Savannakhet’s Heritage Sites
Start with a town heritage tour that takes in French colonial structures, including Chaleun Theatre’s Art Deco façade, Saint Theresa Catholic Church, the Deer House, and the residence of the first Lao Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane. Near That Ing Hang, you’ll find the ruins of the ancient Phonsim settlement and the town wall atop a hill. Step into Seno, a French garrison with an old airstrip. In Tad Hay Village, check out the bombed out remains of Prince Souphanouvong Bridge.
Savannakhet Downtown Circuit
Savannakhet Town presents several examples of vernacular Lao architecture and French colonial-era Art Deco buildings. Most structures date from the early 20th century.
Kaysone Phomvihane’s House: Walk to the home of Lao PDR’s first Prime Minister and then President, Kaysone Phomvihane, until his death in 1992. Born and raised in Savannakhet, Kaysone met Ho Chi Minh while studying in Hanoi. He went on to become one of the co-founders of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and a leader of the Pathet Lao armed forces.
Location: Kouvolavong Road
Savannakhet Provincial Museum: Check out the Savannakhet Provincial Museum’s collection of natural, ethnological, historical, and revolutionary artefacts. Originally established in 1979 within the former French Provincial Governor's house, the museum was moved in 2010 to a renovated colonial administrative building on the south side of town.
Location: The Museum is located between Khantabouli and Tha Hae Roads in the town’s south side. It is open Monday-Friday from 08:00-11:30 and 13.30-16:00.
Dinosaur Museum: Be sure to investigate the displays of this house-like museum. The Dinosaur Museum, opened in 2000, houses pieces of Savannakhet’s pre-history including dinosaur bones, fossils and meteorite fragments. The collection was started in 1936 when French geologist Josué Heilman Hoffet discovered fossilized dinosaur bones near Tangvai Village about 120 km east of Savannakhet Town.
Before his untimely death during World War II, Hoffet collected more herbivore dinosaur bones along with evidence of freshwater molluscs, crocodiles, and tortoises. No further research was conducted until 1990, when a joint Lao-French team rediscovered Hoffet’s site and also uncovered substantial new dinosaur remains in the Tangvai area.
Location: The Dinosaur Museum is located on north Khantabouli Road, and is open daily from 09:00-16:00.
Other heritage attractions on the Savannakhet Downtown Circuit:
• Talat Yen Plaza and its surrounding French colonial structures
• Lao Chaleun Theatre’s Art Deco façade
• The Provincial Hospital and several buildings built in 1925
• Soumpholphakdy House, the Art Deco residence of a French officer
• Sala Savanh Guest House, the former Thai Consulate built in 1926
• Saint Theresa Catholic Church at Talat Yen, built in the 1920s
• The Deer House, an excellent example of a French colonial house
• Sounantha School, once used as a military post
Savannakhet Outskirts Circuit
That Ing Hang: Step into the past at Savannakhet’s most sacred site, That Ing Hang, which dates to 225 BC. According to legend, Indian King Asoka allegedly created a monument to sanctify the place where Buddha is believed to have delivered a sermon before resting under a Hang tree, thus the stupa’s name. It is also thought that the Phathat (funeral reliquary) houses parts of Buddha’s spine.
Research shows that a Mon Empire king erected a stupa here as early as 1,500 years ago. This smaller monument and area surrounding it was augmented by King Saysethatirath in the 16th century. In 1930, a 9-metre-tall, 3-tiered carved stucco stupa was constructed in Lane Xang style with the upper level symbolizing a lotus.
Location: Travel east on Route 9 and turn right at the police box about 8 km past the “Dinosaur” junction. The sign marking the entrance to That Ing Hang is some 5 km on the right, just past the entrance to Nong Lom Lake. That Ing Hang is open daily. Ladies are required to wear traditional Lao skirts that are available on site.
Ban Phonsim: Explore Savannakhet’s original settlement on a short trail to the top of a hill surrounded by bamboo forest just east of That Ing Hang. Ban Phonsim was founded in the 1530s by a group led by the married couple, Luang and Sim. You can see the ruins of the original settlement, including the foundation of a pagoda and the town wall. The couple’s son established a village on the Mekong River that later became known as Tha Hae (Mineral Port) during the reign of King Saysethatirath. In the mid-18th century, Tha Hae expanded across the Mekong to Mukdahan, but Siam soon invaded and drove back the Lao advance. The French took control of the Tha Hae area in 1893 and raised its status to a province with the new name Savannakhet beginning in 1907.
Location: A short trail from That Ing Hang leads to the Ban Phonsim ruins. Tour operators offer an overnight homestay at Ban Phonsim on 2-day treks.
Mekong River South Circuit
The Heuan Hin Stone House: Heuan Hin is believed to be one of 121 stone rest houses constructed by Jayavarman VII (1181-1218) along the roads that connected all corners of the Khmer empire. The Mekong riverside structure is in ruins but well worth a visit.
Location: Take Route 9B to Route 13 south past the Ban Lak 35 bus station for about 5 km before turning right on the road to Vat Sisaket and Palm Garden. Turn right at the intersection and travel some 7 km to Xaiphoutong restaurant, and then turn left and follow the river road for about 15 km.
Hotay Pidok Library: Investigate the country’s most important repository of palm leaf books written in ancient Lao, Burmese Pali, and Khmer. Hotay Pitak was originally constructed in the late 18th century as part of the Nonglamchanh Temple. The library houses some 4,000 books containing 361 different stories, which are kept in good condition by monks and locals. A Thai-funded project recently restored the structure as a classic example of Lao religious architecture.
Location: Take Route 9B to Route 13, and head south to the Ban Lak 35 bus station. Turn left, travel about 25 km to Ban Taleo Gnai, where the main road ends. Turn left and go about 18km to reach Ban Lamchan and the library. Those visiting the Monkey Forest can walk a 3-km trail to the library.
Ho Chi Minh Circuit
Seno Town: Seno was selected by the area’s French occupiers as a garrison town due to its strategic location. The remains of the former airstrip and barracks are still visible. The name “Seno” is the French abbreviation for the four compass points: sud (south), est (east), nord (north) and ouest (west).
Location: Seno is located at the intersection of Route 9 and Route 13.
Prince Souphanouvong Bridge in Tad Hay Village: Prince Souphanouvong, one of the founders of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and the first president of the Lao PDR (1975-1986), designed and supervised the construction of this bridge crossing the Xe Bang Hieng River in 1942. The bridge was destroyed by U.S. air raids in 1968, but remnants of the structure are still scattered along the riverbank.
Born in 1909, Prince Souphanouvong was the youngest child of the Uparat, or Viceroy, Boun Khoung. He attended school in Hanoi and then studied civil engineering in France in the early 1930s before returning to Indochina in 1937. The colonial government employed the prince as an engineer stationed in Saigon, and he was later promoted to oversee the public works around Nha Trang.
In this position, the prince oversaw the construction of Viet Nam’s Route 14, the hydroelectric power dam in Da Nhin, the bridge crossing the Brepok River on Route 19 to Cambodia, and the renovation of Route 13 in Strung Treng, Cambodia. After three years in Nha Trang, he was assigned to the Phine office in Savannakhet where he oversaw the construction of Route 23 and the bridge crossing the Xe Bang Hieng River to continue the road south to Salavan Province.
In 1945 the prince met Ho Chi Minh and later joined the Lao Issara movement to fight for independence from the French. He arrived with troops in Savannakhet in October 1945, and later moved to Thakaek, fighting in several battles against the French. The prince passed away in 1995. His remains are kept at That Luang in Vientiane.
Location: From Savannakhet, take Route 9 to Mueang Phine (about 160km). Head south for approximately 35 km beginning at the junction of Route 9 and Route 23.
Lao-Viet Commemorative War Museum: This museum presents a collection of battle memorabilia such as tanks, guns, bombs and other weapons, as well as photos of soldiers and local people. Local history experts, who have a first-hand knowledge of the fighting that occurred during the Indochina War, were consulted on the design and content of the exhibitions.
Lam Son 719: The site of the Lam Son 719 battle, a decisive confrontation during the Indochina War, was the only land-battle in Laos that the U.S. Army officially supported by supplying tanks and other ground support to the South Vietnamese troops. Despite US equipment and logistical support, the South Vietnamese lost the battle and recorded heavy casualties. The clash took place in 1971 on Route 9, thus the name “719”. A few km past the War Museum, see the suspended cable bridge in an area once part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Location: From Savannakhet Town, travel approximately 180 km on Route 9 to Sepon. Continue east for another 25 km to Ban Dong village. The museum and battlefield are located at the turnoff to Nong District.
Dinosaur Footprints: During the dry season (November-April), visitors can observe dinosaur footprints on the Xe Xang Soi riverbed at Phalanxay, about 100 km east of Savannakhet Town on Route 9.
Stone Pillars: These towering natural geological wonders rise in deep jungle, yet are easily accessed via a dirt road that was once a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail linking Vilabouly Town to Khammouane Province to the north. Here is really where you can familiarize yourself with the Trail’s rugged terrain.
Location: From Savannakhet, travel east approximately 170 km on Route 9 to Route 28A, and turn left to Vilabouly Town, some 40 km to the north. From Vilabouly Town, take the twisting road that leads to Khammouane Province for about 10 km until you reach the Stone Pillars.