Savannakhet, Laos: Adventure to Monkey Forest

Savannakhet, Laos temple at night
A Savannakhet temple at night.
Savannakhet is much like Pakse: a small, laid-back town with not much to do but enjoy the Laos way of life.

The bus was a slow five-hour plod up highway 13 with natural air-conditioning (40,000k/$5).

We had made a decision to maximize our experiences in Laos by renting a motorcycle at every opportunity and going deeper into the country. Lonely Planet’s Laos bookfeatures a motorcycle route called Spin through Savannakhet. The route takes you around the countryside past rice fields to Turtle Lake, Soui reservoir, Monkey Forest, Hotay Pidok Library, and some small villages. We decided to attempt it, renting a Kolao motorcycle (80,000k/$10) from a place on Th Ratsavongseuk just north of Chao Kim Street. The bike was small and very uncomfortable.

We set off, heading south to route 9B. Not able to find our exit, we stopped at a gas station and asked where route 13 was. We were told that we needed to be on the next road over (although there was no actual confirmation that he was referring to route 13). We went back and tried to get to the main road. Little did we know we had turned off too early, not realizing that we were actually still on 9B and not route 13. After driving down that road for 15 minutes, it was obvious we were going in the wrong direction. Stopping at a guesthouse, we asked for route 13 or Ban Lak 35. No one seemed to have a clue about any of the roads surrounding them. It was almost like they hadn’t even tried to drive out of their village ever in their lives. The guesthouse lady spoke no English but motioned for us to go back the way we came. We did that — still no luck. We stopped at a tee-shirt stand and asked a helpful man for directions. We told him we were going to Monkey Forest. He was not impressed. We were tourists. We would never get there. We would be lost and no one will be able to help us. Not to mention, it would take four hours to get there. Discouraged, but undeterred by his words of warning, we took his directions and pushed on. Thirty-five kilometres down route 9B, our butts were sore so we stopped at a gas station (that didn’t have gas) to rest our asses. On we pushed, and Ban Lak 35 (where we had to turn off) appeared like an oasis on the horizon. With another 35km ahead of us, we needed to stop and get gas. Most of the time in smaller villages you won’t see a gas station. What you will see is small stands with glass Coke and Fanta bottles filled with a pink or yellow fluid. This is your local “gas station”.

Laos gas station motorcycle
Gas station in rural Laos.
At Ban Nakhou we took a left turn towards Soui reservoir at which point the route to Monkey Forest was clearly marked. It was nice to see all the rice fields in their green splendour thanks to the water reservoir.

We arrived at Monkey Forest and wandered around the temple, enjoying the peaceful surroundings, and the comical monkeys. Suddenly, we heard a very un-monkey-like noise and turned to see one cat chasing another. They quickly climbed a tree, fought on a branch, and both fell hard to the concrete path below. Sara quickly hit record on her camera and the following footage was captured:

After all the excitement we sat and ate the picnic we had packed. Once we had our fill we decided to feed the leftovers to the monkeys. They became cantankerous when Sara offered them the rest of her pate baguette. They were not impressed. As we attempted to make a quick exit, one hostile monkey grabbed at Sara’s ankle leaving a small scratch and possibly a case of monkey scratch fever. Back at the motorbike, two adorable monkeys were searching for food. Figuring that pineapple was more their thing, we tried feeding them again. They devoured it, licking their lips while they ate.

Soon it would be dark so we headed back the same way we came. Tee-shirt guy was right, “No time for Turtle Lake.”

Leena Guesthouse Savannakhet Laos
Our room at Leena Guesthouse.
We ended up staying four nights (as opposed to the two planned) in Savannakhet because of Leena Guesthouse (90,000k/$11.30 for an AC room with TV and a private bathroom), a lovely family-run joint where we relaxed, ate their delicious cooking, and enjoyed watching Thai soap operas with the family (Sara cried at one dramatic moment, despite not understanding a word).

Next up, Thakhek. Will we do the 3 day motorcycle “loop” or will Ryan’s delicate posterior foil our plans?