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A Timeless Beauty

SAVANNAKHET, LAOS – Sometimes it’s good to go back. There are occasions when revisiting a place after an absence of years brings back good feelings of nostalgia.

It’s this nostalgia that I’ve been basking in for a few days now.

In the early 20th century, Savannakhet was an important French trading post in southern Laos. As a result, there are plenty of examples of French colonial architecture scattered throughout the old quarter of the town.

This is the part of Savannakhet that I’ve spent most of my time in. I’ve found myself very inspired by being in this place, and have discovered a few little cafés that provide not only excellent coffee, but a quiet area in which I can write.

I’ve written more in the last few days than I have in the last few months, which is a good thing.

There isn’t much of a nightlife here, only one or two drinking spots that are more like restaurants than bars. It’s more the atmosphere of Savannakhet that is the main appeal of the town. Sadly, the Lao government does not seem all that interested in preserving the old colonial buildings, and many of them are in terminal decay.

Another change that has come to Savannakhet is the opening of the Friendship Bridge which spans the Mekong River, giving much more convenient access to Thailand. The highway which runs across Laos between Thailand and Vietnam has seen an increase in traffic and trade, but the old quarter is relatively untouched, having changed little since my last visit in December 2004.

Progress is good, but not when it comes at the cost of destroying history. For me, the old French buildings in Savannakhet are part of the town’s charm (just as it is in Battambang). It would be very sad to see these things slowly crumble into dust.

I love Savannakhet, and when I leave here, it will be with strong reluctance. I just hope that it’s not another six years before I can come back to this beautiful town.

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