Fossilised remains prove dinosaurs once roamed what is now Savannakhet, and archaeological findings suggest humans lived in the area at least 4,000 years ago. Excavations have turned up Bronze Age artefacts and ancient copper mines, remnants of terraced agricultural systems with diversion dams and channels, stone tools, and pottery shards.
According to legend, the Phouthai and Lao people migrated from north-western Vietnam down the Nam Ou River to the Mekong, and continued downriver, settling along its banks. The Phouthai separated from the Lao and headed on to the central and southern regions of Laos, reaching present day Savannakhet.
The area of Savannakhet Province was under the influence of the Champa Kingdom from the 7th to 10th centuries. The Khmer Kingdom then moved in until 13th century as seen in the Heun Hin (Stone House) along the Mekong River and some ornamentation on That Ing Hang Stupa. The Lane Xang Kingdom, established in 14th century, then controlled Savannakhet.
The first Lao community in western Savannakhet Province, Ban Luang Phonsim, was founded near That Ing Hang monument in the 1530s by a group led by the married couple, Luang and Sim. Their son established a village on the Mekong River that later became known as Tha Hae (Mineral Port) during the reign of King Saysethatirath. The Lao began moving farther inland, establishing villages organized under the principality of Muang Vang Ang Kham in the early 16th century.
In the mid-18th century, Tha Hae expanded across the Mekong to Thailand’s Mukdahan Province, but Siam drove back the Lao advance. The French took control of the Tha Hae area in 1893, and raised its status to a province with the new name Savannakhet beginning in 1907. The name “Savannakhet” derives from the ancient Pali language, and means “Land of Gold”.
In 1920 Kaysone Phomvihane was born in Savannakhet. Kaysone went to school in Hanoi, met Ho Chi Minh, and was one of the co-founders of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and a leader of the Pathet Lao armed forces. During the Second Indochina War, Kaysone led the Lao people’s revolutionary struggle from his headquarters in Viengxay’s cave complex in Houaphanh Province. Upon independence in 1975, he became the country’s first prime minister and later president.