The Musée des Dinosaures, Savannakhet

When we arrived at the Musée des Dinosaures in Savannakhet, I wasn’t expecting much. It warned our guide book that there were just a couple of rooms and the whole place was obviously underfunded but that it had displays from several local digs where they’d found bones from t-rexes, spinosauruses, several sauropods and even a newly-identified species found only here in Laos.

Personally, I’m fond of small museums. They often have a bit of character and can generally be relied upon to throw up some surprises as the curators struggle to fill them up. Plus you don’t risk the kind of foot-punishing, brain-numbing museum fatigue delivered by bigger places. And sure enough, the exhibits were limited to several bones from a sauropod, together with a fairy-lit outline on the wall to show how they fitted together and a dozen or so display cases of other finds, together with some unusual rocks and a meteor.I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fragment of the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs but, hey, who can argue with seeing a meteor.

Anyway, it was all interesting enough and with half an hour or so killed in discussing paleontology and meteors, we were ready to leave… when the curator stepped out of a doorway, somewhat like the shopkeeper from 70’s kids’ TV show Mr. Ben, and asked if we would like to see some more bones.

“OK,” we replied, so he opened a drawer.

“This bone from Tyrannosaurus Rex,” he said, lifting a cannon-ball sized lump out of the drawer. “You want to hold?”

And that was it. I had in my hands a real T-Rex bone. Not a plaster-cast replica. The real thing.

I couldn’t believe it. A 65-million plus year old relic of another aeon. In my hands.

And then it got better. He took us into the back where they clean their finds and showed us more bones, letting us hold them each time. He showed us the plaster casts they were making for a Thai museum, the tools they use and the display they were putting together for their newly-identified species.

But through it all, and long after we left, it was the T-Rex bone that I kept thinking back to. The museum here may be tiny, but you don’t get experiences like this at the Natural History Museum.