer and walk away. Miraculously, the price changes to 50,000 kip (£4), so as there didn't appear to be too many options, we agreed. And to justify his outrageous fee he took us around the town first at 5 mph so that even the cyclists were overtaking us, taking an age to drop us at our accommodation. Oh well, we arrived eventually, and Paula notes it was longer than the actual plane journey.

Our accommodation for the next 2 nights is in a restored colonial building in the center of the old quarter, near St Teresa's Catholic Church, and the not quite open, new night Market. The whole place is quirky and retro, with an original Wurlitzer Juke Box in the entrance area of the cafe on the ground floor, with rooms upstairs. Leo says the machine is worth more than the rest of the fixtures and fittings put together.

We instantly love it, the background music is a melodic 1950s mellow, almost subdued jazz and blues. All good so far, but because we changed our booking to add an extra night, we are not allocated our De Luxe Queen Room, but a nevertheless clean, downsized version, that'll teach us!

First stop is to visit a laundry in the next street, to recycle almost 4kgs of clothing. Then we hit town, first getting our bearings, enjoying the colonial, but mostly crumbling, architecture and sleepy streets and upon finding a French-inspired restaurant/bar, realizing we are hungry, we order croque-monsieurs with fries and spend an easy hour chatting with two Geordie Boys who are traveling North to South Laos who pass on some useful travel tips.

Bizarrely, we realise these are the very same two guys we were told about by the English couple we shared the trip to Wat Phu with, a couple of days ago, who apparently were in Luang Prabang a week back, in bracingly cold temperatures, having arrived with only T shirts and no cold weather clothing. It's a small world, in glampacker kingdom!

Ambling back to Savan Cafe, we decide to visit our roof terrace, which we share with all-comers, a group of young Thais, then local Laotians join us and start strumming a guitar with their girl companions singing, very atmospheric. Before long, a foursome of Australian Ladies arrive, very companionable, and as the Sun starts to set we notice a strange cloud formation above us, then realise it is in fact another huge swarm of bats flying our way, leaving their caves to feast on the evening insect life by the Mekong. It's a spectacular sight but unfortunately forces all of the insects to descend near us, and after a furious swatting session, we decide to retreat to street level and explore some more.

We are very close to the ferry terminal here, which links Laos with Thailand, nearest Thai town is Mukhdahan, either by ferry or via the Friendship Bridge a kilometer or two from here. We suspect the majority of people we see are Thais, weekending, enjoying the relatively cheap food and drink. Western Tourists are conspicuous by their absence, and this is great.

Feeling weary after our exploration, we venture no further than the live music bar at the end of our street this evening.

We have the mighty Mekong river on our right and a live music band on our left. We are still the only westerners around, but feel at ease and are made very welcome by our fellow revelers, who want to clink glasses and shake hands. We enjoy a very talented Guitar duo who do many western songs and tunes and in the background watch premiership football on a large screen (Spurs v Arsenal), which the locals are more interested in, and animated about than we are. Early night and comfy beds await.

Sunday morning Leo awakes with a slight hangover so we breakfast leisurely on french style baguettes, croissants and coffee so strong you didn't need the cups, it would stand alone! We make a plan. Why not visit the Dinosaur Museum? Why not indeed!

Following a map, we negotiate a route along the riverfront, pay our £1pp entrance fee and amuse ourselves for over half an hour, but seriously, there were a vast amount of bones found in this province, amazingly so, supported by photos and well presented specimens. Giving cycle hire a miss, we decide instead to walk around town, taking in lazy Savannakhet. Very enjoyable, but it really is a sleepy old place, and nothing more than a respite before we move onwards and Northwards to the Capital, Vientiane, tomorrow.

We do note walking about this colonial town, how vulnerable Laos is to its larger neighbours. There are many statues/monuments and bridges so called 'friendship' paying homage to both the Thais and the Vietnamese. We have a monument to Uncle Ho right next door to our hotel, resplendent on a sandstone plinth, overlooking the Mekong, looking across to....... Thailand, which we find bizarre.

Whilst writing this blog the Geordie boys see us and invite us to the same bar as last night to watch Newcastle play, Leo fears a repeat hangover. Could get messy! Can't decide where to have dinner this vending, but there isn't much choice, so not a difficult decision. Let's hope there's no travelers tummy in the morning.

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