Mornings in Savannakhet are the best part of the day. Sunrise in Laos not to be missed. Beautiful views and streets teaming with a unique local life. People are more active in the early hours before the sun begins its scorching. The Mekong River sits still, joggers line the perimeter and motorbikes and tuk-tuks buzz on nearby streets. Street food stalls pop-up and roadside cafes open. However the most important sight at this time, not to be missed, is the monks. I catch them passing at the Old Stadium area next to the Mekong River. I stalk them. One of my favourite things to do in Savannakhet. It is now 6.00am.
The monks come from Wat Rattanalangsi a nearby temple. Early morning the only time to find monks outside temple grounds unless travelling for official business. They patrol the streets of Savannakhet with alms bowls in front to collect offerings and food from locals in the area. After finishing their route they will return to the temple to feast. If you plan on finding monks when in Laos be sure to get to the streets early (6am a good time). Look for pavements lined with locals waiting with chairs, tables and upside Beer Lao crates topped with goodies. They wait to make offerings and to be blessed by the monks with prayer and holy water. An iconic sight of Laos.
Roadside cafes and street food serve from 6.00am onwards. The earlier hours the busier. Look for locals on plastic chairs under roadside canopies. For breakfast I go with a Lao Noodle Soup and complimentary Green Tea (15,000 Kip or US$2.00). On my return to the hotel a takeaway Baguette Sandwich (10,000 Kip 0r US$1.3). Slightly expensive compared to other areas of Laos but still relatively cheap.
Daytime it is best to stay inside. Of course not so easy when itching to explore but in truth not much happens during the day. Locals will hide and can often be found sleeping at their shop house businesses. I generally go for a Lao Massage (similar to Thai) and laze at riverside restaurants. For massage parlours you can find a couple on the main street – the most popular opposite the Old Market in the city centre (between 9W and the main Ratsavong Road). The Mekong River also a good option for daytime. Riverside restaurants open day long and offer the opportunity for the cliched Beer Lao / Mekong river photo-op (as below). For the more adventurous there are day tours in the area. Temples, waterfalls etc. The best place for booking tours in Savannakhet is Lin’s Cafe which sits next to the picturesque Talat Yen Plaza. Great coffees. The Plaza area is also worth pottering around in. Here you find Saint Theresa Church and French colonial shop houses. Dinosaur museum?
As the sun sets the streets of Savannakhet come to life. Evening time is feeding time. Restaurants open on every corner so finding food isn’t hard. A popular eating area is at the Old Market in the city center. Very local. For a more relaxed atmosphere try riverside restaurants along the Mekong River. For Western / touristy restaurants Talat Yen Plaza area is best. Lin’s Cafe is a hub for local travellers and brings a friendly menu of Asian favourites. However my favourite restaurant sits just round the corner on the perimeter of Talat Yen Plaza. Daosavanh Restaurant with top notch French Food.
Visitors to Savannakhet rarely see past the Savan Vegas Casino – the popular stopover for those on Thai VISA runs. But it is far from the city centre. If casinos interest you there are others lining the Mekong River an area popular with border crossing Thais who arrive at the nearby boat harbour. The Mekong River area also great for late night eating and boozing. Personally I prefer staying closer to the city centre where the main street comes to life in the late evenings. The Old Market area the most lively where Homfa Restaurant packs out with a youthful Lao crowd. For Nightclubs your best bet is the Hoong Thip Hotel. Local Lao music, local crowd and closes just after midnight. For a more relaxed night try people watching with a glass of wine at the Daosavanh Restaurant on Talat Yen Plaza.
Hotels in Savannakhet offer little value for money. During my stay I first stay at a random guesthouse on the outer roads. I then move closer to the city centre at Hoong Thip Hotel. This hotel has a convenient location between the Old Market area and Mekong River. Also very handy for Thai VISA runs. If you plan on staying here get a room in the new building. The old building (where I stayed) is well run down.