On the road again: Vientiane to Savannakhet

After the lovely reunion with Roman and introduction to Laos in Vientiane, it was time for us to start exploring the country’s southern half. Roman had already spent time checking out many of Laos’ northern highlights while I was visiting my family in the States – keep an eye on his blog (in German, he’s still on Thailand but Lao updates will follow) to learn more about that part of the country.

Our first stop was the city of Savannakhet, whose Lonely Planet description includes adjectives such as “crumbling”, “languid”, “forlorn”. Roman’s good friend and travel aficionado, Pirmin, who has seen a great deal of Asia, mentioned something along the lines of “there’s so little going on that even the flies don’t move in Savannakeht.” 😉

We got there by way of a dusty, nine hour bus ride. Roman had already seen a lot of the Laotian country side, so I enjoyed taking in the view from the window seat, watching countless acres of farmlands and wilderness roll past. It was amazing how much space there was between villages, and how dark it got out there once the sun set!

We met a nice guy from Liverpool called Antony on the bus; he’d been depending on the bus driver to let him out at a stop about halfway between Vientiane and Savannakeht – this totally didn’t happen, but happily for us he ended up becoming a lovely impromptu travel/dining partner for a couple of days.

There we further unexpected surprises with the bus ride besides them failing to alert Antony of his stop. When we arrived at what seemed to be the Savannakeht stop, we and the rest of the passengers ended up getting loaded into a small truck – evidently some sort of transfer to the city proper. They kept squeezing in people and goods until the thing was full to bursting – Roman and a couple other folks had to stand on the back edge, hanging on to the truck’s frame. When it was packed to the driver’s satisfaction, we took off on a longer than expected drive through pitch black roads till we reached the city proper (we knew we were there thanks to the appearance of street lamps, complete with frangipani and dinosaur-shaped christmas light decorations. 🙂 ). At the bus station, we haggled most unsuccessfully with the only tuk tuk driver there (he really had an unfair advantage! ;-)), and got dropped off at the first hotel we could find in Lonely Planet.

Maybe arriving after dark was a factor, but Sayamungkhun, described as having “spacious, spotlessly clean rooms” with “an inviting atmosphere”, was quite possibly one of the most grim and depressing looking hotels I’ve seen in quite some time. We left to check out some other options, helped out by a very sweet, very enthusiastic man we met who cycled around ahead of us to see if the places he was recommending were open and had room for us.

We ended up settling in at Phonevilay Hotel (more on that later) and the next day started to get to know the city. Crumbling it certainly was, it was definitely sleepy compared to Vientiane and the mid-day sun was so brutally hot I can understand why the flies wouldn’t want to move. But the place was not without its charms and points of poignant beauty, and we managed to really enjoy our time there. More details to come in the next post, but here are some initial photo impressions of the place.

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Street-side shrine

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Fading paint

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Dumpling vendor on a smoke break

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Statue in front of a sacred tree

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Honda repair shop

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Cigarettes for sale

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“Sorry for inconvenience”

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