SOUTHERN LAOS: JUNGLE TREKS, SMALL TOWNS AND VIETNAM-WAR SIGHTS

SOUTHERN LAOS

SOUTHERN LAOS is dominated by the Mekong Plain and the Boloven Plateau and is the largest agricultural region in Laos. Less explored by foreign travelers than the north, it features Angkor-Wat-style Khmer temples, huge virgin rains forest, spectacular Mekong River cataracts, French plantations and interesting karst scenery.

Many consider southern Laos as a whole to be more Lao in character than the north. Lowland Lao dominate the area around the Mekong. Buddhism very strong and many people still weave their own cloth. The Mon-Khmer minorities that live here—such as the Chieng, Inthi, Kaseng, Kate, Katu, Kien, Kado. Chali, Bru, Kaleing, Kanay, Katang, Lavai, Laven, Nge, Nyaheun, Oung, Salao, Mangtong, Pako, Tahang, Ta-oy, Tong, Pako, Kanay and Suay— don’t attract as many tourists as the hill tribes in the north, in part because they don’t wear as colorful clothing.

Southern Laotian history is also quite different than that of the north. The Champasak area of southern Laos was part of Funan and Chenli empires between A.D. 1st century and 9th century and then was part of the Khmer Angkor empire from A.D. 10th century to 13th century. When Angkor declined the region was absorbed into the Lao kindom. Only two southern provinces, Savannakhet and Champasak, are regularly visited by travelers. The road infrastructure is very poor. In southern Laos flat bed trucks mounted with a wooden carriage and seats in bus-like rows are the primary means of public transport.

SAVANNAKHET PROVINCE

SAVANNAKHET PROVINCE ( 457 kilometers south of Vientiane) is Laos’s largest and populous province. Situated in south-central Laos, about halfway between Vientiane and the Cambodian border, it covers 21,774 square kilometers province is bordered by Khammouane to the north and Salavan in the south. Thailand’s Mukdahan province is west across the Mekong River, while Viet Nam’s Quang Tri and Quang Binh provinces form the mountainous eastern frontier. The name of Savannakhet Province derives from old Pali language, meaning “a land of gold”. The area has been inhabited since ancient times. People have traditionally cultivated rice in the largest plain in the country.

Savannakhet is home to 824,000 inhabitants. Though Lao and Phouthai make up 75 percent of the population, the province is quite ethnically diverse, with the remaining people belonging to the Mon-Khmer-speaking Bru, Katang, Souay, Mankhong, So, Trii, Thai Dam, Vali, Lava, Kapo, Kaleung and Ta-Oi groups, In addition, many Vietnamese and Chinese descendants live in the province as well. This fact makes the province rich in cultural and gastronomic diversity.

Forests cover around 70 percent of Savannakhet, which is also crisscrossed by several rivers including the Xe Bang Fai, Xe Nou and Xe Bang Hieng. The 1,060 square kilometers Phou Xang Hae NPA in the province’s north is home to langurs, elephants, tigers and bears, Farther south, rare hornbills have been spotted in the 1,970 square kilometers Don Phou Vieng NPA. Closer to Savannakhet Town is the Dong Natad Provincial

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in Thai newspaper The Nation, “With good alluvial soils, the province can attract foreign investors who are interested in rubber, peanuts and corn, among other products. Thai agro-industry companies such as Charoen Phokphand and Mitr Phol have already invested there. The latter opened a sugar refinery there. Savannakhet is also blessed with rich minerals and other resources. Oxiania, an Australian mining company, is bringing in more than $400 million a year in foreign exchange through exports of gold and copper. "We still have lots more resources including silver, gas and oil," the vice governor said. With these natural assets and its role as a transit route, it will be interesting to watch how the Lao economic planners map out their strategies.[Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, August 6, 2007]

Savannakhet International Airport in Kaysorn Phoumvihane, opposite Mukdahan in Thailand was built in 1998 and abandoned in 2004 after Lao Airways halted daily operations due to insufficient passengers. Governments in Laos and Thailand have discussed developing the region by reopening the airport in Savannakhet constructing a new airport in Mukdahan. Savannakhet Province consists of 15 districts: Kaisone Phomvihanh,Xayphouthong, Outhoumphone, Phalanxay, Atsaphangthong, Phine, Sepon, Nong, Virabouly, Songkhone, Champhone, Thapangthong, Xonnabouly, Xaybouly, and Atsaphone. The capital of the Province is Kaisone Phomvihan.

SAVANNAKHET HISTORY

The area of Savannakhet Province was under influence of the Champa Kingdom from 7th to 10th century, followed by the Khmer Kingdom until 13th century. Heun Hin ("Stone House") along the Mekong River and some ornaments of That Ing Hang("Ing Hang Stupa") prove this historical fact. Then, the Lan Xang Kingdom established in 14th century covered Savannakhet. Savannakhet Province, especially its capital town, had been developed significantly as the administrative and commercial center of Southern Laos during the French era in 19th century.

Fossilized remains prove dinosaurs once roamed what is now Savannakhet, and archaeological findings suggest humans lived in the area at least 4,000 years ago. Excavations have turned up Bronze Age artifacts and ancient copper mines, remnants of terraced agricultural systems with diversion dams and channels, stone tools and pottery shards.

According to legend, the Phouthai and Lao people migrated from northwest Viet Nam down the Nam Ou River to the Mekong, and continued downriver, settling along its banks. The Phouthai separated from the Lao and headed on to the central and southern region of Laos, reaching what is now Savannakhet. They began moving far inland, establishing villages organized under the principality of Muang Vang Ang Kham in the early 16th century.

The first Lao community in western Savannakhet Province, Ban Luang Phonsim, was founded near That Ing Hang monument in the 1530s by a group led by the married couple, Luang and Sim. Their 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.

In 1920 Kaysone Phomvihane, Lao PDR’s first prime minister, was born in Savannakhet. Kaysone went to school in Hanoi, met Ho Chi Minh, and was one of the co-founders of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and a leader of the Pathet Lao armed forces. During the Second Indochina War, Kaysone led the Lao People’s revolutionary struggle from a cave complex in Houaphanh Province’s Viengxay District in the far northeast. Upon independence in 1975, he became the country’s first premier and later President after Prince Souphanouvong’s term.

SECOND THAI-LAO FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE

The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge—the 1.6-kilometer-long Second Mekong International bridge over the Mekong River between Savannkhet in Laos and Mukdahan in Thailand----opened in 2006. Built with money from Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) program and the Sumitomo Mitsui construction (a Chinese company), the bridge cost $75 million to make. The bridge was scheduled to be completed sooner but was delayed by the Asian financial crisis. Eight construction workers died in an accident in July 2005. The bridge is the final portion of the East-West economic Corridor.

The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge has two traffic lanes 12 meters in width and 1,600 meters long. Officially inaugurated by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand and Lao Vice President Bounnhang Vorachith, it is part of the land transport development plan of the East-West economic corridor running through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Bridge construction began on March 21, 2004 and took three years to complete. The bridge is expected not only to promote overland tourism in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, but also to facilitate trade and investment in the Mekong subregion. As of 2011 more than 5,000 vehicles used the bridge daily, generating taxes and fee revenue to the Thai government of 60,000 baht a day on average.

Kyodo reported: “The Japan Bank for International Cooperation provided 8.09 billion yen (about $80 million) in soft loans to both Thailand and Laos for the shared construction costs. Thailand borrowed 4.079 billion yen, Laos borrowed the other 4.011 billion yen. The bridge is part of the transportation initiative headed by the Asian Development Bank known as the "East-West Economic Corridor." The idea is to create transportation corridor running the entire width of mainland Southeast Asia, approximately 1,500 kilometres long, linking the Andaman Sea from Mawlamyine in eastern Myanmar to the South China Sea. [Source: Kyodo, December 20, 2006 ==]

EAST-WEST ECONOMIC CORRIDOR

The 1450-kilometers East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) between Bangkok and Danang in Vietnam reduces the transportation time between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City from five days by sea to one day by road. This support was partly extended with a wary eye on China's growing presence in Southeast Asia. The EWEC was finished in 2006. Japan has also provided financial and technical assistance for the building of the western half of Route 9 in Laos, and the Hai Van tunnel in Vietnam (at 6,400 meters the longest in Southeast Asia) and improving the port in Danang.

The Laotian government is building a special economic zone in Savannakhet where a new bridge between Laos and Thailand—the Second Friendship Bridge—opened in 2006, forming the last link of a highway system called the East-West Economic Corridor that spans the width of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, linking Bangkok with the coastal city of Danang in Vietnam.

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in the Thai newspaper The Nation in 2007: “ The East West Economic Corridor (EWEC)— a US$200 million project by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB)—refers to the 1,450-kilometre road network linking Burma's Gulf of Martaban on the Indian Ocean to Vietnam's Danang on the Pacific Ocean. The road network also cuts across central Thailand through Tak, Sukhothai, Kalasin, Phitsanulok, Khon Kaen, Yasothon and Mukdahan. Since its inception in 1992 as part of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, it has in effect helped these four countries to synergise their economic development and resources. The completion of the second Thai-Lao bridge links all existing transport networks. The 100-kilometre portion linking Burma and Thailand has been delayed due to the former's political uncertainty. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, August 6, 2007 ||||]

“Travelling overland from Mukdahan to Danang, one could feel the excitement brought about by the EWEC. Customs and immigration officials in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam all shared the same optimism that the EWEC would bring investment, tourists and a better standard of living. But they have to work closely together to facilitate border-crossing formalities and procedures for movement of people and goods. Most important will be the harmonisation of import-export procedures. At the Lao-Vietnam border at Dansavanh-Lao Bao, a unique single-stop customs inspection has reduced the processing time by half, to less than an hour. ||||

“The strategic No 9 route linking Savannakhet and Quang Tri has now become indispensable for the whole Mekong region. It has turned land-locked Laos into a land-linked country. But Laos is aiming beyond the status of transitory territory, hoping to reduce poverty and pull itself off the list of the world's poorest countries. Therefore, its economic progress depends on how efficiently it uses the EWEC network and the opportunities that come with the Mukdahan-Savannakhet bridge.” ||||

Economic Impact of the East-West Economic Corridor: The heart of the East-West Economic Corridor runs through Savannakhet in Laos. Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in the Thai newspaper The Nation: “Sandwiched between the more developed Mukdahan on the Thai side and Quang Tri on the Vietnamese side, Savannakhet is the most populated province in Laos. "We must make Savannakhet into the supply chain for the East and West and go for eco-tourism," an official there said, referring to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. With 850,000 people, Savannakhet is the most populated province in Laos. It has great potential. With good alluvial soils, the province can attract foreign investors who are interested in rubber, peanuts and corn, among other products. Thai agro-industry companies such as Charoen Phokphand and Mitr Phol have already invested there. Recently, the latter opened a sugar refinery there. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, August 6, 2007 ||||]

“Meanwhile, Lao authorities have been making pitches for the Savan-Seno Special Economic Zone, established in 2004. The first zone is located just opposite Mukdahan across the Mekong, and consists of an export processing zone, hotels, golf course, residential units for retirees and other facilities. The second zone is in Dansavanh at the other end of the Lao-Vietnam border, which will serve as a distribution hub. Potential investors are from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. A five-star hotel opened there. ||||

“Savannakhet is also blessed with rich minerals and other resources. Oxiania, an Australian mining company, is bringing in more than $400 million a year in foreign exchange through exports of gold and copper. "We still have lots more resources including silver, gas and oil," the vice governor said. With these natural assets and its role as a transit route, it will be interesting to watch how the Lao economic planners map out their strategies.” ||||

GETTING TO SAVANNAKHET

From Vientiane take 'Route No. 13 South' south via Paksan, Tha Khek and Seno to Savannakhet for a total distance of 457 kilometers. It may take about 6-7 hours to Savannakhet. From Dansavan-Lao Bao(Vietnam): From Dansavan-LaoBao, take Route No. 09 via Sepon, Phine, Phalanxay, Seno to Savannakhet for a total distance of 241 kilometers. It may take about 4-5 hours to Savannakhet. From Mukdahan (Thailand): From Mukdahan, cross the Second Friendship Bridge. Stop at the border checkpoint to stamp your visa/passport. It may take about 1 hour to Savannakhet including immigration.From Pakse, take 'Route No. 13 South' north via Salavan to Savannakhet for a total distance of 247 kilometers. It may take about 2-3 hours to Savannakhet.

By Air: From Vientiane: Three flights fly to Savannakhet in a week; Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It takes about 1 hour to Savannakhet. From Luang Prabang: Two flights fly to Savannakhet in a week; Thursday and Sunday. It takes about 1 hour and 30 min to Savannakhet. From Bangkok: Three flights fly to Savannakhet in a week; Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It takes about 1 hour and 20 min to Savannakhet. Airline in Vientiane (021) 212 051-54. By Boat: From Mukdahan (Thailand): Boats cross the Mekong river from the Mukdahan ferry pier in Thailand to Savannakhet. Unfortunately only local people with the border pass can use the boat.

International Bus : To Thailand: Buses depart from the Mukdahan Bus Station. The bus will stop at the border check point to stamp your visa/passport. You can ride from the border checkpoint too.It may take about 1 hour including immigration to Savannakhet Bus Station. International Buses to Thailand, Destination, Arrival, Ticket Fare, Distance, Departure Time, Remark, Savannakhet City, Bus Station, Mukdahan, Bus Station, 50 Baht or, 14,000 Kip, There is approximately , 30 min, (include, immigration), 08:15, 09:00, 09:45, 10:15, 11:15, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30, 16:30, 17:30, 19:00, The bus will stop at the border checkpoint to stamp your visa /passport., You can ride buses from the border checkpoint also From Vietnam: Buses depart from the Lao Bao border, Dong Ha (on even day only), Quang Tri, Hue (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), Danang and Hanoi (Saturday and Sunday only). It may take about 5 hour from the Loa Bao border to Savannakhet Bus Station., International Buses to Vietnam, Destination, Arrival, Ticket Fare, Distance, Departure Time, Remark, Savannakhet, Bus Terminal, Lao Bao Border, 35,000 kip, 250 kilometers, 07:30, 09:00, 12:00, Savannakhet, Bus Terminal, Dong Ha, ( Vietnam), VIP, 90,000 kip, 350 kilometers, 10:00, Departure on Monday -Friday, Savannakhet, Bus Terminal, Dong Ha, and Quang Tri, (Vietnam), 80,000 kip, 350 kilometers, 22:00, The bus will arrive at the border checkpoint at approximately 3.00 am, Passengers need to wait on the bus until the border checkpoint opens at 08:00, Monday to Sunday, Savannakhet, Bus Terminal, Hue, 90,000 kip, 409 kilometers, 22:00, The bus will arrive at the border checkpoint at approximately 3.00 am, Passengers need to wait on the bus until the border checkpoint opens at 08:00, Monday to Sunday, Savannakhet, Bus Terminal, Hue(VIP), 110,000 kip, 409 kilometers, 10:30, Monday-Friday., Savannakhet, Bus Terminal, Danang, 110,000 kip, 508 kilometers, 22:00, The bus will arrive at the border checkpoint at approximately 3.00 am, Passengers need to wait on the bus until the border checkpoint opens at 08:00, Monday to Sunday, More info:, For more information Please contact: Bus station: Ban Huamuang, Makasavan road, Tel: (041) 213 920 or Savannakhet Provincial Tourism Department Tel: (020) 55252 995, 56732 880, 55374 3.

SAVANNAKHET TOWN

SAVANNAKHET (475 kilometers from Vientiane) it is the largest town in southern Laos and the second largest after Vientiane even though it has a population of maybe 200,000 people. Located across the Mekong River from Mukdahan, Thailand, it known mainly as a lumber town and relay point for goods traveling between Vietnam and Thailand.

Known to the Lao simply as Savan, Savannakhet is the site of a special economic zone. It lies along the 1450-kilometers East-West Economic Corridor between Bangkok and Danang in Vietnam. There isn’t that much to see or do other than check out some French colonial and Franco-Chinese buildings and visit the Savannakhet Provincial Museum, and its collection of Vietnam-war-era hardware, which includes tanks and artillery.

About 15 kilometers outside of Savannakhet is That Ing Hang, the second holiest religious site in southern Laos. Built in the mid 16th century, around the same time as Vientiane’s Phat That Luang, it contains a three-level bases, topped by a traditional Lao stupa surmounted by a gold umbrella weiging 450 grams. About 75 kilometers south of Savannakhet is Heuan Hin, a set of Cham or Khmer ruins built between A.D. 533 and 700. The Swedish government and the Laos Provincial Forestry office sponsor jungle treks to Wild Elephant Mountain.

Markets and Shopping in Savannakhet: Savanxay Market (Latsavong SuekRoad, Hua muong Village) is the main market of Savannakhet City. There is a wide variety of goods on sale including local products as well as imported Thai and Vietnamese foods, along with a wide selection of souvenirs. The market is open daily from 6:00am to about 5:00pm every day. Songtheaws (Local buses using pick-up trucks with 2 benches in the back) use this market as the focal point for arrivals and departures to neighboring towns and provinces.

Thong Laha Sinh Co.,LTD is a corporate mission whose aim is to support the sustainable development of locals while preserving culture and also eradicating poverty. As the sole distributor of Phuthai fabrics in the Savannakeht City, the Laha Boutique is able to meet your needs such as clothing, handbags, scarves, and shawls as well as household and kitchen accessories produced from phuthai fabrics., Santiphep Road, Thong yon Villages, Open: 8:00am to 5:00pm , Tel: 865-41 212 398; Fax: 865-41 212 316, Email: song_laos@hotmail.com

One District One Product (ODOP) Handicraft Shop is located at 6 kilometers post along route No 9. This shop is a showcase of products from the One District One Product (ODOP) project and includes a wide variety of handicrafts made from bamboo, hardwood, cotton and silver from around the country and this is a great place to look for souvenirs.It open daily from 8:00am to 9:00pm.

SIGHTS IN SAVANNAKHET

A half-day walking tour of Savannakhet Town, officially called Kaysone Phomvihane District, winds past 19 points of interest including the home of Lao PDR’s first prime minister Kaysone Phomvihane, the 16th century Buddhist Temple Vat Xaiyaphoum, Saint Theresa Catholic Church, and plenty of colonial-era structures. Wat Lattanalangsy was built on a former rice field, hence villagers also refer it as Wat Thong (rice field temple).It open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm In the outskirts of Savannakhet— by car, tuk-tuk, motorbike or bicycle—you can visit That Ing Hang Stupa, Dong Natad Protected Area, Nong Lom and Bungva Lakes, old Phonsim ruins, and the Phonsim Turtle Lake.

Mekong River Bank will give you a great view of local life. You can watch fishermen bringing in the daily catch and stop at market gardens and local restaurants selling a wide variety of foods and drinks. With Thailand just across the river a stroll along the Mekong banks, especially around sunset, is a must.Old French Style buildings can readily be seen in the central city area, especially around the Catholic Church and the central plaza. These buildings are heritages from the French colonisation of Laos in the mid 20th century. Most buildings are private properties and thus can only be viewed from the outside.

The residence of Kaysone Phomvihane, Lao PDR’s first prime minister and then president until his death in 1992, is located on Kouvolavong Road. 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. Kaysone Phomvihanh who was born in Savannakhet in 1920. He served as the first Prime Minister of Lao PDR from 1975 to 1991, and then as the second President. While the building is not open to the public, it can be viewed from the outside.

The Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum a houses of dinosaur fossils or big lizard bones’ as called in Lao. They were excavated from Ban Tang Vay("Tang Vay Village"), in Xonbouly District. Three kinds of dinosaur bones have been discovered; pode,Iguanodon and Sauropode.The museum open daily from 8:00am to 11:30am and 1:30pm to 4:30pm.

Savannakhet Provincial Museum is located in a typical administration building during the French colonial period. It has recently been renovated to be the New Provincial Museum (Open: Monday -Friday, from 8:30am to 11:30am and 1:30pm to 4:00pm. There are many interesting items such as archaeological relics, war-related items including big guns and bombs, etc, and historical photos.

Wat Xaiyaphoum was founded in 1542 near the Mekong River during the reign of King Saysethatirath, It is Savannakhet’s oldest Buddhist temple. Though today’s buildings were rebuilt in 1906, the structure maintains its original architectural style. The temple is the main venue for celebrating the Lao New Year and Buddhist celebrations. Pee Mai Lao (The Lao New Year Celebration) and Boun Suang Huea (“boat racing festival”) following Buddhist Lent are held here. It open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm

Wat Xayaphoum( “Xayaphoum Temple “) was built at the same time as Tha Hae village in 1542 and has been substantially improved since the beginning of the 20th century. Located in the center of the city along the bank of the Mekong River in Ban Xayaphoum, it is a beautiful building built in the original Savannakhet style. The temple area includes the monks’ living quarters and the monastery.

SIGHTS NEAR SAVANNAKHET

SIGHTS NEAR SAVANNAKHET include That Phonh Stupa, Savannakhet’s oldest, built in an area believed to have been visited by Buddha; Huean Hin, an ancient Khmer rest house built of stone; traditional Phouthai cotton-weaving villages; Kong Phanang’s unusual rock formations.

Bungva ( “Va Lake”) (14 kilometers from Savannakhet) is the largest lake lying in the outskirts of the Savannakhet City. Along the lake shore, several restaurants have opened up and some provide gazebos (small covered platforms) where you can enjoy lunch or a cold beer Lao while enjoying beautiful scenery or even rent pedalos to get out onto the lake. The lake is a perfect stop before or after visiting That Ing Hang(“Ing Hang Stupa”). To find the lake, head out eastwards from the Savannakhet City for about 12 kilometers – it is also sign - posted from the edge of the city. While there are two ways out to That Ing Hang, the lake lies along the way of the shorter option for getting there. The restaurants are open daily from 9:00am to 9:00pm.

That Ing Hang ("Ing Hang Stupa") (12 kilometers from Savannakhet) is a sacred stupa and reportedly the burial site for one of Buddha’s bones. It is an important place for Buddhists and is registered as a National Treasure of Lao PDR. It was built about 450 years ago by the King Marukhanakhone to commemorate the Buddha's visit to the site in the past. Buddha is believed to have delivered a sermon to people at the site and later took a rest under the “Hang” tree. This is the reason why the stupa is called That Ing Hang. the annual festival is held every November (exact date varies according to the lunar calendar. (See event and festival page). That Ing Hang is located in Ban that("That village"). The easiest way to get there is to head out along Route 9 for about 12 kilometers and lelt by a police box, and then drive straight for about another 3 kilometers and you will come directly to That Ing Hang. There is a slightly shorter way along back-roads and this is sign-posted from the outskirts of Savannakhet.

Women are required to wear a traditional Sin (Lao Skirt) in order to enter the site. These are available next to the entrance. You need to pay for entry fee , its open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm. According to legend, Savannakhet’s most sacred site, That Ing Hang, houses Buddha relics. Indian King Asoka allegedly created a monument in 225 BC to sanctify the place where Buddha is believed to have delivered a sermon before resting under a Hang tree, thus the 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 nine-meter-tall, three-tiered carved stucco stupa was constructed in Lan Xang style with the upper level symbolizing a lotus. (Savannakhet Outskirts Circuit). That Ing Hang is open daily. Admission fee: 2,000 kip for Lao, 5,000 kip for foreign visitors. Ladies are required to wear traditional Lao skirts that are available on site. Alcohol is prohibited on the temple grounds.

Muangkao Phonesim ("Phonesim Village and The Old Ruins") (5 kilometers from That Ing Hang) can be visited on your own or through an Eco-Guides’ trekking tours which including an overnight home stay in the village. According to legend, an old town was founded here in current Phonesim in 1577 during the reign of the King Fa Ngum who later united the Lan Xang Kingdom. Migrating south-eastwards from Northern Vietnam, Savannakhet’s ancestors settled here and named the town in Ban Luang Phonsim "Phonsim village" after the name of their leader Luang and his wife Sim. The name of the village has been shortned to Ban Phonsim. The ruins of the original settlement can still been atop a hill surrounded by bamboo forest. You can see the foundations of a pagoda and the old phonsim town wall. From That Ing Hang, go east for about 3 kilometers to the village. The ruins are located about 2 kilometers from the village.

Nongtao ( “Turtle Lake”) lake was originally constructed for rice paddy irrigation and is now home to beautiful lotus blooms, bathing water buffalos, migratory birds and local people working in the paddy fields. Unfortunately, the lake no longer contains turtles though. From That Ing Hang(“Ing Hang stupa”) through Ban Phonesim (“Phonesim village”), continue along the same road for about 3 kilometers and you will see the lake which is sign-posted on your right-hand side. The site is always open, but it is recommended to visit between 8 a.m and 6 p.m.

Champhone District of Savannakhe Province is a large agricultural area whose highlights include the Hotay Pidok Library with thousands of ancient palm-leaf manuscripts, the sacred Monkey Forest with hundreds of monkeys, Turtle Lake with enchanted turtles, and Soui Lake’s distinct irrigation system. Wat Taleo Kao (“Old Taleo Temple”) is named Taleo Kao, meaning ‘eagle eye’, as local people have seen a mystery circle resembling an eagle eye appearing near by. This temple is very different from normal Lao temples in terms of French colonial style architecture. The sculpture at the front of the chapel was heavily destroyed by US bombing on the 20th November 1969.

Hortay Pidok (“Ancient Buddhist Scripts Library “) (80 kilometers from Savannakhet) is an impressive old structure originally built in the 17th century. It is the most important repository of palm leaf books written in Burmese Pali, Khmer and ancient Lao alphabets in Laos. There are currently 4,000 books containing 361 different stories. The books are maintained in good condition by monks and novices, as well as the local people. Located in Ban Nonglam Chanh, from Savannakhet city you need to take Route 11 to the east for about 55 kilometers. Once you reach the town of Ban Kengkok, continue east for another 7 kilometers to Ban Taleo before turning left and heading north for another 16 kilometers. The library is open daily from 8a.m to 5:00pm.

Nong Papha ("Turtle Lake") (70 kilometers from Savannakhet) is a natural lake in Ban Donedeng ( “Donedeng village “). It is believed that ghosts in the spiritual house protect the turtles in the lake. There are many turtles of different sizes and ages living in the lake and they can easily be seen. Local residents also sell food that you can feed the turtles with. Also locally made turtle-shaped key holders are sold in front of the entrance. From Savannakhet City you need to take Route 11 to the east for about 55 kilometers. Once you reach the town of Ban Kengkok (“kengkok village”), continue east for another 7 kilometers to Ban Taleo, from there turn right and continue for another 5 kilometers.It open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm

Dong Ling (“Monkey Forest”) (68 kilometers from Savannakhet) is a sacred forest located in Ban Dong Muong - covering more than 3 hectares .It is a monkey kingdom! The monkeys can be divided into three groups. The first group are used to humans and might even ask for food from people passing by The second group usually stays in the spirit houses, while the third group generally gets food at the temple. Why not try to spot the three different groups! It's best to visit the Monkey Forest in the dry season. From Savannakhet city, take Route No. 9B,47 kilometers south to Ban Nakhou, turn left and after about 6.3 kilometers you will be at Ban Dongdokmay. Turn right there and carry on for another 12.6 kilometers. The site is open daily from 8:00am to 4:00pm.

Fay Soui (“Irrigation”) (70 kilometers from Savannakhet) is a large irrigation lake used in the dry season to enable additional rice cultivation, as well as the growing of vegetables and other food plants. Since its dam is stair-shaped, it resembles a small waterfall when the rainy season starts. There are many islands in the lake and it is rich in beautiful lotus blooms, fish, animals and migratory birds (such as the white stork). In the dry season, local people catch fish and snails to offer visitors, and you can taste these and other local foods on the lakeside. From Savannakhet city, take Route 9B 47 kilometers south to Ban Nakhou, turn left and after about 6.3 kilometers you will be at Ban Dongdokmai. Turn right there and carry on for another 6.8 kilometers.

DONG NATAD PROVINCIAL PROTECTED AREA

DONG NATAD PROVINCIAL PROTECTED AREA (near That Ing Hang) extends to 8,300 hectares. In the center of the forest, there is a beautiful lake called Nong Lom where you can observe wild birds like teal, butterflies and rare plants. Parking spaces are provided at the entrance to the forest along the road to That Ing Hang. To get there, head towards That Ing Hang and you will see a sign-posts on your left-hand side approximately 1 kilometer before reaching That Ing Hang.

Ban Nateuy (“Nateuy Village”) (18 kilometers from Savannakhet City) is a typical village on the outskirts of Savannakhet City. Local people cultivate various fruits, vegetables and other crops. They also raise livestock and collect forest products. In the village, a salt factory has been in operation since 1978. The salt is made from the pure underground water whose salt content is even higher than sea water. Since hygiene and safety controls are in place, you can only visit the factory by prior appointment. To reach Nateuy village from Savannakhet City, head south-east on Route No.9, turning left after 15 kilometers and proceeding another 3 kilometers. If you would like to make an appointment to see the factory, please contact the Iodized Table Salt Company on 041 212255.

Dong Na Tad Forest Treks and Homestays: Savannakhet Eco-guide Association operates three treks in Dong Na Tad Forest around Savannakhet that includes visits to the province's sacred Tat Ing Hang Stupa and allow visitors to experience forest life and spend the night in a village home stay. Savannakhet Guides: Tel: +856-41-214-203, E-mail: savannakhetguides2@yahoo.com

1) Honey Trail to Nong Lom Lake: Depart the Savannakhet Provincial Tourism Office with a local guide at 8:00am by tuk tuk, and visit a salt mine, where ancient methods are still being used or go directly to the Ecotourism Information Center. At Dong Na Tad Forest, trek around Nong Lom Lake, and learn about the villagers' relationship with the forest. Enjoy a typical lunch, while listening to the traditional legend of the lake. Trekkers can help the guides collect herbs to flavor the lunch. After lunch, walk to Ban Tat village and learn about the villagers' life. Continue trekking to Ban Phonsim, and visit the ancient ruins and old city walls of Muang Kao, the historic birthplace of Savannakhet's lowland Lao and home to 400-year-old mango trees.

2) Two Day Forest Trek with a Village Homestay: Day 1) Depart the Savannakhet Provincial Tourism Office with a local guide at 8:00am by tuk tuk, and visit a salt mine. At arrival at Dong Na Tad Forest, trek around lovely Nong Lom Lake and to walk to Ban Tat village, where trekkers home stay with a family join in villages activities and participate in a baci ceremony. Day 2) Wake up early and join the Buddhist tradition of giving alms to monks in the morning. After breakfast, head off to Ban Phonsim village and experience the local lifestyle. Continue trekking to Ban Phonsim, and visit the ancient ruins and old city walls of Muang Kao, the historic birthplace of Savannakhet's lowland Lao home to 400-year-old mango trees. Trek to the final destination, Nong Tao, and enjoy a refreshing swim and a great view.

There is another two-day trek that is more or less the same except trekkers stay in Phonsim village and visit Turtle Lake, Ban Tat Village and Ing Hang Stupa on the second day.

ROUTE 9, THROUGH SAVANNAKHET TO THAILAND AND VIETNAM

National Route 9 runs from Savannakhet in Laos to Dan Nang on the coast of Vietnam and has being improved with Japanese money. A bridge between Savannakhet in Laos and and Mukdahan in Thailand over the Mekong was also built with Japanese money. Route 9 has greatly improved transportation between Bangkok and the South China Sea and has helped speed up development in northeastern Thailand, central Laos and central Vietnam, all poor regions of their respective countries.

The Laotian section is expected to finished in 2004, the Vietnamese section in 2005 and the bridge in 2006. There us also talk of building a corridor to Mawlamyine in Myanmar.

Sight Off Route 9 Between Savannakhet and Vietnam: The old temple at Ban That forms the basis of a valuable archaeological site. The pit, well and temple are made of ancient bricks, each measuring 23 centimeters x 11 centimeters x 6 centimeters. This old temple is situated at That village, Kok Thong and Na Tue village. Stone artifacts such as jars and axes, earthen pipes and bowls, copper knives, pots have been excavated from here and are now national treasures. From Vilabouly town, head east on Route 28A for about 4 kilometers, before turn left and go another 2 kilometers. The temple is open from around 8:00am to 4:00pm.

Lao Silk- Conton Weaving center located in Ban Nongkadeang, Vilabouly District has a lot of products such as bags, shirt, Lao skirt and Lao silk for sale. The center has a training center where villagers show how they mix indigo, weave and spin cloth and make clothes. They export their products to Japan. This center is supported by Sepon Copper Mine Company. It open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm

There are three waterfalls located close to each other. Salene Waterfall is the highest (80m) and the most easily accessible. The other 2 waterfalls are Sadee Waterfall and Sakhoe Waterfall. Head along Route 9, 22 kilometers east of Sepon town, turn left at Ban Dong Noy, onto a laterite road through the jungle and streams and after about 25 kilometers you come across them. Ban Sepon Kao ("Old Sepon village") is located a few kilometers east of Sepon town. The village is located on the riverside and retains a sense of the past. The destroyed bank entrance is eloquent testimony of the past war.

That Nang Lao (“Nang Lao Stupa”) was built during the reign of Nang Lao, the serving girl of the last king of Vientiane. Nang Lao was the governor of Muong Vang. The stupa area extends to 8 square kilometers, the stupa is 13 meters high and 12 meters wide at the base. Built of brick, it has been abandoned for more than 300 years. Villagers regard it as a magic stupa.

Dinosaur Footprints (near Phalanxay town, about 100 kilometers from Savannakhet City along Route No.9) are located at ”Kaeng Louang” Rapids, a branch of the Mekong River and lie just a few hundred meters from Phalanxay Town. During the dry season you can see more than 10 dinosaur footprints that have been preserved in the rock that makes up the riverbed.

Lao-Vietnamese War Memorial (161 kilometer from Savannakhet City) was built in 1990 to commemorate the Lao and Vietnamese soldiers who fought in the battle for the national democratic revolution of Laos. It is situated in Ban Dong, close to the Phine city on the Route No.9. However you can only see the memorial from outside of the fences.It open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm.

HO CHI MINH TRAIL

HO CHI MINH TRAIL (near the Laos-Vietnam border) was well-known wartime transport route. The Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Dong Village, on Route No.9, close to the Lao-Bao border checkpoint to Vietnam. Here remnants of American tanks and warplanes from the famous battle of “Lamson 719” (1971) can be seen. Bomb craters are also a common sight in Sepon alongside Route 9. Lamson Battle Field and War Museum is situated in Dong Village. To get to Dong village head east from Sepon town on Route 9 and about 22 kilometers away on your right side.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail can be explored on a multi-day tour. Walk branches of the legendary trail on trekking trips through the province’s protected forests and see ruins of the Prince Souphanouvong Bridge destroyed by war-time bombing. Vilabouly’s Stone Pillars may be seen as well as the new Lao-Viet Commemorative War Museum at Ban Dong in Sepone.

Tad Hai Bridge over the Xe Bang Heing ("Bang Hieng River") was built in 1942. Designed by Mr. Souphanouvong who became the first President of Lao PDR in 1975, it was destroyed by the American bombing in 1967. You can still see the huge broken bridge lying on the riverbed. From Phine city, go south on the Route 23 for about 30 kilometers. Kaeng Sammataek ("Sammataek Rapids") on the Xe Bang Hieng are a popular recreation ground in dry season. Along the riverside, you can see many craters left from the air bombardment by the Americans during the Indochina War.

PHOU XANG HAE NATIONAL PROTECTED AREA

PHOU XANG HAE NATIONAL PROTECTED AREA (accessible from National Route 9) covers 1,060 square kilometers Among the animals found there are: Douc and Francois’s langur, elephants, tigers and other big cats, bears and the bar-bellied pitta. Habitat: Forest types include evergreen, mixed deciduous, dry dipterocarp. The PhuXangHae range is dominated by a steep sandstone escarpment, while slopes to the south and the west rise more gently to the plateau. Sandstone outcrops occurhroughout the NPA and can be quite extensive..

Phalong Waterfall is located in the Phou Xang Hae National Protected Area. The waterfall is beautiful and easily accessible. the tourists can access by road number 9,turn left then continue by road number 28 A then arrived 39 kilometers then turn left 2,5 kilometers you can hear sound of the voice of waterfall, this waterfall from the top 35 mats.

Phou Xang Hae 5-Day Trek is a rugged five day expedition through Savannakhet's remote Phou Xang Hai conservation area to isolated Phou Thai villages for oversnight stays or mountain campouts on the path to legendary rock formations and rarely seen caves. The trek is organized by the Savannakhet Eco-guide Association, See Above

Day 1) After an orientation in Savannakhet town, travel with the guide to one of two partner Phou Thai villages in isolated Vilabouli district. Head out on a rough trek to the remote Phou Thai village, occupied by the Phou Thai people. Day 2) After breakfast, continue climbing up the mountain and trekking through a series of rock formations. En route, pass through different forest types and rocky outcrops to a rock formation believed by some to be a four-lane highway of an ancient civilization.

Day 3) Rise early to listen for singing gibbons, especially in November. After breakfast, walk to Tham Xang See, the elephant scratching cave, where the cave's walls have been rubbed smooth by wild elephants that stay there during the rainy season. Continue to Tham Phuang Cave for lunch, after which the trek continues to the sacred Hin Lam Phan rock formation that resembles giant mushrooms. Day 4) Trek to Darn Sao Hai (Crying Maiden Peak). The rocky plateau provides trekkers with an extensive view over the forest to the south and east down to the Savannakhet plains. Learn the legend of the crying maiden before trekking on to Darn Nang Ngoi plateau to see sweeping views of Khammouane province and the Annamite Mountains between Laos and Vietnam. Explore Tham Pah Buddha Cave before descending to a village, meet the community guides and enjoy an overnight home stay experience. Day 5) After breakfast, learn more about village life before saying farewell and traveling back to Savannakhet town on a very rough road.

Dong Phou Vieng National Protected Area (five kilometers from Phine city, accessible from National Route 9) covers more than 1,970 square kilometers. This National Protected Area features plenty of greenery and wild life. Thirty-one villages of ethnic minorities are located in the area. It is a perfect ecotourism site as well as a biodiversity preserve. Trekking and home stays in the villages can be arranged during the dry season.

Among the animals found there are: Douc and Francois’s langur, elephants, cattle, tigers, pangolin, Oriental pied hornbill, great hornbill, wreathed hornbill and the white-rumped and red-headed vultures. Habitat: Forest types include evergreen, mixed deciduous, dry dipterocarp forest. Elevation ranges from 200 - 600 meters with peaks up to 1,254 meters.

Three-Day Trek in Dong Phou Vieng NPA that involves forest walking, visits to villages with overnight stays and a boat ride to rapids. Day 1) After an early morning orientation in Savannakhet town, head out with the guide to Muang Phin and then south towards the Se Bang Hieng River, where the trek into fertile green jungle begins. Trek though mixed forest woodland and rocky out crops, and watch for wildlife along the way. Village life becomes more evident as the trail passes vegetable gardens and old rice paddies. About 8 kilometers from the road, the trek enters a Kaleng village, where stay overnight and learn about silk production, weaving, farming and blacksmithing before a homemade dinner with the villagers.

Day 2) After an early rise, the village guide leads the group to Dong Sa Kee sacred forest. Trekkers may spot rare silver langurs and hornbills. After breakfast, set off to another Katang Village. The trail leads though a mixture of forest types, with the guide pointing out plants, birds and tracks of larger animals. The group also learns about edible herbs and bush fruits, picking them along the way for the dinner prepared by the village guide. After eight kilometers total of hiking trekkers arrive at the village on the Se Bang Hieng River, where they overnight. Day 3) The morning's highlight is a splendid ride by long tail boat to Kaeng La'berng Nang rapids then a rest on a white sand river bank. After Kaeng Samartek rapids trekkersand disembark for the journey back to Muang Phin town, and Savannakhet in the evening.

ALONG ROUTE 13 SOUTH OF SAVANNAKHET

Kang Kong Phanang (“Kong Phanang Rapid“) (95 kilometers south of Savannakhet) is one of the natural wonders of the Mekong River featuring huge stones and natural caves. A walking path is provided for visitors during the dry season. From Savannakhet City, take Route 13 south about 70 kilometers, turn right at Ban Pakxong, and continue for another 25 kilometers. The site located 500 meters from the road by the Mekong River.

That Oumoung ("Oumoung Stupa") (77 kilometers south of Savannakhet) is a beautiful square-shaped stupa, located in Ban Lahakok and was built between 1940 and 1950. While in general it resembles That Ing Hang, the top of the stupa is unique with its banana flower ornamentation. The stupa is a worthwhile stop for some interesting photographs. There is a festival held annually in February (exact date varies according to the lunar calendar). From Savannakhet City, take Route 13 south for about 70 kilometers, turn left at Ban Pakxong, and after 5 kilometers turn left at the T-shaped intersection. The stupa is on the left after another 2 kilometers and is open daily from 8:00am to 4:00pm.

Ban Laha Num (80 kilometers south of Savannakhet) is famous for cotton weaving. In Ban Laha Num ("Laha Num Village"), traditional Phoutai cotton weaving is practiced and every household in the village has a loom. Some workshops produce naturally-dyed cotton by using materials such as bark and leaves. Most of the woven products are sent to Savannakhet City and Vientiane Capital for sale. However, you can purchase the products at several shops and houses in the village. From Savannakhet City, take Route 13 south for about 70 kilometers, turn left at Ban Pakxong, and after 5 kilometers turn left at the T-shaped intersection. The village is on the right 4 kilometers along the road.

Tham Phaseng (“Phaseng Cave”) (19 kilometers south from Song Khon town along Route13) is an interesting cave and the site of a rocket festival. The legend of Tham Phaseng tells battles of tigers and snakes. Tiger footprints have been seen and there are also many caves inhabited by bats. A stone statue of Buddha was also found in one of the caves, proving the place to be one of the most sacred sites in the region. A rocket festival accompanied by local dancing is held annually in May (exact date varies according to the lunar calendar).

That Phonh ("Phonh Stupa") (60 kilometers from Savannakhet) is said to date back to the 16th century and has sacred links with That Phanom in Thailand. An annual festival is held during the full moon days in February. From Savannakhet city take Route 9B south to Ban Lak 35 and continue on for another 3 kilometers before turning right. Continue onwards for 18 kilometers before turning left. The Stupa is 3 kilometers down this road and open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm.

Hean Hin (65 kilometers from Savannakhet) literally means "Stone House" and is believed to have been one of the 121 rest houses constructed by King Jayavarman VII (1181-1218) along the roads which once connected every corner of the Khmer Empire. Therefore, it shares similar characteristics with Wat Phou in Champasak and Phimai Temple in Thailand. An annual festival is held in the full moon night in April. From Savannakhet city take Route 9B south to Ban Lak 35 and continue a further 3 kilometers before turning right. After 10 kilometers you will reach Xaiphoutoung town, turn left There and about 16 kilometers along the Mekong River you will come to the house which is open daily from 8:00am to 4:00pm

SALAVANH PROVINCE AND THE BOLAVEN PLATEAU

SALAVANH PROVINCE is a southeastern province situated on the Bolaven Plateau, heavily forested and agricultural region with some stunning scenery. A prehistoric site exists not far from the cascades where a wonderful scene can be seen. Salavan has vast tracts of forest and is home to three National Protected Areas that harbor a wealth of biodiversity. Xe Xap, (1,335 square kilometers) Xe Bang Nouane (1,970 square kilometers) and Phou Xieng Thong (1,200 square kilometers) lie mostly within Salavan’s borders, have a range of habitats and micro-climates and are home to a diverse population of ethnic minority groups. The Mekong River separates Salavan from Thailand and the province also shares a border with Vietnam to the east. The main geologic features are the Bolaven Plateau, Mekong River Valley and Southern Annamite Mountains, which rise to over 2,000 meters in the eastern portion of the province.

One of the most entertaining songs and dances in the entire country, the Lam Salavan, was conceived here and this catchy tune really does make you want to get up and dance! There are excellent “khaen” players in Salavan and the traditional instrument is still made here. Besides coffee, two famous Salavan products are the fragrant coconuts from Naxai Village and the delicious barbeque chicken that can be purchases at Napong Village on route 13. Like everywhere else in the country, Lao New Year or Pi Mai is celebrated throughout Salavan for a week around 14 April. Before this are the Katang and Ta Oy ethnic group’s annual festivals, which occur during late January – early February.

Salavanh Province covers 10,691 square kilometers and is home to 300,000 people. Its eight districts are: Salavanh, Ta-Oy, Toumlane, Lakhonepheng, Vapy, Khongxedone, Lao Ngarm and Samouay. The capital is Salavanh town.

As you follow Route 20 from Pakse to Salavanh Town, stop first at the tiny tourist enclave at Tad Lo and overnight at a river with waterfalls. Continue north on Route 20 to Ban Naxai and Coconut Road before continuing to Salavanh Town’s site including a bomb museum. Then, head out on Route 23 to Toumlan weaving commune and a village with cousins living in a longhouse.

Salavanh History: Though Salavan’s forests hide prehistoric sites including stone caskets and cave paintings, little is known about the province’s history except its wartime past. Historians suggest the area was an outpost of the Champasak Kingdom in the early 19th century. Newspaper reports from 1940 discuss Thai troops clashing with “Indochinese” forces in Salavan, including bombing raids by French planes.

From then until Laos’ liberation in 1975, the province was caught up in a tug-of-war between Western-backed forces and Lao independence fighters, and the renowned Ho Chi Minh Trail passed through Salavan’s eastern mountains, attracting some of the most intensive bombing the world has ever seen.

America’s “Secret War” began early here. In 1959, Laos’ colonial government leveled charges that Vietnamese-trained revolutionaries were active in Salavan, and in 1962, a Royal Lao Military spokesman claimed pro-independence troops were operating in Salavan Town. Reports in 1967 mention an American reconnaissance jet “disappeared” over Salavan Province, and in 1968, Lao revolutionaries clashed with the Royal Lao Army in remote pockets of Salavan. The following year, a US fighter jet was shot down about 20 miles northeast of Salavan Town, and in June 1970, The New York Times reported that Pathet Lao troops took Salavan Town, but Western-backed forces arrived to find it deserted.

1971 newspapers tell of US Air Force and Navy jets openly bombarding the province, and several were shot down. Battles in Salavan continued to rage in 1972, resulting in the razing of Salavan Town.

Bolaven Plateau (east of Pakse) in southern Laos is the home of the some of the country's most spectacular scenery. Visitors to this region usually spend their time visiting hill tribe villages, riding on elephants and hiking through rugged mountains and dense tropical rain forest to spectacular waterfalls. The Laven are the largest ethnic group in the area. Boloven means “Place of the Laven.”

The Bolaven Plateau in the southeast is underlaid by volcanic basalt and has fertile soils that have been exploited for plantation agriculture, mainly for coffee. The Bolaven Plateau is the center of Laos’s coffee production. Lao coffee grown here is among the most expensive in the world. The quality is good plus production is kept down to keep prices high. The French established the plantation here, which are now run Lao, Vietnamese and Chinese and worked by members of the Laven Alak and Katur ethnic minorities.

On the journey from Pak Se to Paksong across the Bolaven Plateau visitors pass villages inhabited by the Alak and Katu, ethnic groups known for their tattooed faces, water buffalo sacrifices performed by men in ritual masks and above-ground burial of the dead. There are some nice waterfalls and swimming holes in the area. Tadlo resort offers elephant rides.

SALAVANH TOWN

SALAVANH TOWN (on Route 20, about 125 kilometers south of Savannakhet and northeast of Pakse, 120 kilometers northeast of Pakse) is the capital of Salavanh Province. The town’s explosive museum is on main road between the Visitor Information center and the bus station. A two-meter-tall, 3,000-pound bomb stands as a pillar to Salavanh Province’s past at the entrance to the UXO Lao Office compound. Lao holds the unfortunate title as the most densely bombed country on earth, with Salavanh ranked second in provincial barrages during the Vietnam War (Indochina War), and its UXO (unexploded ordinances) office displays the evidence. Two large bombshells stand astride the flag pole at the front door, and racks of inert bomb, a mortar, cluster bomb casings and an airplane Gatlin gun line the front walls. The entrance holds a surreal collection of clumsy looking but deadly assortment of homemade devices, miniature rockets, and land mines.

Near Salavanh : At That Lo you can rent a bicycle, enjoy nature walks and venture out to surrounding villages on the Bolaven Plateau. That Lo sits in the center of a major coffee and vegetable growing region, so there is usually a variety of fresh seasonal produce on the menu. East of That Lo and the provincial capital are Ta Oy and Samoui Districts, populated mostly by Mon-Khemer speaking ethnic groups. Here you can see traditional longhouses that may house up to 45 people. A nice outing in Ta Oy is a trip on the Xe Lanong to watch birds and walk to the La Lao Waterfall. Crisscrossing the eastern half of the province is the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail network, still in use today as a link between remote villages. Along the trail you can see extensive evidence of the heavy aerial bombardment this part of the country suffered during the Second Indochina War.

On the Mekong is Khongsedone District , maker of some of the most potent Lao lao whiskey in the country. Khongsedone has many unusual rock formations along the Mekong valley, best known among them is Phou Lahit with its prehistoric rock paintings. Most visitors access Salavan by route 20 from Pakse, stopping in Ban Houn , a roadside village that produces fine weavings and basketry. That Lo, the best known attraction in the province is a wide, multi-tiered waterfall surrounded by lush greenery and a number of well-planned resorts and guesthouses.

SIGHTS IN THE SALAVANH TOWN AREA

Tad Lo Water Park (Route 20, about 90 kilometers northeast of Pakse and 30 kilometers south of Salavanh Town) is situated on the Bolaven Plateau and Xe Set River, A short walk from the tourist village leads to the headliners, Tad Lo and Tad hang Waterfalls gushing down the Xe Set, but that’s just the start. Tad Lo Lodge offers short elephant trek, cyclers can visit ethnic villages and a conservation area, and the Tad Lo Information center offers treks to towering Tad Soung Falls, stone caskets, Phou Tak Khao Viewpoint and Nine-holes Cave.

Ban Naxai , (Route 20, about 25 kilometers southwest of Salavanh Town) is a must stop for coconut lovers. Ban Naxai looks like a simple village en route to Salavanh Town. Its endless coconut piles give away its true identity. Connoisseurs can compare tastes of different kinds of coconuts. The dry season brings the largest choice of the two coconut types: the brown variety grows on a small number of tree in a specific area outside the coconut capital, thus slightly more expensive than the green ones. The younger brown coconuts are somewhat sour, while riper ones taste sweet and are said to bring fever down. The larger green coconuts also taste sweet and many consider it a hangover cure. The village also makes moonshine.

Khoum-Ban Toumlan (Route 23, about 50 kilometers north of Salavanh Town) is famous for silk raising and weaving. Inspect distinctive looms and woven designs found only at a group of tight-knit ethnic Katang communities in Khoum-Ban Toumlan. Villagers have handed their weaving techniques down through generations, and are rarely practiced elsewhere. Looms hang from the rafters under houses on stilts, and weavers shuttle threads up and down rather than side to side. You can watch the entire silk weaving process from moth to cloth as Toumlan weavers raise their own silkworms. The worms form yellow cocoons, and once the moth emerges, the cocoons are boiled, unraveled, and spun into threads before undergoing a natural dyeing process using leaves and insects to create different colours. A few kilometers south of KoumBan Toumlan. You can visit khoua Ban Darbn Broken Bridge on the return to Salavanh Town.

Kissing Cousin’s Longhouse (in Ban Heuan Nyao, Longhouse Village) is 40 meter-long home, though it once stretched 100 meters. Several generations ago, a Katang man named Mr. Lue had seven wives, and he built a longhouse here for his families, apportioning five meters for each plus a common room, kitchen, and veranda. His wives had several children, who intermarried, and the newlyweds each continued to add five more meters to the longhouse. Mr. Lue’s extended family eventually reached 103 households with 17 longhouses at the villages’s peak. Today’s single longhouse holds shields once used in sword fights, and the current village chief has but three wives.

NATURE AREAS IN SALAVANH PROVINCE

Phu Xieng Thong National Biodiversity Conservation Area (Salavanh and Champasack Province) covers 1,200 square kilometers in the western part of Salavanh Province next to the Mekong river. Among the animals found there are: Green peafowl, banteng and leopard. It is also thought that Asiatic black bear, banteng, clouded leopard, Douc langur, elephant, gibbon, guar, Siamese crocodile and tiger and inhabit this area. Within a cave huge stone caskets are piled one on top of the other. Ecotourism activities include trekking and orchid photography.

Habitat: Semi-dry evergreen forest is the predominant forest type. Dry dipterocarp forest, mixed deciduous forest and bamboo are patchily distributed. PXT incorporates the Lao side of the Mekong River and the adjoining hills eastward. To the east, its edge is well defined by a steeply rising escarpment to a low sandstone plateau.

Getting There: Route 13 south runs roughly parallel with the eastern boundary within a distance of 1-6 kilometers. Route 13 is being rebuilt as a hard-top road. A rough track negotiable by 4WD cuts 6 kilometers across the reserve to the Mekong River and the enclave village, Khanthungxai. Another track reaches the enclave village, Thakhamxomxua. Also accessible from Ban Mai Singsampanh.

Khong Mountain Trek ( in Phou Xieng Thong NPA) involves a trek up Khong Mountain after an overnight home stay in remote Ban Mai Singsamphan, a Mekong River village in Phou Xieng Thong NPA accessed only by boat, and venture over rocky outcrops and through wild orchids to breathtaking views.

Day 1) Depart Pakse by local transport and travel north to a pier for the 1.5-hour boat ride on the Mekong River to a secluded area inside the Phou Xieng Thong National Protected Area that is accessible only by boat. Arrive at Ban Mai Singsamphan village in the afternoon. This Lao Loum trading and fishing village is a favorite among Thai tourists, who visit on weekends to purchase local Lao products. Enjoy a meal of fresh Mekong fish prepared by the villagers. Spend the night with a home stay family.

Day 2) Kong Mountain: After waking early for breakfast, begin a full day of hiking up Khong Mountain (5-6 hours) with local guides. Explore the mountain’s rich flora and landscape, including orchids, wild mushrooms, unique rock outcroppings and dense forests, and visit the archeological remains of a an ancient Khmer civilization, before reaching sweeping views of the Lao-Thai border area.Enjoy a local style picnic on the trail, before returning to the village in the afternoon. Then take a boat down the Mekong River and local transport back to Pakse, arriving in late afternoon.

Optional Day 3) Don Kho Island: Instead of returning to Pakse on Day 2, continue two hours down the Mekong to Don Kho Island, the original location of the French Colonial Administration in Champasak. Stay overnight with local families, and on Day 3, tour the island and relax on its beaches before returning to Pakse in afternoon by local transportation.

Other treks in the park: 1) Ta Ong Trail: Embark on a two-day trek to explore Xe Pian NPA’s diverse forests with knowledgeable village guides, view birds, ride in a canoe and spend the night in an ethnic Lavae village. 2) Phou Asa Mountain Trekking - Half-day and Full-Day Programs: Embark on a one/two day or one day hike to Phou Asa Mountain and explore the thick jungles of Xe Pian National Protected Area for medicinal plants and ancient temple remains situated above the traditional village of Kiet Ngong.

Tours to Khong Mountain can be made through Green Discovery Laos. Or, contact the Provincial Tourism Information Office at (+856-31-212-021) for local guides and transport. To get to Ban Mai Singsamphan you can hire a private tuk tuk to the boat landing at Ban Boungkha, located approximately 34 kilometers north of Pakse, from where you can get a boat north to Ban Mai Singsamphan. There is also a public truck (cheap option) that leaves from the night bus terminal at the new market in the center of Pakse to Ban Boungkha everyday at about 10:00 am.

To return to Pakse, villagers at Ban Mai Singsamphan can direct you to Ban Boungkha, Ban Nakeo, or Don Kho Island. Public trucks leave from Ban Boungkha and Ban Nakeo to Pakse once per day at 6:00 am. To catch this bus, visitors must have Ban Mai Singsamphan villagers take you very early in the morning. Those riding the boat to Don Kho Island can return to Pakse by tuk tuk any time of day.

Xe Bang NouanNational Protected Area (Salavanh and Savanakhet Provinces) covers 1,260 square kilometers. Habitat: Evergreen, dry dipterocarp and mixed deciduous forest. The eastern portion of the NPA is flat to gently rolling terrain under 400 meters north and south of the Bang Nouanriver. The flats are bounded by low hills to the north and the south. In the central portion the river breaks through a large block of steep hills. East from the hills the river flows in a wide valley rising north, south, and east to hills the crest of which demarcates the edge of the Bang Nouan catchment. Elevation is from 200 -1,000 meters. This park is not easily accessible. Ecotourism activities have not been developed. No detailed survey has been done on wildlife there.

Xe Xap National Protected Area (Salavanh and Sekong Provinces) covers 1,335 square kilometers. Among the animals found there are: Two species of bears, gaur, dhole, serow, large antlered muntjac and tigers. Habitat: Hill evergreen, semi-evergreen and pine forest. The NPA, which encompasses part of the Southern Annamite Mountains, is mostly steep terrain with high plateaus at about 1,400 meters.There are very steep faces on the eastern and southern sides of the NPA, rising from 400 - 1,400 meters.The highest peak, Dong Be, rises to 2,066 meters. Getting There: Access is via the road leading from Salavan to Ta-Oy and further east to Samuoy. Ecotourism activities have not been developed.

SEKONG PROVINCE

SEKONG PROVINCE is situated in the southern of Laos. Bordering provinces with Vietnam to the east, Champasack Province to the west, Salavanh Province to the north and Attapeu Province to the south. Sekong embraces a large chunk of the Bolaven Plateau and has a population of only around 64,200 people. Sekong province is rugged, wild and very scenic, but transportation is very difficult, especially by land in the rainy season. Dotted through out are villages and small towns; such as Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng, where the majority of people follow and the unchanging lifestyle of traditional farming. Overall, the Sekong river valley is characterized by a landscape of a fertile plain patterned with a patchwork of rice paddies and fruits orchard. It's also a complex geographical conditions form colorful eco-tourism resources because it's famous by rich of untouchable tropical forest, home to many rare species of flora and fauna.

Sekong Province is one of the least explored provinces in Laos due to the rugged landscape and mountainous terrain that rises to the Dacheung Plateau. Sekong is located in the heart of southern Laos, with Salavan to the north, Champasak to the west, Attapeu in the south and Vietnam to the east. Remnants of the Ho Chi Minh Trail originating in Ta Oy district in Salavan Province pass through Sekong and the Dacheung Plateau on the way to southern Vietnam. With 14 distinct ethnic groups belonging to the Mon-Khmer linguistic family this sparsely populated province is probably the most ethnically diverse in southern Laos. The Katu and Talieng are the largest ethnic groups in the province and are noted for their unique religious practices that mix animism and ancestor worship.

The Sekong River, which bisects the province flowing south into Cambodia is ideal for river trips. Local boatmen hire long-tail boats for scenic river journeys that follow the edge of the Bolaven Plateau down to Attapeu Province. Occasionally, freshwater dolphins migrate up the Sekong right up to Sekong Town. The province is dotted with many cascading waterfalls. Tad Hia, Tad Faek and Tad Se Noi (or Tad Hua Khon) waterfalls are the most convenient to visit from town and offer opportunities for swimming, trekking and village visits. Another waterfall not to be missed is the Nam Tok Katamtok, which originates from the Huay Katam River deep in the jungles of the Bolaven Plateau.

Xe Xap National Protected Area, which covers an area of 1,335 square kilometers straddling Sekong and Salavan provinces includes part of the southern Annamite Mountains and is mostly steep terrain with high plateaus of about 1400 meters. On the eastern and southern sides of Xe Xap steep faces rise from 400 meters to 1400 meters, topped by Dong Be at 2066m. The protected area’s habitat of hill evergreen, semi-evergreen and pine forests support large mammal species including two types of bear, gaur, dhole, serow, large antlered muntjac and tigers.

Sekong is well known for its unique textile patterns, which consist of multicolored line patterns created from a hip loom. Although many of the groups produce beautiful weavings, the Nge ethnic group is especially renowned for its works, as well as the Alak for their traditional Lao skirts (sin). Handicrafts can be purchased directly from villages, as well as from handicraft shops in Sekong Town (also known as Muang Lamam). In Kandone Village there are excellent examples of woodcarvings and traditional longhouses.

Sekong Province covers 7,665 square kilometers and has four districts: Lanarm, Kaleum, Dakcheung and Thateng. The capital of the province is Lanarm. If you are in Sekong during January - February inquire about the fascinating annual festivals held in Katu, Nge and Tariang villages. Another notable local celebration is Boun Souang Heua (traditional boat racing) that takes place in Sekong on 2 December every year to coincide with Lao National Day.

ATTAPEU PROVINCE

ATTAPEU PROVINCE is located in the most southeastern tip of Laos. It shares the Bolaven Plateau with Sekong Province to the north, Champasack to the west, Vietnam to the East and Cambodia to the south. The Bolaven Plateau is most easily accessed from Pakse. Attapeu is home to nine major ethnic minorities: the Alak, Katang, Kaleum, Katou, Suay, Nge, Lave, Tahoy and Nyajeung. The capital town, Samakkhixay, is situated in a large picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and the bend of a river. Attapeu Province is rugged, wild and very scenic. Transportation is very difficult, especially by land in the rainy season. Parts of the Ho Chi Minh Trail can be explored from Attapeu, although using a local guide is essential. In the early morning you can visit traditional market, where many different minorities go to buy and sell their products.

Attapeu Province has a total area of 10,320 square kilometers and a population of only 110,000 people. There are five districts : Samakkhixay, Xaysettha, Sanamxay, Sanxay and Phouvong. Sights include: A) 23-meter-high and 120-meter-wide Tad Saepha Waterfall (61 kilometers from Samakhixai), on the Xe Pian river, within the Xepian National Protected Area; B) 10-meter-high and 30-meter-wide Tad Samongphak Waterfall (one hour and forty five minute boat trip up the Xe Pain river from Ban mai (Sanamxai district); Nonglom Lake (3 kilometers form Samakkhixay) a popular picnic spot.

Wat Pha Saysettha and Saysettha Stupa in Saysettha district were built in 1577 and represents a crucial moment in Lan Xang history when King Saysetthathiral died near by. The great age of the stupa is evidenced by the original handmade bricks containing the rice grains. Wat Sakhae Temple contains the sacred Buddha image of Ongsene. The Ho Chi Minh Trail is marked by a war memorial in Sanexai District and is close to Tadnampa Waterfall. Kavanghine Place is the home of a rock structure thought to have been made in ancient times by people from the legendary Meuang Chueng culture. This is at Phouvong about 56 kilometers from Samakhixai District.

Trekking in Attapeu includes trips of one to five day to waterfalls, national protected areas and ethnic villages. These trekking areas offer off-the-beaten track travel that is free of the typical tourist fare and filled with untouched natural and cultural experience. Among the destinations are: 1) Tad Phok Waterfall, accessed through Ban Lanyao, an ethnic Oy community; Tad Phapong Waterfall, reached in a one-day (6 kilometers) hike or a 5-hour boat trip.

In Sanexai District there are 2- to 5-day treks from Ban Paam to Muang Khao into the old district capital, passing through ethnic Alak villages on the way. From Muang Khao, visitors can go to a nearby waterfall (4 kilometers away). There is also an option to continue back to Pa'am on foot or by vehicle. Another option isto continue for another 3 days to Nong Fa, a crater lake located in the heart of Dong Ampham NPA. For more information contact: Attapeu Travel and Tours Limited, Tel: (856 36) 211 204, Mobile (020) 231 2637, Email: lbvt@laotel.com or Thongxay@laotel.com , Website: www.offroad.laopdr.com .

Xe Pian National Protected Area (Champasack and Attapeu Province) covers 2,400 square kilometers in the province’s southeastern region and is rich in biodiversity of global significance. Xe Pian’s dry deciduous forest and wetlands are home to Asian elephant, white-cheeked gibbons, green peafowl and the giant ibis. Established ecotourism opportunities include elephant riding, bird watching, trekking and village home-stays.

Among the endangered animals found there are: tiger, banteng, Irrawaddy dolphin, Asian elephant, gaur, sun bear, Asiatic black bear, yellow-checked crested gibbon. The XePian-Dong Hua Sao NPA gibbon population is of major global conservation significance. XePian has the highest number of birds recorded for any NPA. Seven of these species have not been recorded in any other protected area in Laos. Important species include the giant ibis, black ibis, sarus crane, white-winged duck and the white rumped, long billed and red headed vulture.

Habitat: Forest types include evergreen, mixed evergreen and deciduous. Terrain is hilly and low with extensive areas of flatlands in the east and south at an altitude of 150 – 300 meters.The Xe Kong plains in the east are dissected by three main rivers – the Xe Pian, XeKhampho and near the northern and eastern perimeters, the Xe Kong. It contains numerous mainly seasonal wetlands. Drainage is largely south to Cambodia and north to the northern wetlands. Getting There: The main access is by Road No. 13. South of Pakse at kilometers. 48, Route No. 6 heads east along the northern boundary of theNBCA, and then branches to several villages.

Xe Pian National Protected Area Trek features walks through dense forests to waterfalls and a home stay in Ban Mai. Trek or cruise in a boat along the Xe Pian River to Tad Saephe, Tad Samongphak and Tad Saeponglai Waterfalls. Spend the night with a Ban Mai family and eat a traditional Lao dinner. View the local way of life and enjoy a relaxing evening on the banks of the Xe Pian.

The 48-kilometer journey to Ban Mai starts in Attapeu town (Samakkhixai), and the route southwest stops at Nonglom Lake at the foot of the Bolaven plateau, where birdwatchers might catch a glimpse of important species including the giant ibis, black ibis, sarus crane, and white-winged duck as well as white rumped, long billed and red headed vultures.

The road continues to Sanamxai before turning off to Ban Mai on the Xe Pian River, where travelers board a long tail boat with a village guide to lead the way on a one-hour cruise to the 10-meter-high, 30-meter-wide Tad Samongphak Waterfall. From here, a path cuts through the forest on a three-hour trek along the river to the massive 120-meter-wide Tad Saepha Waterfall, which drops 23 meters. The return trek to Tad Samongphak can follow an alternative trail through the forest and farmland, before boarding the boat to Ban Mai. During the rainy season and if the river’s level is high enough, the entire trip can be made by boat.

Upon return, travelers can take an evening bath in the Xe Pian River before sitting down to a traditional dinner with their home-stay family. Group sizes are limited in the interest of boat safety and to enhance the experience for both visitors and village hosts. Ban Mai also has a small restaurant and shops selling snacks.

Dong Am Phanh National Protected Area (Attapeu Province) covers 1,975 square kilometers. Among the animals found there are: Douc langur and buff-cheeked gibbon,fishing cat Asiatic golden cat, clouded leopard and tiger. Gaur, Trong Song muntjac and small populations of Asian elephants. There are a total of 280 bird species including Siamese fireback, crested argus and the woolly-necked stork and rufous-winged buzzard. Habitat: Lowland evergreen, semi evergreen, mixed deciduous and dry dipterocarp forests. Coniferous and broadleaf woodland, hill evergreen and semi-evergreen and fagaceous forests. Dong Amphan is situated in the Annamite Chain that runs along the Lao and Vietnamese border. These mountains are steep and rugged and give rise to numerous streams and rivers, which create small floodplain areas. The NongFa or crater lake is situated within the boundaries of the NPA. Elevation ranges from 120 - 2,052 meters at PhouPengmun. Getting There: Dong Amphan is located in north-east Attapeu Province. It is very remote and mountainous. Access is mainly limited to dry season

Trekking in Dong Amphan is done by boat, foot and 4WD on a multi-day expedition cutting deep into some of the world’s most untamed wilderness. Trek along the historic Ho Cho Minh Trail and see a missile launcher leftover from the war. Navigate rivers through dense forests, and hike along rugged trails to secluded ethnic villages and a lake at top of an extinct volcano. Travelers need at least two days just to scratch Dong Amphan’s surface. Local guides can lead excursions along the many trails meandering through the protected area, though few foreigners have reached its grand prize, the extinct volcano crater lake: Nong Fa.

To penetrate Dong Amphan’s northern territory, travelers can board a boat at Ban Hin Dam for a journey up the Xe Kaman River, which delineates the Dong Amphan’s northwest boundary. The cruise ends at the rocky Hua Tat Pohr rapids, where a network of trails connects trekkers to remote villages of rarely visited ethnic groups. Those looking for extreme adventure off the beaten track hit pay dirt on the trail to Nong Fa. Though a 4WD vehicle can come close to the base of the volcano at Vangetat village, and provides a quick exit, a combination of boat cruises and trekking offers a closer look into Dong Amphan.

The journey begins 12 kilometers from the Vietnam border at the Xe Xou River. A rough dirt road, impassable during the rainy season, follows the river much of the way, and at times even crosses it. Boats can battle through rapids past Ban Keng Maw before the journey jumps back on the path. Those embarking on foot for the four-day, 90-kilometer trek follow an old Lao military training route that starts outside Ban Pa’an and stops at a string of villages along the way. Three to four days of hiking through unspoiled nature, steep climbs up mountains with scenic views and overnight stays in villages delivers trekkers to Vangetat Village. From here, a final two-hour assault up the extinct volcano reaches the crystal clear waters of Nong Fa Lake surrounded by pine trees, and a well-earned swim in one of the most distant places on earth. For more information contact: Attapeu Travel and Tours Limited, Tel: (856 36) 211 204, Mobile (020) 231 2637, Email: lbvt@laotel.com or Thongxay@laotel.com , Website: www.offroad.laopdr.com .

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Laos-Guide-999.com, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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