Because we were due to fly out again this afternoon Tey arranged to meet us at 7.30am this morning. He was most concerned that we did not have jackets because it was so cold. He may have been feeling the cold this morning, but we thought that it was blissfully cool!! From the hotel we drove to the Visitor Information Centre only to find it was still closed. As an official UNESCO-trained guide, Tey has to purchase a permit each time that he is taking tourists to visit the jars. After a very short wait, during which a couple of calls were made, a staff member arrived to open up the visitor centre. With our permit purchased we were on our way to Site No. 2.
Site No. 2 is about 25km south of Phonsovan. The 10km beyond Site No. 1 was on a ‘dancing road’. This is Lao for a really rough unpaved road that will shake all the fillings out of your teeth!!! After being thoroughly shaken about for 10km we arrived at Site No. 2a where the jars sat under the trees in the early morning sunlight looking very atmospheric. From the Site No. 2a hillside we
walked down and then up the adjacent hillside to Site No. 2b. Even though these groupings are considered part of the same site, they were quite different from each other. While the Site No. 2a jars nestled peacefully amongst the trees, Site No. 2b was much more open with views to the surrounding farmland. And our early start was so worth it as we were able to have both of these sites to ourselves while we contemplated again just what the jars might have been for and snapped away to our hearts content!!
Just as the tourist droves started to arrive we were headed on our way to Site No. 3. Another 10km of ‘dancing road’ and we were the first visitors for the day at the 150-jar Site No. 3. This site is situated on a scenic hilltop near Lat Khai village. To reach the jars at this site we had to hike about 2km along rice paddy dykes and then up the hill. Once again we had the site to ourselves with the rest of the tourists arriving just as we were leaving.
A few more kilometres of ‘dancing road’ found us in Old Xieng Khuang,
the ancient provincial capital. It was so heavily bombarded during the Second Indochina War that it was almost completely abandoned by 1975. It is only during the last five or six years that the inhabitants have started to return to the township that is now known as Muang Khoun.
Several Buddhist temples were ruined during the war. We were taken to see what remains of Wat Phia Wat at the East end of town as there are still some foundations and some columns standing here as well as a badly damaged, but very large, seated Buddha.
Standing on a nearby hillside overlooking the town is That Foun, a 25m Buddhist stupa. The stupa is covered in foliage and it is possible to climb through it thanks to a large cavity that was created by Chinese Ho marauders that tunnelled in over a century ago to steal the valuable Buddha images that were enshrined in the stupa. Atop a nearby hill are the ruins of a second stupa, That Chom Phet, that was reputedly built by the Cham.
After seeing all the sights that Muang Khoun had to offer we ate lunch at one of the noodle shops along
the main street. We each had a bowl of noodle soup with chicken for 10,000 Kip/bowl. That’s about US$2.50 for both of us to have lunch!!! It is ridiculously cheap to eat here if you eat the local food. Mind you we skipped the accompanying salad. We’re game to eat the local food if it is cooked and hot - it’s a bit of a risk eating salad though!!!
After lunch we had to drive all the way back to the airport at Phonsovan - more ‘dancing road’!! Tey dropped us off at about 1.00pm so we were in plenty of time for our 3.20pm flight. Tey says that we must come back to the Plain of Jars one day so that he can take us to see Site No. 52 which he says is very interesting and contains some jars carved from granite boulders. He also apologised, yet again, for his bad accent due to his head cold. We assured him (again) that his accent was fine and that we had not had any trouble at all understanding his English. He remained unconvinced because he said even the driver had told him that it was hard to understand
his Lao due to his cold!!! Actually, with the Lao language being a tonal language it is quite likely that his Lao was more affected by his head cold than his English???
Well, the security at Phonsovan airport was very relaxed??!! There was no screening of hand luggage to speak of and the screening of individuals was a very cursory run over with a paddle type metal detector. The facilities were a bit on the rudimentary side. Although not the first squat toilet I have encountered, it was the first one that I HAD to use - probably due to all that liquid in the noodle soup!!! To avoid any chance of pants wetting I took them off!! We departed about 20 minutes early again. Everyone was on board so we took off for Vientiane ahead of schedule!!
Back in the city we collected our bag and took a taxi out to COPE. Kerry had arranged with her colleagues for Bernie to have a hit of badminton with them. It was quite a site seeing Bernie slog around the badminton court in his sandals. No glasses either as he decided not to bring any spectacles with him since
he would not be driving!!! He was therefore able to blame his lack of equipment when he and Ka (pronounced Ga) were (narrowly) beaten by two amputees!!! Mind you, Phetsamai or maybe it is Sivonn, has played badminton for Lao at the Paralympics!!
After the lights were turned on there was an added degree of difficulty caused by swarming ants flocking to the overhead lights and then dropping dead all over the court!!! Never mind, all of these difficulties were being assuaged with copious amounts of Beer Lao, before, after and even during each game!!! It may surprise you to know that even I was conned onto the court for a hit with Bridget. And Kerry played a whole game with her boss, Bounlanh, without realising that she is a leftie. No wonder they were beaten?!
From the badminton court we adjourned to the COPE Visitor Centre outdoor cafe and telephoned for pizzas. The COPE physiotherapist, Nongkheo (Tui), had been out to buy boiled eggs to snack on. The staff told us that the eggs were supposed to have embryos in them and then wondered why Bridget, Bernie and I declined to eat them??? As it turned out,
none of them had chicks in them, but we still passed on them because just the thought had put us off somewhat. Bernie did try the dried pork though and reckoned it was OK.
When the pizzas arrived, Bernie paid for them since he hadn’t paid for any of the beer that he had been drinking. The pizzas were from the Scandinavian Bakery and came in Mexican, Vegetarian and Super Hotdog flavours. Yes, that’s right, pizza with sliced hotdog on it was the popular choice amongst Kerry’s colleagues. Talk about having junk food with your junk food!!!
So, after lots of beer and pizza, Bounlanh, drove us home to Kerry’s place dropping Bridget where she is boarding on the way!! The things you do on holiday - in a car with no seatbelts on and a driver who may have been over 0.05??! Although everyone except Bernie had been drinking their beer with ice so I guess that waters it down and dilutes the alcoholic content considerably??!
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