Fairy lights in the shape of a dinosaur skeleton. Handling dinosaur bones without gloves. Display cases full of dinosaur toys. The world’s strangest dinosaur museum must surely be the two-room Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum in Laos. It’s tiny, it’s ill conceived, it’s wonderful!
The name of this museum is Museé des Dinosaures, and it’s located in the city of Savannakhet, in the south of Laos, near the Thai border. It’s not a popular tourist destination, and many people just pass through on their way to other destinations in Laos.
But, the dinosaur museum is one great reason to hang around the city for an afternoon.
Inside the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum
The most impressive specimen in the museum is the incomplete skeleton of the Tangvayosaurus Hoffetti, a sauropod specimen local to Savannakhet. Because of the limited space, tangvayosaurus stretches across multiple walls, and her outline is made out in fairy lights.
Wooden cases house some other dinosaur fossils behind glass, which are only really relevant if you speak French or Laos (no English on the signs). If you have little idea of what you’re supposed to be looking at, the dinosaur bones are also mixed in with random toys.
The staff office desk is in one room of the museum, and it’s a little confusing to walk in on a staff member having a snooze during the day. But this is Savannakhet, and locals appear to take things slow here.
Touching dinosaur bones
Nevertheless, the staff are very friendly, and they might even let you hold a real dinosaur bone. When I was handed a bone of a T-Rex foot, I knew this was a rare opportunity. I turned it over in my hand, thinking of how other museums must have been horrified by handling such specimens with bare hands.
But hey, at least I got to touch a real tyrannosaurus rex!
What is the connection with Savannakhet and dinosaurs?
Dinosaur bones were first discovered in the Tang Vay area in 1936 by French geologist Josué Hoffet. He uncovered Cretaceous era fossils, which weren’t formally excavated until the 1990s. The French Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, led by Phillipe Taquet uncovered turtles, tree fossils and the Tangvayosaurus Hoffetti, a sauropod named after the region.
The major discovery in Tang Vay, the Tangvayosaurus, was a 15 metre long sauropod from the Cretaceous period. To imagine what it looked like, it is a cousin of Apatosaurus, or Diplodocus, and would have had a long tail and neck. It was described in 1999, and only two partial skeletons of this species are known to exist.
While people are quick to judge the presentation of the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum, it does contain one of these two skeletons, making it very unique indeed. The tangvayosaurus is certainly an icon of the city, and even has its own statue built in the city!
The city of Savannakhet
Savannakhet has limited activities for tourists, and a visit mostly entails wandering around it’s 20th century historic centre, which is in a state of falling apart. The peeling paint, empty streets and colourful walls certainly make for some interesting photo opportunities, however. You could spend a day here, or one night (max).
BeerSavan – The Laos Dinosaur beer
The tangvayosaurus has become an unofficial mascot of sorts in Savannakhet, and you can even find it’s picture on their local beer, BeerSavan.
BeerSavan is a pale lager brewed in Savannakhet. It’s not as common as its famous cousin, Beerlao; in fact, it is difficult to find outside of Savannakhet, so enjoy it while you’re there!
The museum is small, and full of kitsch. It is built around the incomplete, but rare skeleton of a tangvayosaurus, but poor signage doesn’t really make its significance obvious to visitors. It’s not going to be a highlight of your trip to Laos, but it’s a fun stop to check out while you wander around Savannakhet.