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Published: August 15th 2007
This entry is officially about the Plain of Jars - but on the 11/8/07 we also had a good day - cheap massages! I had a treatment called 'The Luang Prabang Experience', which involved massage, then a herbal steam and then a seaweed wrap. My skin now feels completely recovered from the Perhentian sunburning incident.
On the morning of 12/8/07, our minibus arrived to take us to Phonsavan. We knew there'd be another couple on the trip as the travel company wanted at least 4 people before they'd run it and the date kept changing on the advertisement so they were blatantly waiting. The next couple were picked up after us from a hostel towards the outskirts of the town. It was a Dutch mother and son, called Marianne and Jules. They both spoke really good English (and made me and Aaron feel bad for only
speaking English - not intentionally though), and we had a long bus journey to get to know them both.
The bus stopped a few times along the way - Marianne is a photography fanatic who takes pictures of everything so we had some scenery breaks. There was also chances to get food. I
Our hostel had dubious ornaments
(many places around here have old war items on show)
managed to eat noodle soup with chopsticks for the first time! I wasn't quite local though because mine were meat-free (I think they thought I was quite strange, tasted good though) We drove through many villages, and so many children would run and smile and wave at the bus. The living conditions that some people had were so sparse, but you could sense the community spirit and the pride in appearences the whole time. I find it difficult to even know what to say about it without sounding patronising - there were children playing with bubbles and just chasing them and at another point we saw a little girl who's made herself a headband from flowers and looked so pretty and pleased with herself.
We arrived at our guesthouse about 8 hours after leaving Luang Prabang, and as can be seen from the pictures they had interesting decorations around the place. The whole town was similar though - and I saw pictures of houses (most of them around here are raised) on defunct missiles, and them being used as benches and grenades as ashtrays. It was strange, but really interesting, and as it has been so bombed (and continues
to be thanks to UXOs) there are constant remiinders. We went into a building which told about what has happened with the bombings, and just how severe it has been for Laos as a whole and this area in particular. I think it was in the region of 120 people died last year just though accidents as it is impossible to know where all of te bombs are. They are working on clearing them, however, and any charities that mention the cause are definitely worth donating too. 13/8/07
We had breakfast provided by the hostel, and them went out in a bus with our English-speaking guide (from Laos, nicknamed 'Ken' by his friends, so that's what I'll refer to him as) for our tour. He took us to the local produce market first, which was interesting to see but my delicate Western stomach was not ready to see somebody preparing swallows for eating right in front of me, or a bucket of frogs condemned for imminant execution. The dead meat affected me, but it was the live creatures that I really felt for. It's strange, because I can see that it's better that people around here prepare their food
and know where it has come from and don't bury their head in the sand like I have a tendency to do. It's just hard to see it all like that though!
Then we went to Site 2 of the Jars. There are many more sites, but only 1, 2 and 3 are open to the public at the moment because of the risk of unexploded bombs. Even in the ones that are open there are concrete slabs on the floor designating the safe areas (marked in white) that have been thoroughly checked. Site 2 was interesting, as it was spread over two areas - it is so strange seeing such massive concrete jars seemingly in the middle of nowhere and for unknown reasons. Actually walking up the hill towards them is the best part, because you just wonder what to expect and they are so unusual and captivating. Our guide greatly enhanced the day because he was really funny (kept singing into the jars and stuff) and eager to explain whatever he could.
We then went to Site 3 which had more jars than site 2, but in a smaller area. This made the impact of seeing
them greater. It's hard to explain what it feels like, just the 5 of us stood amongst all of these enormous jars - but we had fun taking random photographs!
After site 3 we went to the old capital of the province called Muang Khoun for lunch. This place was so heavily bombed during the second Indochina War and by Chinese and Vietnamese invaders in the 19th Century that it was almost abandoned by 1975. It is recovering, however, and was very busy when we visited. We visited the Wat Phia Wat, which is a temple that was destroyed during the bombing. There is a large seated Buddha which was mostly unaffected by the bombing (compared with the rest of the building). We then visited That Foun (also known as That Chomsi) which is a 30 metre high Buddhist stupa. It has fascinating brickwork and is captivating to see. We climbed through it, and Ken told us that he and his friends used to play hide-and-seek there when they were children.
We then visited the last jar site that we were permitted to see, Site 1. It contains both the biggest jar and the only jar with an
image on it. The image is of a person with their arms raised to the air like they are flexing their muscles. The large jar was massive - I had to sit on Aaron's shoulders to look inside (there was just water inside - nothing too interesting)
There is a natural cave next to site 1 that we went into - it was somewhere people had hid during the war but it had been hit. It was really sad hearing what has happened, and what this area has been through.
We then went back to our hostel, and then out for dinner. We were going to go to a Chinese restaurant, but having seen the menu (dog and various other animal's internal organs) none of us could stomach anything on the menu. We ended up at a traditional Laos place.
Today we had the bus journey back, and Jules and Marianne stopped halfway to go to a diffierent destination.
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