Just across the border from Thailand, Savannakhet is the country's second-largest city, located 291 mi/470 km southeast of Vientiane. Savannakhet is the most widely visited province in southern Laos, but with the opening of a Friendship Bridge from Mukdahan, Thailand, the town is witnessing a massive increase in travel and trade. Savannakhet is also the country's most highly populated province and an important trade junction between Thailand and Vietnam.
The town is often affectionately referred to simply as Savan. Savannakhet has many beautiful old French colonial and Franco-Chinese buildings in the center of town, but many are in desperate need of repair. The town was originally settled in 1642 by the Laotian prince Thao Keosimphali. He brought families in from Ban Phonsim, 11 mi/18 km east of Savannakhet, to settle on the banks of the Mekong River and named the town Ban Thahae. Some of the settlers crossed the river and established Ban Huay Muk, known today as Mukdahan. Today, Savannakhet is home to 12 different ethnic groups including Laotian, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese.
Attractions in the town include the Dinosaur Museum in Savannakhet. This great little place charts the region's fascinating prehistory. Along with dinosaur bones and smaller fossils, the museum also houses maps showing where bones and relics have been dug up. The last excavation, led by a French team, took place between 1999 and 2000.
Savannakhet is home to many interesting old temples scattered throughout the town and in the surrounding area. That Inghang is 9 mi/15 km north of the town and is thought to have been built in the mid-16th century. The 30-ft/9-m chedi is the holiest religious site in southern Laos. A hollow chamber in the lower section contains a collection of Buddha images. Women are not permitted to enter the chamber. On the full moon of the third lunar month, the That Ing Hang Festival is held, featuring processions and celebrations.
East of Savannakhet town, running along the border with Vietnam, is the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. The network of paths was used between 1966 and 1971. The trail was heavily bombed by the Americans to try and prevent more than 600,000 North Vietnamese Army troops and their equipment from passing along the route. One of the nearest towns to the Ho Chi Minh Trail is Sepon.
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