Dok Champa Khao is the name of the national flower of Laos. (trivia: it is the national flower of Nicaragua, too.) In English it is known as the Plumeria flower. In Savannakhet, "Dok Champa Khao" has another meaning as well. Most of the local citizens will know it as that peaceful place to go for a massage. Only 35,000 kip.
The woman who created this place in the main street of Savannakhet, just south of BCEL and the old market, is Bao. She has made a wonderful warm place. It is very clean. She has attracted very friendly (female) staff. Bao and her receptionist speak English, the massage staff doesn't, so make your wishes clear before you start your relaxing time. The style and atmosphere is quite warm, and the staff operates very modest and discretely. Both Lao people and falang come here to get an one hour Lao massage. Or two hours if desired. Lao massage is a traditional kind of massage where no muscles will be skipped. It includes massage for back, legs, feet, arms, hands, shoulders, neck and head. After a trek, or just after travelling far from Vientiane, Thakhek or Pakxe, a Lao message in this place will relax your body so much. For the person who needs only a foot massage (35.000 kip / 1h), they surely will enjoy too. The menu lists additionally: oil massage (60.000 kip / 1h), aroma massage (80.000 kip / 1h15m), herbal massage, foot spa and body scrub. Dok Champa Khao is open daily, from 10 am to 10 pm.
One reason to go here is the very peaceful atmosphere. Those who are high-sensitive for peaceful energies, will definitely enjoy a massage here.
That Ing Hang is a place of great religious significance to the Lao, and is second only in importance in Southern Lao to the amazing Wat Phou (see tip in Champasak section). The importance of the site is attested to by the large number of Lao wanting to have their photo taken by the resident photographer there. Strangely, though, for such an important Buddhist site, it spent a long period of time being used for Hindu worship, of which more later. In a strange way it reminded me a little of a building I know in Brick Lane in London which, over the years, has served as a Christian Church, a Jewish synagogue and presently a Moslem mosque.
Whilst I found the That fairly unremarkable as a structure, this history is fascinating. The reason for the holiness of the place for Buddhists is that the Buddha himself is said to have come here to preach to the local people. Pausing for lunch, he rested himself against a Hangna tree, and after his departure, the King of the local Sikottabong Kingdom, Sumittatum Vongsa ordered the erection of the stupa. In the way of kingdoms, this one fell in the 9th century A.D. and the balance of power shifted to the Khmer people from the South (roughly modern day Cambodia). The Khmer were Hindu and the stups became a place of worship to S(h)iva and the name changed to Intraprasarth. In it's turn, the once hugely influential Khmer empire declined in the 14th century A.D. and the Lao again became prominent in the area under Lane Xang rule. King Pothisarach ordered the restoration of the wat as a Buddhist shrine and it was added to in 1548 under the rule of King Saysetthathrach to form the structure you see today. It truly is a political barometer of this much contested region.
Ladies visiting the stupa are required to wear the traditional Lao skirt. If you don't have your own they are available for 2,000 kip at the ticket office. Admission is 5,000 kip and there are meant to be (small) additonal charges for cameras and videos, although the man refused money when I indicated my camera. Interestingly, the sign indicates you can take a whole film crew in for 25,000 kip, in case you were contemplating it. Don't say I don't try to give you all the information!
Sorry about the use of the poetic line (was it Rupert Brooke?) but it aptly describes one of the best things to do in Savannakhet, indeed just about anywhere in Southeast Asia. I have lost count of the sunset images I have taken over the years, and more specifically of sunsets over the Mekong. It really is a favourite subject of mine. Although the accompanying photo is not one of my better ones, I have been honest enough not to "borrow" a better one from another town, this really is Svannakhet.
As in so many places on the Mekong, as soon as the sun begins to lower, things begin to happen. Vendors appear to sell their wares, people emerge from everywhere to gather and eat at makeshift restaurants where an hour before there had been merely a piece of waste ground. The way they construct and deconstruct these things daily absoutely fascinates me, and with the minimum of equipment turn out food of the highest quality.
Even if you do not want to eat (I rarely do that early), sitting with a cold Beer Lao quietly watching the sun dipping below the mountains of Thailand is nothing short of blissful. I really do recommend it to you.
If you are missing your VT, want to catch up on the sports results or your stockmarket portfolio, or even just need to get online to check your e-mail, this is the place for you. It is the Sikonet internet cafe on Rattsavongseuk Road. Having used the internet all over Lao, I knew that prices can range from about 6,000 kip per hour up to about 10,000 and the price normally reflects the speed of connection. I am certainly no computer expert and I do not know if the proximity to Thailand has a bearing but this place had a lightning fast connection speed at a staggeringly low price of 4,000 kip per hour. To give you an idea, at time of writing the exchenge rates are roughly 13,200 to the £ sterling and about 8,500 to the $US.
There are about 20 booths and even a couple of spare lines so you can hookup your laptop / notebook without rearranging a whole desk. Many of the booths have webcam and headsets as well. Out of sheer curiosity, I had a bit of a look round town but could not find anywhere cheaper.
If you have read my previous tip on Wat Sounantha, you will have read that I was somewhat dazed by the actions of some of the monks there, and it was in a state of some bewilderment that I approached Wat Chomkeo which occupies a pleasant site at the North of town on the banks of the Mekong. Order was quickly restored. No cigarette smoking monks here! Instead a couple of pleasant if unremarkable wats. Walking down for another look at the Mekong, which I love, I came upon the highlight of the complex for me. I am no expert and if some kind VT reader can corect any inaccuracies, I would be indebted.
As far as I know, there are a number of fairly standardised representations of the Buddha, sitting lotus position, reclining, standing with one hand raised etc., and one of my favourites is the one of him sitting being both protected and shaded from the sun by a huge snake (cobra, I think). I believe the story is that Buddha was in some unhospitable place with no shade, and the cobra sat over him, acting as a sort of serpent parasol. I have seen this pose with both a serpents head or, as in this case, a series of nagas (mythical creatures) representing the shape of the head. The image here, as you can see, was a rather fine example, made all the more striking by it's wonderful location.
I went to visit Wat Sounantha at the Northern end of town, and it provided me with several insights into various aspects of of Buddhist religious thinking. Entering the main gate of the comples, my eye was taken by a striking building to the left, which looked modern and was hugely impressive. On reading the bi-lingual sign, I discovered that it was named Rattanaphone Castle and had only been completed less than a year before my visit after five years in construction. It is so named for the eponymous Vong Rattanophone, the abbot and cost the princely sum of over 7 billion kip. In what I thought was a lovely touch, the good man's telephone number is displayed should you wish to speak to him. I was struck by the maount of money that had come from expatriate Lao living overseas, specifically the USA. Unfortunately, this building was locked so I turned my attention to the main wat.
It is an impreeive building and for me the outstanding feature was the raised relief on the front wall showing Lord Buddha apparently standing in the middle of a river dividing two warring armies. I cannot recall seeing a comparable relief in all the temples I have visitedIt was here that I had some of my perceptions of temple etiquette and monkish behaviour slightly challenged. I went in and there were four monks on what I would term the altar. Actually, I initially thought there were three and it was only when the fourth started snoring stentoriously that I realised there was someone under the blanket at the far end. Two other monks were in discussion and I watched amazed as one of them handrolled a cigarette and proceeded to smoke it. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. I was finally approached by the fourth monk, a diminutive, elderly man and we tried to make conversation by the usual hand signals etc. We were getting along wonderfully until he excused himself very politely and scurried off to answer his mobile (cell) 'phone which was chirruping away on the altar.
I have to say I left that place in some confusion as to what proper temple etiquette actually is, it really was an eye-opener.
In keeping with my policy of only attaching one image to each tip, I shall include the one of the wonderful relief and shall add more on my return home.
On a day of quite intense temple visiting, I went to Wat Rattanalangsi, and I greatly enjoyed it. I have heard travellers complaining before of being "templed out" but I could easily spend all day in the magnificent places. Having watched a couple of small boys knocking nuts out of the trees with a long stick and being undoubtedly the butt of the joke of a couple of equally pre-pubexcent monks, I set about looking at the place.
The wat is obviously of relatively modern construction, and I know it must be less than about 130 years old as that is the date of the oldest wat in the city, Wat Sayaphum (see seperate tip). There is nothing remarkable architecturally, I just found it to be a well-kept, peaceful temple and well worth a visit.
Chua Bao Quang temple.
I mentioned in my Savannakhet introduction that the city is at the beginning of a major trade route to Vietnam and there is a large Vietnamese community here. Whilst Buddhist, the Vietnamese generally practice a different form of Buddhism to the neighbouring Lao (Mahayana as opposed to Theravada, I believe although I am no expert) and there are several temples catering for their needs. This is one such. It appears quite modern in construction and it just "looks different" from the Lao temples, although it is very hard to quantify. What is easier to identify is that the entrance will usually have a non-Lao script identifying it. If you look at the accompanying photo, you can see this. When I visited, there was just one elderly lady sweeping out the temple and it was very peaceful and somehow seemed more orderly than the usual Lao temples. It is worth a visit, if only to compare for yourself the contrasting styles of worship practiced by the two groups.
I don't often have occasion to write tips about places I have not been but I submit this to prevent any other VTer's making the slightly embarrassing mistake I did.
I had my guidebook map suggesting the town museum was just South of the General Hospital. I can navigate pretty reasonably, so when I saw where the museum was supposed to be located, beside the hospital, I found that with little difficulty. I had read that there was an old disused Russian tank in the grounds so it shouldn't have been hard to find. Well, I walked round for a while and came to the conclusion it must be the best camouflaged light armour in the world for of a tank there was no sign. The only sign was on the gate indicating this was the Savannakhet Province Nurse Training School which didn't put me off unduly as I know Government facilities are often co-located here.
I blundered about for a while looking ofr any indication of a museum and I eventually saw a likely looking building. Having walked around so long, I was determined I wasn't going to be defeated, so I tentatively pushed open the door which was a little ajar to be confronted by what I suppose must have been an anatomy class of young Lao student nurses. Much amazement from them, much embarrassment from yours truly and yet another hasty retreat beaten.
I eventually found a group of women who informed me that I was in the right place but the Museum had been moved about half a mile down the road and was given comprehensive directions. When I got there, it was closed and nobody there (or from subsequent enq uiries elsewhere) was able to tell me when it might be opening.
The photograph is of the new (unopened) building which is located next to the Lao telecom building. You can't miss that, it is the one with the really big radio mast.
.....apparently they roamed about Savannakhet! There is a small dinosaur museum (one room only) in Savannakhet with some quite interesting relics of dinosaurs and a lump of an ancient meteorite. It is certainly not a huge exhibition, but the English-speaking man who curates the place is extremely keen to talk you through it and is very enthusiastic about his subject. Slightly oddly, they ahve a few dinosaur bones from Ilminster and Peterborough in England, although what the relevance is to the local dinosaurs I have no idea.
Admission is 5,000 kip for foreigners and it will realistically only take about 20 minutes to have a really good look around unless you are a real dinosaur addict in which case I suspect the gent there could keep you amused for hours.
This is one of the few things in Lao I have found that would be accessible to the mobility impaired as it is all on one level.
Open Monday - Friday 0800 - 1200 and 1300 - 1600.
The street market is a good place to entertain yourself, as well as feed yourself some street foods. The market goes for a couple blocks and is mostly of food produce.
There are fresh farm vegetables, but there are also a few food stalls. You can get some soups, curries, and even BBQ chicken on a stick for less than a dollar!
One of the best things to do in Savannakhet is to simply wander around and soak up the wonderful Art Deco and other early 20th c buildings. They haven't been touched since the French left, which makes them quite rare I think. Some are absolute gems.
The Catholic Church still maintains a presence in Savannakhet. Nice church, too - minimalistic, imperfect beauty.