Things to Do in Salavan
Adventures scour Salavan Town’s main attractions, wander to Toumlan’s Katang weaving villages and longhouses, and explore waterfalls, ethnic villages, and magnificent Bolaven Plateau views.
Salavan Town Biking Tour
Remnants of Salavan Town’s war-torn past can be seen on a short biking tour, including the UXO Lao Office, which houses scores of defused unexploded ordinances (UXOs). Tourists can also inspect the skeletons of two bombed temples and admire a stupa built with small rocks to honour a local national hero.
Start the day at sunrise to see all the action at the Salavan Market, the province’s commercial hub, where locals purchase manufactured products, clothes, and textiles from Laos, China, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as locally grown vegetables.
Then, step past a 2-metre-tall, 3,000-pound bomb at the entrance to the UXO Lao’s Office, and inspect the explosive display inside. A case holds a collection of clumsy-looking land mines, miniature rockets, and homemade devices made of jars and cans with origami birds as fuses. Inside the “Big Bomb Meeting Room”, posters show bombies, how they were deployed, and the actual explosions.
Next, visit Vat Simongkhoun on the Xe Don River. Built over 200-years ago, bombers hit the original in 1972. Its remnants and stupa can still be seen in the town’s northeast, though vines and shrubs try to hide it. The temple’s riverbank sala stores longboats used during the annual boat racing festival.
Close by, Ong Keo Stone Stupa commemorates one of Laos’ first revolutionaries to fight against French colonialists. To honour Ong Keo, villagers constructed a short, square stone wall, but lacking cement, they simply began placing rocks inside. The pile turned into a pyramid, and locals return every year to place more stones on the stupa for making merit and showing respect.
While cycling around, you’ll find a temple’s skeleton under a tree in a field. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see holes blasted in the walls by bullets and larger ordinance.
A new Handicraft Centre sits near the Phongsavanh Bank and sells a variety of products including woven fabrics, sins (traditional Lao skirts), shoulder bags, baskets, and bamboo and rattan goods.
For those seeking a longer adventure, cycle across the Xe Don River in the town’s northeast, and continue some 16 km along rough dirt paths to Nong Boua (Crocodile Lake). Known for its spirits and crocodile ghosts, the lake is home to three known crocodiles and other wildlife including several bird species.
The Salavan-Laongarm Trail
The 48-km section of Lao Route 20 connecting Salavan Town and Laongarm, before continuing to Pakse, stops near several attractions: Tad Lo, an area overflowing with coconuts, waterfalls, a cave complex, Bolaven Plateau views, and ethnic villagers playing folk music and weaving on laptop looms.
A short drive from town leads to Ban Naxai, a village that evolved into a coconut capital with stand after stand selling this giant fruit. Word spread of Coconut Road, and today, vendors purchase them by the truckload. The dry season presents the largest choice. The brown variety are somewhat sour, while the larger green coconuts taste sweet, and many consider it a hangover cure.
At the end of Coconut Road sits a lao khao rice alcohol factory using a slightly more advanced system than other village distilleries. A plumbed water system allows one person to oversee several production vats. Watch this interesting process before moving on.
Next, visit the Tad Soung Waterfall, where the Xe Set River plummets 90 metres off a ledge. Reaching the head of the falls is quite easy. A short walk from Saneum Nai leads to a set of natural stairs descending to Tad Soung. The valley panorama and mountains beyond enhances the journey.
Nearby the falls, inspect the huge stone caskets (Long Sop Saen Kham), from an early civilization, in a cave on Phou Saen Kham Mountain. Also, stop at Ban Saneum Nai, an ethnic Suay Village with a community house on stilts, and observe an old weaving method using compact laptop looms.
Some villagers at Ban Saneum Nai and nearby Katu communities are also seasoned musicians, who occasionally gather to play old folk songs on traditional instruments. Ask the village elders if a brief performance is possible.
While near Laongarm Town, visit the Green Earth Centre, which presents agro-forestry and fish breeding ponds. A short climb up a hill on stairs leads to a small temple. On the ride back to Salavan, view Katu weavers in Ban Houay Houn, who use the mat mee method employing laptop looms.
The day ends with a 20-minute walk from Ban Thongkharm Village, known for its peanuts, to the Phou Tak Khao Viewpoint and a Bolaven Plateau vista. Just past the viewpoint, a steep set of wooden stairs climbs to 9 Holes Cave, a bizarre nine-entry underground maze. On the way back, visit a make-shift temple housing three life-size Buddha images, including one over 100 years old.
The 2-day kicks off in Ban Sanone with a cup of locally grown coffee, before walking past four waterfalls to Ban Khanouan, a Suay village of expert crossbow archers.After overnighting in Ban Khanouan, trek up Phou Tak Khao to 9 Holes Cave, “Destiny Tree” and Tiger Cave.
And on the Khongxedon Extension, don’t forget to stop in Vapi to sample their “perfumed” river snails, before reaching Ban Napong just north of Khongxedon Town to try what many consider the best grilled ping kai (fried chicken) in the country.
Tad Lo Stayover
The popular Tad Lo tourism centre some 90 km northeast of Pakse presents two waterfalls, elephant treks, ethnic villages, temples, and a conservation area, all easily reached by bicycle.
Imagine waking up, stepping outside your room, walking a few steps, and finding yourself facing the 30-metre-wide, tree-lined Tad Hang Waterfall crashing over a 10-metre, tiered-rock wall into a series of rapids before settling into a calmly flowing Xe Set River.
And knowing that the more dramatic Tad Lo Waterfall is around 500 metres upriver beckons visitors to start hiking. A set of stairs leads to the river’s shore for a great angle looking straight at the semi-horseshoe-shaped Tad Lo, which is slightly taller that Tad Hang. The drop-off is split by a jutting rock protrusion, as the river crashes over the cliff, and lands in a cloudy mist.
A 1-day trek starting at the Tad Lo Visitor Information Centre takes you up the Xe Set River introducing you to local nature and lifestyles of ethnic villages. You climb to the top of Tad Soung Waterfall to experience the panoramic views then descend to the Katu ethnic village of Ban Houay Lanong.
Two small temples are within walking distance of the tourist area. The main temple sits on the eastern banks of the Xe Set, some 500 metres downstream from the bridge, and across from the conservation area. The second can be found on the western bank along the trail between Tad Hang and Ta Lo.
The conservation area can be reached by foot or bicycle along a dirt road. Located within the peaceful reserve is a fish farm with six ponds and a sizeable holding lake that can be crossed by a walking bridge.
Within the Tad Lo area, four ethnic groups – Suay, Alak, Katu, and Ngae – share three villages: Ban Khiang Tanglae, Ban Nanong, and Ban Khiang Tadsoung. They centre on large, domed community/spirit houses, and are easy to reach by bicycle, motorbike, and foot.
Toumlan Weaving Trail
Weaving fans can find distinctive ethnic Katang methods and looms at a cluster of villages called Koum-Ban Toumlan. Nearby in Ban Heuan Nyao, visit a longhouse in which all the inhabitants are cousins! Also on the trail is Khoua Ban Darn, a bombed out bridge crossing the Xe Don River.
Koum-Ban Toumlan reveals unique weaving methods and designs found only there. Visitors who have viewed weavers in other villages will notice the difference in the looms used by Toumlan’s Katang. Several span the width of a house on stilts and hang from the rafters, with weavers vertically shuttling threads to create tin sin (narrow bottom borders on traditional skirts).
Several generations ago, a Katang man named Mr Lue had seven wives, and he built a longhouse in Ban Heuan Nyao (Longhouse Village), with a room for each of his families. His wives had several children, who intermarried, and the ensuing generations extended the longhouse. It eventually reached 103 households, before they broke it down to today’s impressive 40-metre-long structure.
Nearby, the Khua Ban Darn Bridge once spanned the Xe Don River to connect Salavan Town to Toumlan. Prince Souphanouvong – Laos’ first president – designed the bridge built in 1942. However, it was destroyed by US bombers in 1968 in an attempt to cut off an offshoot supply route of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Visitors can examine the bridge’s remains, which protrude from the Xe Don River’s northern bank.