Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mukdahan, Thailand -> Savannakhet, Laos

It has been a while since I posted a personal blog entry, so here goes. For the past month I have been enjoying time in Pattaya, that jewel of a city, nestled on the shores of the Gulf of Siam, however, time to move on. Things to see, places to visit, visas to get. My second Thai tourist visa was due to expire in late August, thus, I needed to acquire a new. Several options available, but I decided to go with visiting Laos, via Savahhakhet.

Sannakhet, is a quiet, poor, visually run down city on the Mekong River, directly opposite the Thai city of Mukdahan. I had visited Sav in 2008 and was interested to see just what changes had taken place. To get there I first arrived in Muk, via the Yellow Bus (which runs from Rayong—south of Pattaya to the city of Mukdahan), a 12 hour trip, best done overnight. I spent a day in Muk, waymarking and generally hanging out and looking around. My hotel this time was the Submukda Grand Hotel, not sure about the 'grand' part, but a solid 500b hotel.

Muk is a pleasant spot, a few sights, though nothing terribly exciting. As last time, farang are not allowed to take the ferry across the Mekong, but have to take the Japanese built 'Friendship 2' bridge. This of course requires, more money: 50b bus faire from Muk, and 1500b one month Laos visa on arrival, and the skim. All good fun.

Sav had changed somewhat since I was first there, the bus station, for example, is completely new. Three years ago it was a gravel patch with a few crappy buildings, now a rather modern looking structure, with pavement! The town itself appears busier, by that I don't mean busy, but busier than last time. The streets are still broken, not many people around—the official tally is 120,000 in the city, I don't see how that can be. I would estimate far fewer, or I could be completely wrong.

Sav is essentially a half dozen streets running parallel to the Mekong, along ~2km of river bank. There are few iconic buildings, there is a xian church of some size, a new ferry building, lots of run down shops and buildings, some abandoned French era structures near the river, and lots of shabby buildings, plus lots of dogs on the streets. The roads are uncrowded. Even the river road, the busiest, is not that busy. You can stand in the road without worrying too much about being hit by a car. I can add that Sav is entirely free of western chain stores: no 711s, no KFCs, nothing.

Sav is also free of significant tourist sights. The most significant in the region is Wat That Hang 13kms outside the city, a not overly large stupa. Inside the town, a few Buddhist temples, a dinosaur (paleo) museum, a new provincial museum, and that is about it.

In Sav I hope to get a 2x Thai tourist visa, then head to Pakse ~200kms south to see the large Kymer era Wat at Champasak. Then head to Cambo and Phnom Penh, or something else.