Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The strip, Savannakhet

Downtown Savannakhet is a wonderful mix of crumbling French colonial architecture, Chinese shophouses and Modernist eccentricities. Most travellers skip through but in doing so miss an untouristy, charming historic centre with possibly the last working original bicycle saamlor in the country.
UNESCO hasn’t paid a visit yet to Savannakhet; it ought to. One hotel company has restored a French colonial building on the main square demonstrating how beautiful the surrounding colonial buildings could be.
The main oblong plaza is dominated by the creamy lines of a French church and scattered around are disintegrating ochre buildings in colonial style. There’s a very modern cinema building nearby, a Lao art deco theatre and the Vietnamese-Lao Association building topped by globes and doves which defies categorisation. Communist leader in chief, Kaysone Phomvihane’s residence, a beautiful Lao house, lies restored in perfectly manicured gardens but off limits to the public. Close by is a handsome French colonial home, with wooden louvered shutters, that was built between 1935-37. It belonged to the city historian. Opposite is the city historian’s father’s house. This man was an adviser to the father of the last King of Laos.
Savannakhet’s newest architectural adornment is Savan Vegas, an outrageously kitsch construction on the outskirts. The casino facade is supported by gigantic crowned white elephants and the front door obscured by an orgy of pachyderms dancing around a fountain!

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