Discovery in Laos

One thing that does not change is the magic the old culture including the way of living of Lao people is the thing that the world tourists wish to see...

Younger generations in Laos do not recall the time when railway transportation was used in the southern part of Laos. The old railway in the southern part of Laos was only 6.5 km. It was only used for goods transportation but not for passengers.

The Lao railway was built in Bane Khonetai area, a village close to the Liphi Lonephaph- eng , to the Mekong widest waterfall in southern Champasak. In Bane khonetai village, the old engine of the train is preserved by the local administration and people to show to foreigners as evidence that laos also has had a railway like other countries. When arriving at Bane Khonetaim go to Lphi Mekong waterfall, admission fees are paid here to see the railway. The railway distance from Bane Khonetai to Bane Donedeth is about 3 km. after walking for a short distance, you will see a written plate describing the site where the engine remains. This is 50 meters from the main road.

At that site, stop for a while to see the engine which remains as evidence of the Lao railway system since the French administration. Under the French administration, the train was used to transport goods shipped from Cambodia to the port at HangKhone village and unloaded from the ship to the train from Bane Khonetai along the bridge to Bane Donedeth. After that the motor boats loaded those goods to Pakse directly or passed through Bane Kinok (the old name was called Nakhabouli), then to Pakse along the road No.13

When we visited the site of the old engine, we were lucky to meet Grandpa Vandy CHANTHALAT, aged 88 years old. He looked healthy and introvert. His native village is Bane Khonetai. He told us that he was the train driver under the French administration. He was employed when he was 18 years old. He left the job in 1941. He pointed his finger to the bridge where the railway was installed then said "It was constructed in 1917." He showed us his certificate of work and the medal he received from the French authority.

Unfortunately, though this place is still hidden in the green bushes and trees. Previously, some parts of railway installed from Bane Hangkhone to the port of Donedeth remained, but today nothing can be seen. Besides, the old engine and bridge across to Bane Khonetai, other railway remains are also found at the localities of Nakai and Napae at KM20 community close to the Vietnamese border.

Bane Tangvai, an ancient village of the Kataang tribe, And since many generations a tale is told : the tale of the divine cow, the cow of the sun, and her bones which can be round in the village - the biggest bones ever seen. The bones were taboo: disturbing or touching them would bring disease and misfortune which could only be prevented by offering of chickens, pigs or cattle according to the degree of violation.

How did these bones come to the village? The following tale is still told in the area of Tangvai : once upon a time, there was a rich couple, in fact they were VERY rich, but they had no children. When they were old they wanted to leave their belongings in a safe place. People say they wanted to bring them to That Phanom. They traveled in a huge oxcart, grown by the divine cow herself. When they had reached a small stream in the vicinity of Bane Tangvai, the cart overturned and could not be raised again despite their efforts in pushing and pulling the cart and whipping the cow. Finally, the cow was so exhausted that she lay dying. The old couple prayed to heaven and earth and prepared a coffin, where the cadaver was placed. Until today, this place is named "cadaver stream".

This story explains the existence of huge "cattle" bones in the river bed. People have always marveled at their immense size. Seeing them for the first time would send shivers down people's spine and would let their hair stand upright. In the first half of this century, French geologists under Jos Hofman HOFFET (called by the people Monsieur Mine) came into the area to survey natural resources. Mrs.Hoffet saw the dinosaur bones, and wrote a report to Hanoi, Vietnam. Excavation of the bones was somewhat difficult: according to local legends there was a strong typhoon just before digging started. The sky turned black and even the oldest people did not remember such a strong wind. However, after prayers to the guardian spirits of Tangvai, the weather cleared, the sky was blue, the sun came out and the excavation could start. Mrs.Hoffet had coolies carry the bones to Bane Nong Boua Lao, the biggest village in the area. However,not wanting to carry their heavy load so far, the coolies threw away some of the bones along the road. One of hem, Mr.Kommapa, is still alive and told us the history of the excavation. He has also led search teams to retrieve the "disposed" bones.

Research of the dinosaur bones started again in 1990 by the world famous expert on fossils, Msr.Philip TAQUET, a research from the Museum National histoire Natural de Paris, who contacted the Science, Technology and Environment Organization of the Lao PDR for more extensive classification and quantification of the remains. Mr.Houmphanh Rattanavong, the Director of the Institute for Social Sciences and myself accompanied the French team to Bane Tangvai. Luck had it that we should meet Mr.Kommapa - the coolie of "Mrs.Mine" on our very first day.

Places to visit and to find fossils

Bane Tangvai is virtually buried in bones. We found them everywhere in the surroundings. The on-site museum is about 1,500 meters north-east from the village. However, maintenance is difficult and at present the bones are on exhibition in Savannakhet. As soon as funds are available we will copy the bones from Savannakhet and display them in Tangvai village - this could start within the next 6 months. A small guesthouse can accommodate overnight visitors.

More dinosaur bones were discovered in 1996 in the area of Bane Kabong and Bane Vieng Louang, in Atsaphone district. These villages are very remote and old traditions are still intact. In fact you will see that the daily life corresponds to the tales of our parents. During the rice harvest season, the village youth still meet in the fields, the young men can visit their chosen girl in her rice hut. If, however, a girl is heard screaming, the village immediately punishes the boy. The visitor to those villages should understand their remoteness - expectations shall not be too high and it is better to send a guide ahead for preparations of an over-night stay.

In 1996, dinosaur footprints were discovered approximately 200 meters to the north from the Lao-Hungarian friendship bridge imprinted into the stone river embankment of the Sesamsoy. The region is prepared to cater for tourists and is situated in a protected area.

Some of the fossils found in Laos are better preserved and more impressive than those found in surrounding countries. There are bones from the legs and feet, nails complete rib cages and parts of the pelvis of the bigger Diplodocus family. According to the French researchers, four species of dinosaurs are represented in the finds :

1. Diplodocus, a carnivore walking on all four legs of approx. 16-22 meters length
2. Iguanodons, a herbivore walking on two legs and a bit bigger than a horse
3. Tyrannosaurus Rex, or a similar carnivore (only teeth were found)
4. Psitacosaurus, a horse-sized dinosaur with a parrot-like beak.

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  Information provided by Laos National Tourism Authority.


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