There’s much to see and do in Laos-whether you visit historic and charming Luang Prabang in the north, enjoy eco-tourism in Vang Vieng, marvel at the Plain of Jars, or behold the Khmer beauty of Wat Phou in the south. In between, there’s plenty of sightseeing from historic temples and museums to vestiges of colonial French Indochina in Savannakhet, Thakek, and Vientiane.
However, there is one interesting attraction that might surprise you among all the cool and neat things you can see and visit while traveling in Laos: The Dinosaur Museum in Savannakhet.
That’s right, a dinosaur museum in Laos.
Located just down the street from the Thai Embassy (that gets a lot of business from farang on visa runs from Thailand), the Dinosaur Museum is one of Savannakhet’s more interesting places to visit and worthy of a visit.
Housed in a colonial-style building, the museum, which opened in 2000, features a modest collection of dinosaur bones and information on the four kinds of dinosaurs—found at five sites in Laos—that once roamed this part of the world: Saurpodes/Sauropoda (a well-known genera; this classification includes the genus formerly known as Brontosaurus), Theropode/Theropoda (a genus that includes the mother of all dinosaurs and the star of stage and screen—T-Rex), Iguanodon (which means, Iguana Tooth and was noted for a spike on its thumb), and Psittacosaurus (Greek for “parrot lizard” and is notable because it is the most species rich dinosaur genus—at least 10 extinct species have been recognized from fossils found).
The museum’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 1936, when French geologist Josué Heilman Hoffet, while researching a geological map of lower Laos, discovered deposits of fossilized bones in the region of Ban Tangvai, 120 kilometers east of Savannakhet, including a large femur and a small spinal vertebra of a dinosaur. Before his untimely death in WWII, he had collected numerous dinosaur bones from the same area. It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s though, when a joint Lao-French palaeontological team rediscovered Hoffet’s original dinosaur site as well as uncovered substantial new dinosaur remains in the area. Further joint field research the following year and again in 1992 revealed the well-preserved remains of the bones now on display in the museum.
Now before this becomes a paleontology lesson and all this specific dinosaur information is lost on you, the museum is really cool to check out, whether you are a dinosaur buff or not. And as the Laos Lonely Planet guidebook points out, “the curators’ unfailing enthusiasm is infectious and they’re willing to use their limited English or French on you.” The guidebook got that right; as soon as I started pointing out some of the fossils to Jeremy Aaron, one of the curators, sensing my obvious interest, gave us a VIP tour of the museum. If there are not too many visitors, one of the curators might even sit you down in front of a computer (like one did with Jeremy Aaron and I) and have you watch a video on one of the expeditions to recover dinosaur bones.
And if you do go, make a small donation (besides the modest entrance fee of 5000 Kip); it would be nice to see this museum expand their exhibit of dinosaur bones as well as fund more research.
The museum is open daily from 8 – 12 and 1 – 4.