The BEST things to do in Savannakhet, Laos: 6 activities you can’t miss

Savannakhet Laos is right on the Mekong River, across from Thailand.

Savannakhet, Laos is one of the most relaxed cities on the planet. You can just feel the pace of life slow from the moment you step off the bus. The stress of travel instantaneously melts away. And it may not be Bangkok or Hanoi, but there are plenty of things to do in Savannakhet to occupy a day of your trip. It’s a great place to get a window into everyday Lao life.

The city is located on the banks of the Mekong. Thailand is right across on the other side. But aside from the handful of folks who trickle across the border for visa runs, you may be the only tourist in town when you visit. This is off-the-beaten-path Southeast Asia at its best.

In this post, I’ll cover the best activities in Savannakhet in one day. I hope I can convince you to visit this under-the-radar little city!

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Is Savannakhet worth visiting?

The vast majority of people who visit Savannakhet are here for one of two reasons. Either they’re on a longer trip through Laos and they want to break up a long bus journey. Or they’re doing a visa run from Thailand.

But the city has a ton to offer for travelers looking for an off-the-beaten path experience. After all, Savannakhet is the second-largest city in Laos. The town sprawls out for four kilometers north to south, and about 2.5 km east to west. Compared to most places in Laos, it’s huge.

The architecture and the food heavily evoke the Indochinese days, when it was a much more prominent city — “Savannakhet” means “Golden Place.” You can still see the old colonial shop houses, many of which are well-preserved. The city just oozes charm and authenticity.

You have a good chance of being the only falung around at any tourist destination in Savannakhet. The museum curators, kids on field trips, and every local shopkeeper will be excited to meet you.

The best things to do in Savannakhet

1. Visit the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum

At the Dinosaur Museum you may even get a private tour!
If you like dinosaurs, don’t miss the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum. You might even get a private tour!

The Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum may be the world’s most charming place to encounter dinosaurs — or the worst dinosaur museum in the world, depending on your perspective. If you’re wondering what to do in Savannakhet, this is the best place to start.

In the early 20th century, Savannakhet Province was a major archaeological region. A series of digs led to the discovery of fossils over 100 million years old at more than 10 different sites. Some of these fossils are on display at the one-room museum in Savannakhet.

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Displays are in French and Lao only. But the enthusiastic curator/paleontologist who runs the museum will likely give you a personal tour in (admittedly very broken) English. He’ll even let you take some of the bigger bones out of the drawers they’re stored in and hold them.

That’s right — for just 10,000 kip admission, you could hold in your hand a real-life dinosaur jaw, shoulder blade, or femur. Worth every penny.

2. Cycle along the Mekong and through the old city

One of the best Savannakhet things to do is rent a bicycle and pedal along the river.
Cycling around Savannakhet Laos is a cheap way to see the city.

Renting a bicycle is truly the best way to see Savannakhet. The roads are in good shape and the entire city is flat. You won’t encounter much traffic. But you’ll get to explore further-out neighborhoods where old men play petang (bocce ball) in the streets, monks wander aimlessly around, and kids run out of their houses to shout “sabaidee” as you pass.

Most of the city runs north-south along the Mekong River. The riverside road is a great place to ride, or head further inland. Stay between the river and Route 9 to avoid the busier highways.

Before you set off, stop into the Tourist Information Center’s offices near the ferry terminal. They have brochures so you can map out your own cycling tour of the most interesting buildings, local food specialties, and more. The staff is extremely friendly.

Bike rental costs about 20,000 kip per day. You can rent from most guesthouses, or simply head to the riverside to find a shop advertising bikes for rent.

3. Check out Wat Sainyaphum and St. Teresa’s Catholic Church

Savannakhet has the usual array of temples and other religious buildings that you’ll find throughout Southeast Asia. But here, you won’t have to share them with 1,000 other tourists. In fact, you’ll likely be the only falung around when you poke your nose into Wat Sainyaphum.

The city’s biggest temple has a peaceful atmosphere, with a few buildings spread out across a large courtyard. It’s completely free to enter and you can wander around as you please. You should dress at least moderately conservatively — cover your shoulders and knees.

If you’re lucky, the resident monks with ask to practice English with you. This is one of the best things to do in Savannakhet and is a great way to learn more about the city and daily Lao life.

Additionally, Savannakhet’s French Colonial legacy means there’s a small Catholic population in town as well. The main church is St. Theresa. You can’t miss it from the town center.

4. Learn about UXO at the Savannakhet Museum

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the U.S. ran one of the largest bombing campaigns in history in Laos. The so-called “Secret War” was part of the Vietnam War strategy. While it got far less international attention, it destroyed countless homes and lives and left a legacy of unexploded ordinance — or UXO — that continues to threaten children and rural communities to this day.

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UXO are bombs or bombing components that never fully detonated when they were originally dropped. But they often do detonate when they’re disturbed — often by a curious child picking up an unidentified object, or by a farmer who accidentally digs it up while tilling his land.

Savannakhet Province in particular contains a high concentration of UXO. You can learn about these objects and the role they played in the “Secret War” at the Savannakhet Museum. The museum is tiny, but paints a tragic picture of a conflict that gets far too little international scrutiny.

Admission to the Savannakhet Museum is just 5,000 COP. Many of the displays are in English.

5. Watch the sunset over the Mekong River

Sunsets over the Mekong River are a highlight of Laos travel.
One of the best things to do in Savannakhet is seeing the sun set over the river.

The Mekong River is the center of Savannakhet life. It separates Laos from Thailand, just on the other side of the Friendship Bridge.

Mekong sunsets are a highlight of traveling through South East Asia in general, and Savannakhet has some great ones. Grab a somtam (papaya salad) and Beer Lao from one of the street vendors along the river and join local families for the evening. You may even be invited to join karaoke at one of the barge restaurants on the river!

The biggest cluster of street stalls is right beside the ferry terminal, opposite the Friendship Bridge.

Activities in Savannakhat for foodies

Not sure what to do in Savannakhet in the evenings? Check out the night markets.
Because so many people travel from Thailand to Laos just for a visa run, many of the street stalls combine Lao classics with Thai dishes.

Not only does Savannakhet have lots of fun activities to occupy yourself for a day, it also has some great food options. Choose from authentic Lao meals or classy French-influenced cafes. It’s all affordable, and since most restaurants cater exclusively to locals, the quality is higher than you’ll find at touristic cafes throughout the region.

The biggest Savannakhet night market in town the Savannakhet Plaza Food Market. It gets going just after dusk and runs until around 10 pm. You’ll also find evening food stalls scattered around the town center. Most street food vendors offer the usual Lao dishes plus some Thai classics, considering their proximity to Thailand.

If you’re looking for fantastic coffee or a more falung-friendly (i.e. chili-pepper-free) meal, check out Lin’s Cafe. It’s relocated to a lovely old house near the river, but the cappuccinos are still outstanding. Macchiato da Coffee is the spot for third-wave coffee, but it’s a bit out of the way and ridiculously expensive.

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Where to stay in Savannakhet

Savannakhet’s hotel prices are lower than most other places in Laos. Guesthouses cater more to business travelers than backpackers, so value for money is excellent.

The best budget beds in town are at Leena Guesthouse. It’s centrally located and the owners are very friendly. You can get a fan room starting at around $6 USD, but the splurge for a $15 air-con room is well worth it. All rooms have hot water, big comfortable beds and private bathrooms.

The owners speak enough English to provide basic travel info. They also have a book exchange, free WiFi, and a lovely outdoor common area.

How to get to Savannakhet

If you want to travel from Savannakhet to Vientiane, you can fly to the tiny airport or take a bus.
Savannakhet does have a tiny airport, but flights are pricey. You’re better off taking the bus.

Savannakhet is a major stop on north-south bus routes through Laos. It’s the most logical connection point between Vientianne and Pakse (the gateway for the Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop).

The city does have a tiny airport, but it only serves Lao destinations and Bangkok. The time saved doesn’t really justify the cost of flights.

Heading north, Tha Kaek is the closest destination. Buses and various forms of smaller vehicles cost 30,000 kip and take 3-4 hours. They leave throughout the day. Tha Kaek is the springboard for “The Loop” motorbike route, which takes in Kong Lo.

To Vientiane, you’ll either have to leave in the morning for the 11-hour journey (75,000 kip) or take the overnight VIP bus (120,000 kip) at 10:30 pm. You may also be able to book a seat on a bus originating further south if you book a day in advance. You’ll have to change buses in Vientiane if you’re heading further north.

Southbound buses mainly go to Pakse. They cost 40,000 kip and take about five hours. Leave in the morning for a direct bus.

If you’re on a visa run from Thailand, you can catch the hourly Thai-Lao International Bus to the Friendship Bridge. You can get a Lao visa on arrival at the border (pay in USD to avoid being overcharged). On the Thai side, regular buses and very cheap domestic flights continue on to Bangkok.

Given how convenient Savannakhet travel is, with transit links to just about everywhere else in Laos, it’s well worth a stop. It may not be the most exciting destination in the country, but it’s an exceedingly pleasant and authentic little city. You can cover most Savannakhet attractions in just one day. So why not break up a long bus journey and spend a night or two?

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Savannakhet is one of the best places to visit in Laos. Discover the top things to do in Savannakhet, where to eat, where to stay, and more. This is true off the beaten path South East Asia travel! #travel #laos

 

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[…] Alternatively, do the trip in stages — Vientiane to Kong Lo Cave, then on to Tha Khaek, Savannakhet, and finally to […]

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[…] is full of French colonial architecture with a unique Lao blend. It’s better preserved than Savannakhet and more elaborate than anywhere else in […]

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[…] can pick up a bus in the morning to just about any destination in southern Laos. If you have time, Savannakhet makes a great next stop. It’s only a three-hour bus trip […]

Love Laos
1 year ago

Great to see Savannakhet getting some love, its definitely underrated. The town is developing and the nightmarket and funky bars around the old square offer more to do in the evening now. Definitely worth a visit.

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