Savannakhet Province is situated in the middle of the country and is the largest province (21,774 square kilometers), bordered by Vietnam to the East, Thailand to the West, Khammouane Province to the North and Salavanh Province to the South. 60% of land is covered by forests. A wide variety of ethnic groups are found in the province: Lowland Lao, Phoutai, Thai Dam, Katang, Mangkong, Vali, Lava, Soui, Kapo, Kaleung and Ta-Oi. In addition, many Vietnamese and Chinese descendants live in the province as well. This fact makes the province rich in cultural and gastronomic diversity.
Top sights in Savannakhet
That Ing Hang (Temple in Savannakhet)
Thought to have been built in the mid-16th century, this well-proportioned, 9m-high thâat is the second-holiest religious edifice in southern Laos after Wat Phu Champasak. It’s located about 11.5km northeast of Savannakhet via Rte 9, then 3km east and the turn-off is clearly signposted. Going by bicycle or motorbike is the easiest option.
The Buddha is believed to have stopped here when he was sick during his wanderings back in ancient times. He rested by leaning (ing) on a hang tree (thus Ing Hang). A relic of the Buddha’s spine is reputed to be kept inside the thâat.
Not including the Mon-inspired cubical base, That Ing Hang was substantially rebuilt during the reign of King Setthathirat (1548–71) and now features three terraced bases topped by a traditional Lao stupa and a gold umbrella weighing 40 baht (450g). A hollow chamber in the lower section contains a fairly undistinguished collection of Buddha images; by religious custom, women are not permitted to enter the chamber. The French restored That Ing Hang in 1930. The That Ing Hang Festival is held on the full moon of the first lunar month.
Dong Natad (Wildlife Reserve in Savannakhet)
Dong Natad is a sacred, semi-evergreen forest within a provincial protected area 15km from Savannakhet. It’s home to two villages that have been coexisting with the forest for about 400 years, with villagers gathering forest products such as mushrooms, fruit, oils, honey, resins and insects. It’s possible to visit Dong Natad by bicycle, motorbike or tuk-tuk from Savannakhet. Travelling alone to Dong Natad will be something of a ‘forest-lite’ experience, however. It’s better to engage one of Savannakhet’s English-speaking guides through the eco-guide unit.
The unit offers various programs, ranging from multiday homestays to one-day cycling trips, and ranging in price from 1,000,000K to 2,000,000K for one person in a group of two (prices drop substantially the more people there are). These community-based trips have had plenty of positive feedback and the combination of English-speaking guide and village guide proves a great source of information about how the local people live. If you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter villagers collecting red ants, cicadas or some other critter, depending on the season; all are important parts of their diet and economy. Make arrangements at least a day ahead.
Wat Rattanalangsi (Buddhist temple in Savannakhet)
Wat Rattanalangsi was built in 1951 and houses a monks’ primary school. The sĭm (ordination hall) is unique in that it has glass windows (most windows in Lao temples are unglazed). Other structures include a rather gaudy Brahma shrine, a modern săhláh lóng tám (sermon hall) and a shelter containing a 15m reclining Buddha backed by Jataka paintings.
Events and festival in Savannakhet
Almost every month of the year there is either a local festival or celebration in Laos. The word for festival in Lao is boun, which also means doing good things in order to gain merit for subsequent lives. If you are in Savannakhet while any of the festivals are taking place you will surely be welcomed and asked to join the fun. Please feel free to participate, however remember that most of the festivals are based on religious beliefs, so your hosts will appreciate it if you respect local codes of behavior.
Boun Pha That Ing Hang (Ing Hang Festival) January
Boun Pha That Phonh (That Phon Festival) February
Boun Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year Festival) On 14th -16th April
Boun Phavet-Elephant Parade and Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival) May-June
Boun Suang Heua (Boat Racing Festival) October-November
Boun Heuan Hin (Heuan Hin Festival) October-November
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