We left Pakse going north, with Vientiane our real destination, but stayed overnight at Savannakhet to break the 500 km trip. At Heuane we got off the paved road to visit a small Khmer ruin, also known as the Stone House, from more or less the same era as the What Phou temple in Champassak. The unrestored ruins are a little more than a few walls and piles of rubble. The only known carved lintel found its way to Paris. Here too, Buddhism superseded the Hindu inspired Khmer culture.
Our guide Vieng was born in the nearby village, where he still has family on his mother's side. As we drove through the village, he happened to see his uncle who has a small convenience store. Vieng decided that our picnic lunch could just as well be here, so he asked his aunt to rustle up some stir-fried pork with cucumbers, steamed rice and the grilled chicken he bought at the roadside on the way here. While lunch was cooking, we walked through the village to Vieng's grandmother's house, who passed away a few months ago. Some older people recognized him and they chatted away. We obviously provided entertainment for young and old. People of the village are farmers, but in the off-season they cross the Mekong to Thailand and work in construction, the women cooking food at markets.
The road follows the Mekong more or less, which is the border with Thailand. There are only two bridges between the two countries, at Pakse and Vientiane, the third is under construction in Savannakhet. When finished, it will be an important link to the east-west road that runs to Vietnam and reaches the sea around Danang. For the Thais it will provide a faster route to the sea than presently around Singapore and the Straights of Moluccas. They are establishing a free trade zone here with a hope of inviting investment.
We stayed overnight in Savannakhet. The meaning of the word is "town of Paradise". It is a government administrative center, more so than Vientiane, the official capital. There are several two and three-story houses in town. The Dinosaur Museum exhibits the fossil finds of the region. The best impression of the place is at night along the river, where food vendors set up shop and plastic chairs. The lights in Thailand across the river twinkle and people enjoy the balmy air, the good Lao beer and food. We had Laotian dinner at a nearby small colonial house with the name of Paradise.