Photo: Old shopfront, Savannakhet.

Exploring Savannakhet

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Though perhaps best known for its nearby NBCAs (national parks), Savannakhet is also the perfect spot for a few days of unwinding. Lose yourself in the smoky scent of Lao sausages on the grill, the late afternoon giggles of schoolchildren, a Mekong River sunset and a stroll through historic streets.

Just another day in Savannakhet...

Just another day in Savannakhet…

Constructed by the many French and Chinese merchants who once called Savannakhet home, most of the houses that line the city’s largely unmarked streets were built around the turn of the 20th century. With bent and galvanized tin roofs over crumbling plaster, red brick and teak wood exterior walls punctuated by faded wood doors, shutters and verandas, even the most dilapidated old houses still cling to their original charm.

They don't make 'em like they used to.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Like the one pictured above, many of these rundown heritage buildings continue to serve as modest homes and businesses for local families. We noticed several century-old structures under varying stages of restoration work, and a handful — such as the one occupied by Sala Savanh Guesthouse pictured below — have already been tastefully spruced up.

It's a great place to stay too.

It’s a great place to stay too.

Reflecting its eclectic heritage, Savannakhet is still home to both Evangelical and Catholic churches along with Theravada Buddhist temples and Mahayana Chinese and Vietnamese shrines and pagodas. None of these are particularly awe-inspiring, but 92-year-old Saint Theresa Church at the heart of town is a lovely relic of the French that now hosts a Vietnamese Catholic congregation. Built in the 1500s, Wat Xaiyaphoum to the north of town is also worth a peek — we arrived to find a group of teenaged boys giving Buddha images a makeover.

Buddhas get a bath.

Buddhas getting a bath.

After a lazy stroll through the old town, an even lazier bike ride along the vast Mekong is a must.

That would be Mukdahan tower, and Thailand on the other side.

That would be Mukdahan tower, and Thailand on the other side.

Savannakhet also expresses its eclectic heritage through food. Stretching out in front of Saint Theresa Church, Talaat Yen plaza is a great place to relax with a Lao coffee and authentic Lao or Vietnamese meal by day or a candlelit French dinner at Dao Savanh Restaurant after sun down. Other culinary pleasures include cheap Lao and Vietnamese finger foods at Savansai market near the bus station, the fabulous Japanese-Lao-Western menu at Cafe Anakot on Ratsavongseuk Road, and the fiery Lao dishes served up on a deck that floats over the Mekong at Savan Lao Dearm Restaurant.

Our spread at Savan Lao Dearm -- that cold beer came in handy.

Our spread at Savan Lao Dearm — that cold beer came in handy.

Savan Lao Dearm is also a fine place to enjoy dreamy Mekong sunsets, though we’ll leave you with this shot captured from the nearby hillside instead.

Relaxed yet?

Relaxed yet?

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