The Province’s Capital.
The city hosts the famous Elephant Festival every year mid February. The festival commemorates the nation’s living icon. The two-day celebration, filled with elephant-related activities and performances, kicks off with an elephant procession and monks’ blessing. The town is surrounded by the gorgeous Elephant Mountain Range. Sayaboury District seduces visitors with a mix of myth, history, culture and nature topped by an elephant sanctuary on a reservoir close to town. Royalty has graced Tad Jao Waterfall, and several old, prominent temples also dot the landscape.
Vat Sibounheuang Temple
Built in 1456, Sayaboury’s oldest amongst most beautiful temple houses a 7-meter-long reclining golden Buddha…the province’s largest. Located on a hilltop overlooking the Nam Houng River in Sayaboury municipality, the mural-adorned Vat Sibounheuang attracts locals who come to ask for blessings before a trip and go to make merit upon their return. Also visible are the remains from the original temple.
A stupa on the grounds sits on a singkhone with four spirit-ghosts – two small and two large – who are honest and strong. The village ghost also resides at Vat Sibounheuang, and each year in mid-March, the district’s three-day Boun Phavet (Ghost Festival) procession, held in remembrance of Phavet who was once upon a time guarded back to town by the forest spirits starts at the cemetery and ends with the burning of clothes and throwing them in the river.
Location: Vat Sibounheuang is located in the center of Sayaboury municipality.
One of three Lao temples regarded as of the highest rank (the other two being in Paklai District and Attapeu Province), it is considered a privilege for aspiring novices to study, meditate and be ordained for the monkhood at Vat Sisavangvong, as only some 100 are chosen for the honor.
The temple stands out for its long decorative Naga banisters, which represent the guardian water serpent, and tiger figures, which are the earth’s protectors. According to legend, if a male wants to be a monk, he must first ask Naga and make merit by presenting it with gold. Then the resident monks decide on admission.
Location: Vat Sisavangvong is located in the center of Sayaboury municipality next to the Governor’s building.
King Phavet reigned over his father’s kingdom as a benevolent monarch, giving away all his possessions – jewelry, clothes, horses and livestock – except a single elephant.
One of his villages, Gadinkha, was suffering from drought that had dried up their lakes and rivers. The starving citizens asked King Phavet for help, but all he had was his elephant, which he bestowed upon them. However, the gesture didn’t solve their crisis.
The villagers became angry, and complained to Phavet’s father. This upset the old king, who banished Phavet, his wife Madthii, and children to the forest. While there, Phavet met a group passing by, and they asked Phavet to give them Madthii. He agreed and handed her and their two children over.
A few months later, rains started falling on Gadinkha, and the villagers began growing rice and vegetables again. They eventually realized Phavet’s elephant had brought them luck, so they brought the animal to the old king and told him the news. This heartened him, and he summoned Phavet to return and retake the throne. After his death, Phavet was reincarnated, married, and had a son, but he divorced his wife and became a monk, and attained enlightenment.
Sayaboury Province celebrates Boun Phavet in mid-March, to pay tribute to Phavet’s spirit and celebrate his return. The three-day festival begins with a parade led by
Tad Jao Waterfall
The waters feeding this narrow, 20-metre plunge on the banks of the Mekong have attracted royalty from Lane Xang Kingdom rulers to present-day Thai Princess Prathep as bathing in or drinking from them is believed to bring good health and wash away bad luck.
A small hermit cave and shrine sit at the head of the falls, and villagers built a shrine above it in 1985 as they consider the area sacred, and disturbing it leads to illness and death. Elders remember when a Lao Airlines flight crashed after flying over the falls, air space that is now a no-fly zone. They say a Khmu soldier returning home in 1976 moved rocks in the stream, thus changing its course. The soldier died shortly after. A family once built a house there, but the stream washed it away.
Steps built for the Thai princess’s 1990-visit lead down to a picnic area on the Mekong and a view of the Tad Jao Waterfall.
Location: From Sayaboury municipality, drive for about 1 hour to Tha Deua and turn left at the turnoff to the under-construction bridge to Luang Prabang. At the cul de sac, a short trail leads to the falls.
Constructed in 1950, fire razed the original wooden temple in 1959, but a local villager rebuilt the hilltop Vat Natornoy the following year. Inside, villagers hang baskets to make merit to Phavet (see page 40).
A 100-year-old don pho tree rises over the well-landscaped compound’s religious structures, including a curiously-configured “Heaven’s Tower”, which plays a prominent role during Pii Mai (Lao New Year) in mid-April. Locals carry perfumed water and flowers for merit-making, climb its stairs to pray, and pour the water down a wooden trough into a small hut and the hands of an awaiting Buddha image. Back downstairs, the faithful bow under Buddha’s hands, allowing the holy water to drip on their heads for good luck.
Location: From Sayaboury municipality, head south towards Paklai, pass the airport, and follow the road to the right, and then turn left. A small road to the river and temple.
Tham Phakounhuoay cave
35 km south of Sayaboury municipality. From Sayaboury Town rent a small motorbike or book tuk tuk and get ready for a ride along a mountainous road and across rivers until reaching Ban Nathang. Stop for lunch and a rest before embarking on a two-hour walk through rice paddies, forested hills (keep your eyes open for monkeys!), and rock formations. On the way visit Tham Phakounhuoay cave to view impressive limestone formations, and for the more adventurous and fit, follow the cave’s stream that runs for several kilometers through the extensive cavern network. After this venture, continue to the Khmu village of Ban Keo for dinner, Lao Hai (rice wine) and an overnight stay.
Location: Drive south past the Sayaboury bus station towards Paklai for some 10 km, and turn left at the signs for Ban Houaykeng.
Good to Know
Where to Sleep?
Where to Eat?
From Vientiane: Public buses depart Vientiane for Sayaboury via Paklai at 08:00 from the capital’s Northern Bus Terminal – located about 5 kilometers west of the airport on the Luang Prabang Road. Later departures for Sayaboury Town leave between 09:00-10:00 for the 9-hour journey. A night bus departs Vientiane at around 18:00 for a smoother, approximately12-hour trip via Luang Prabang. Also, fledgling Capricorn Air offers two weekly flights, but service can be sporadic.
From Luang Prabang: Buses and private vehicles depart Luang Prabang daily to Tha Deua ferry crossing (bridge under Construction in 2010). Hired speedboats (800,000K for six people) deliver passengers to Tha Deua in barely an hour, and it’s another hour to town via song taew.
From Hongsa: Public song taews depart from Hongsa’s Morning Market at around 08:00 (depending on when the vehicle fills with passengers) for the 2.5-hour ride.
From Paklai: Song taews leave Paklai in the early morning for the 4-5-hour drive. Passengers can also catch the Vientiane-Sayabouli bus in the early afternoon.
Check departure times as they are subject to change.