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Savannakhet

The journey down from Vang Vieng did not quite go to plan, with a misunderstanding with the booking, and a transfer from Vang Vieng to Vientiane in a bus that was about to fall apart. Added to that we ended up in a local bus instead of the luxurious sleeper-bus we paid for. At least we had proper seats assigned and not a plastic stool or a bag of rice for seat in the isle as some have to settle with. We're starting to get used to arriving silly early, but we're confused to why they schedule the busses to arrive in the middle of the night in a country where there is a curfew between 23:30 and 06:00. When we booked our tickets we were told we were to arrive at 06:00 in the morning, which would be OK as it's about the time businesses and guest houses start to open up. Completely shattered we decide to get a tuc-tuc into the town centre. We're in luck - as we pass one of the guest houses mentioned in our guide we find the owner stretching out after a run. He let us into the guest house and wakes the staff for us. The poor girl is half asleep as she checks us in. The guest house is clearly under refurbishment and it looks like it'll be a great little place when it's finished. Our room is not quite finished refurbished yet, so it's basic and a little bit rough around the edges. All seems very clean though and the bed is very comfy. We settle in and get a few hours kip.

In the morning after our little rest we go out to find a place to get our laundry done and most importantly to get some breakfast. In the old town we're instantly charmed by the old French colonial architecture. A lot of the buildings are in disrepair and are crumbling away, but unlike in India we don't mind it - these are not tourist attractions you pay extortionate rates to visit, where you know the money is probably not going back to the restoration but rather swindled away by some fat cats in the administration. Many buildings have been beautifully restored though, and many are under restoration so it looks like they have started to take better care of the town. We head down to the Mekong riverside to look for some of the food vendors mentioned in the guide - for once a good suggestion by the Lonely Planet. We go for the first one we see as we can't resist the sight and smell of the barbeque chicken on the grill. We order some chicken, sticky rice and some green papaya salad. It's a very tasty small feast, and we have the lovely view of the Mekong River with Thailand on the other side of the water.

[caption id="attachment_1551" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1552" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1553" align="aligncenter" width="401"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1554" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1555" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Breakfast by the Mekong River, Savannakhet. Breakfast by the Mekong River, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1556" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption]

We've read about Eco Guide Unit and head over to their office to get more information on their tours. We're initially interested in a cycle tour around Savannakhet. We're a little bit undecided and need a little bit more time to mull it over, so armed with a tourist map showing some of the sites in the town by foot we go out to explore some Chinese temples, a couple of Wats, more of the old French colonial architecture, and the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures). At the museum one of the staff starts taking us around the exhibits on an impromptu guided tour. He explains in broken English- and with a bit of French mixed in- about the various bones on display and about where they were discovered and how. He also lets us hold a 3 million old piece of bone, something you'd never get to do in a museum back home - especially without wearing gloves. He took the bone out of a drawer where it said "Do Not Open!" so don't think we were supposed to be able to handle the piece of bone anyway, but who are we to argue with the museum staff? We're very surprised of how heavy this little piece of bone is - it is obviously a very dense bone-structure. As we exit the museum we get to see the archaeologists at work in the workshop separating dinosaur bones from the rock and compact soil that it's been fused with over millions of years. With the use of small pneumatic drills (similar to dentist-equipment) and various small tools and brushes it's a tedious, noisy and very dusty job.

[caption id="attachment_1557" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1558" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1559" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1560" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1561" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1562" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1563" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1564" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1565" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1566" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1567" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet. Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1568" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet. Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1569" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet. Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet.[/caption]

A nice surprise awaits us when we visit Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He). A group of novice monks approach us and asks if we have a moment of time for a chat so they can improve their English skills. They bombard us with all sorts of questions about where we’re from, and even why we westerners are so fat, but they mean that in a good way apparently - it signifies wealth. We try to convince them it’s unhealthy to be too overweight and it’s due to a poor and damaging diet, but they don’t seem to quite understand and say “beautiful” and point at my belly... we have to laugh. It’s quite good for us as well to get a little more insight into their lives as novice monks. Hopefully we've helped them a little bit by having a chat.

[caption id="attachment_1570" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet. Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1571" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet. Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet.[/caption]

As the day draws towards an end and the closing-time of the Eco Guide Unit office is nearing we decide over a coffee in Cafe Anakot to go on and book the 36 kilometre cycling sightseeing tour.

[caption id="attachment_1574" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cafe Anakot, Savannakhet. Cafe Anakot, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1572" align="aligncenter" width="533"]St. Teresa Church, Savannakhet. St. Teresa Church, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1573" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1575" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1576" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1577" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1578" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption]

Our cycle trip starts early in the morning next day, which is good as it's still relatively cool. The guide informs us it's quite rare that he takes people sightseeing by bike, most prefer their walking/hiking tours. Not many people cycle here because of the heat and it's not the done thing - it's a sign of lower status if you're cycling or walking about - apparently it indicates you can't afford motorised transport like a motorbike, or even better a car. People do give us a strange look as we're peddling about - they're probably perplexed as they expect all tourists to be rich, but then we're cycling around like poor people... The start of the journey is a 8 kilometre schlep alongside the main road into town so not the most exciting start, but then we head off on a small side-road before heading into a protected forest area on sandy paths around a nice little lake. Along the road our guide informs us about some of the way the tribes here use the plants and trees for various purposes, be it food, medicine or other purposes. By an old house where the administration of the area used to be housed we sit down for a bit of lunch and a rest - some grilled chicken and sticky rice does wonders. After a rest we head on towards a local tribe’s village, but on exiting the shaded paths of the forest we get hit by the scorching sun that almost knock us out instantly. None the less we have no choice but to cycle on to the village, and here we get a glance of the production of torches made with the oil from one of the species of trees from the forest. After this we're off again to visit a Wat and stupa which is very significant to the people in the Savannakhet area. We have a walk around. After, we purchase some sweet sticky rice from a stall outside of the Wat and head back towards Savannakhet with a stop at another lake very popular amongst the younger crowd. We find ourselves a little stilted bamboo hut on the edge of the lake and have some drinks and dig into our lovely sticky rice purchased earlier. From here we head back into town and our tour is over. Our guide offers us to have a little rest in the office when we get back but we have to decline his kind offer as we have to collect our washing before the Laundrette closes for the day.

[caption id="attachment_1579" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our bicycles parked up in the woods by Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet. Our bicycles parked up in the woods by Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1580" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1581" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1582" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1583" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1584" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1585" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1586" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1587" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1588" align="aligncenter" width="423"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1589" align="aligncenter" width="545"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1590" align="aligncenter" width="545"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1591" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1592" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1593" align="aligncenter" width="545"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1594" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1595" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption]

Early the next morning we head for the bus station to make our way towards the 4000 Islands and Don Det. We jump on a local bus to Pakse where we'll have to change for another bus towards our final destination.