Savannakhet (or Savan) is one of the country's most important cities and shares with Luang Prabang an atmosphere of faded French colonial grandeur. Unlike Luang Prabang, however, Savannakhet is visibly crumbling, with little effort made to preserve its wonderful buildings. Savannakhet was very important to the French as an administrative center and transit point. It still fulfills many of those functions in Laos today. With the opening of the second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge across the Mekong in 2006 and the complete renovation of Hwy. 9 from Thailand to Vietnam, Savannakhet is the gateway to one of the most important trading routes in Southeast Asia. The city is changing fast from the somnolent, crumbling echo of francophone times past to quite a vibrant (well, vibrant for Laos!) little place where there are still lights on after 10 o'clock.