Mr Bob and Mademoiselle Marie-Carmen were stood idly outside of the offices of the local bus company browsing the departures board (because that’s how organised and well planned this journey is; we wander around bus stations and look for destinations with amusing names) whereupon we observed a bus bound for a town by the name of Phonesavanh. Not especially interesting in itself, but the name in parenthesis read: “The Plain Of Jars”. Mr Bob made some manner of quip along the lines of how it must be an expansive grassland filled with naught but jars. We resolved to google, and google we did. And shortly thereafter, we bought our tickets.
It turns out that my jest was closer to the mark than we would ever have imagined. The Plain of Jars is just that; it’s a plain, filled with jars. Immense stone jars, tens of thousands of them, some of which are 3 metres in height and more than 4 metres in diameter. Dated to around 1000BC, and built by, well actually, nobody knows who built them. History does not record what civilisations lived in this region of Laos at that time, and there are no writings or markings on the jars themselves to give any hints of their creators. Nor do we even know what they were built for, there have only been two archaeologists to ever examine this site, and they didn’t agree on their purpose; one suggested they were burial urns, and another declared that they were used for making whiskey. Given their enormous size and numbers though, we can assume that Laos was once inhabited by either a race of giants, or at least a dozen Irishmen.
All that we really know for certain is that, three thousand years ago, as the city of Sparta was founded, as David was pronounced King of the Israelites, and as the first King of China was rising to power, someone in the heartland of Laos was busy building thousands upon thousands of giant stone jugs and abandoning them in a field, with no lasting explanation.
A mystery like this, we are forced to investigate. Especially as we’ve never heard of it before, and we’ve not met anyone out here who has visited, which just made it all the more mysterious.
It turns out however that there is a very good reason why these historical relics don’t appear on most tour itineraries. The Plain of Jars and it’s surrounding area is one gigantic minefield. And not just landmines, during the ‘Secret War’ (64 – 73) this region was bombed more extensively than any other place in the history of the world. Forget the cities of Europe during WWII, forget even the unrelenting carpet bombing of North Vietnam, official reports are that more explosives were dropped in this one region of Laos than were used in the whole of the Second World War. Those same reports estimate that there are to this day around 80 million unexploded ordnance, mines and cluster bombs littering the landscape. 80 Million! Divvy that up and it means an area the size of your back garden would likely contain several.
So what can you do in the town of Phonsavan?
A tour? It’s expensive…Hire a motorbike! Cheap and fun (even if they break down a lot), they get you around! You’ll get a map that, really, is bad, and you can enjoy following it to discover your surroundings.
Plain of Jars Site1,2 &3:
Easy to access, they are a must do! While we almost got struck by lightening at site 3,we do recommend them all! All with a different charm, site 1 is bigger, site 2 is in the middle of a field and site 3 on the top of a hill with a beautiful view and some sites in the forest. While other sites have been cleared the roads are still pretty bad (meaning inexistant) and you might want to stick with the 3 basic one!
The Spoon Village:
Strange village, located after the sites 2&3, if you are visiting during the high season it deserves to be on your itinerary. Unfortunately for us, low season meant we couldn’t admire the place. The spoon village holds its name for using bombshells to make spoons. In Laos you can clearly recycle everything!
Tha Jok Village:
On the similar idea that nothing is lost, all is re-usable, Tha Jok Village uses bombshells for their plantations, to grow spring onions, etc… Get on a motorbike and stroll around the village. 31 km from Phonsavan, you’ll enjoy a beautiful ride and a great countryside!
The Russian Tank:
Near Site 1 lays a Russian Tank. Hard to know what the tank is doing here but it has been stripped off most of its material and the top is know being used to grow vegetables. It’s not worth a full trip but it is sure worth a stop on your way to the jars!
Local market and villages around:
You’ve not seen Phonsavan until you’ve tried the local market at 18:00. People are coming back from work, going shopping and the market is at its highest peak! Get in! It’s fun and people are welcoming! Fruits, vegetables, dog (yes… sadly) are all for sale! And if you want to meet more locals stop in villages around the town! No doubt people will welcome you in!
Accomodation in town is good, the weather is cool at night and you’ll find good food so add Phonsavan now to your itinerary!
Where is Phonsavan?
Easy to get to, Phonsavan is only a few hours from Luang Prabang and fairly central. Getting there should not be a problem.
Have you ever been to Phonsavan or to similar sites that holds mysteries? Share your experience with us in the comments!
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