Plain of Jars - Day 1

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Asia » Laos » East » Phonsavan
March 1st 2010
Published: March 5th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

With a few hours to kill this morning before our flight to Phonsovan we decided to indulge in another massage at Champa Spa. Once again we picked up a tuk tuk not far from the end of Kerry’s street. This morning the driver had no idea where we wanted to go even after showing him Champa Spa’s card AND showing him on the map where it is located (between the fountain and the Mekong River). Not to be deterred from taking the fare he motioned that we should get in anyway and he would get us where we wanted to go??!!

We decided if he was game, so were we! Despite the communication barrier, we arrived where we wanted to go by pointing left or right each time that we came to an intersection or roundabout. And, he was really cheap only charging us 20,000 Kip for the trip. Maybe he gave us a discount because we had to navigate???

After our massages we had a quick bite to eat at JoMa’s before picking up a tuk tuk for the trip out to the airport. The drivers all have a price list that states a set price of 55,000 for a one way trip from town to the airport.

At the airport we checked our small backpack in. Size-wise we could have taken the bag as carry on luggage, but because we had our toiletries in it (i.e. liquids) we had to check the bag in. From the check in desk we proceeded through immigration. They keep track of your every movement here so even though we were taking a domestic flight we still had to go through the immigration desk to have our passport details recorded.

After a fairly short wait in the waiting area we proceeded out across the tarmac on foot to our small plane. The planes are getting progressively smaller with this little propeller driven airplane having just 60 seats!!! Despite its lack of size, our little plane had us in Phonsovan in just 35 minutes and ahead of our stated arrival time. I think we took off about 20 minutes early. The deal here seems to be that if everyone is on board the plane goes - even if it is before the stated departure time!!!
We were met at the airport by Tey (pronounced more like Day) who took Kerry and Marcie around the Plain of Jars last weekend. After Bernie collected out bag directly from the tractor/trailer - no baggage carousel here - Tey took us out to the minivan. After a quick side trip to drop someone off at the hotel on the hill where Kerry stayed we proceeded out to Site No. 1 which is the largest and most accessible site just 15km out of town. Site No. 1 consists of250 jars that weigh between 600kg and one tonne each.

The jars were fashioned from sandstone boulders that were sourced many kilometres away from where the jars are found today. Given their size and weight, no-one knows how the jars were transported 2,000 years ago from their source to their positions all around the Xieng Khuang (pronounced Sing Kwang) province.

And the purpose of the jars remains a mystery too. The explanation favoured by archaeologists is that the jars were used as sarcophagi. Evidence that supports this theory is the grouping of jars around marker stones that may have served as grave markers for family groups. However, Bernie prefers the Lao theory that the jars were used to ferment and store rice wine!! This theory suggests that the grave markers are, in fact, lids that sealed the top of the jars???

Regardless of these and other theories, the jars remain an enigma. Archaeologists continue to study the jars but, even thought their efforts are no longer hampered by war, extreme caution must be exercised at many of the sites due to the ongoing threat of UXOs. Xieng Khuang province was one of the most heavily bombed areas of Laos during the Vietnam War. The bomb craters that appear adjacent to many of the groups of jars serve as a constant reminder of the war and the UXO dangers. On top of that, one remains constantly aware of the placement of the MAG (Mine Advisory Group) markers that denote the areas that have been declared safe. There is no way that you want to run the risk of setting foot outside the area that is guaranteed to be clear of UXOs!!

Tey took us up to the Lao War Memorial constructed in 1998 on a hillside to the south of town to watch the sunset. There was plenty of light when we arrived to photograph the town below us and the Vietnamese War Memorial about 1km away on the next hillside. With the air quality a bit clearer up here we were able to capture some images of a red ball of sun setting behind the Lao style stupa.

Back down in the town, Tey dropped us off at the hotel he arranged for us for US$25/night rather than the rather upmarket $60/night that Kerry and Marcie paid for their hotel on the hillside. The room was huge and had the added advantage of being right in town and close to a number of restaurants. With both Tey and ‘The Lonely Planet’ guide recommending Simmaly we decided to eat there. We nearly blew the budget too with Bernie’s fried noodles with chicken costing US$1.25 and my chicken with ginger meal costing about US$2.00!!

There was considerable excitement when a bus pulled in, in front of the restaurant, to drop off passengers and then side swiped a Toyota Landcruiser parked out the front as it pulled out!!! The owner of the Landcruiser took off in pursuit of the bus and then came back again, but we’re not sure if he managed to sort it out with the bus driver or if the bus got away??? Back at the hotel we enjoyed a lovely quiet night with nothing disturbing us until the rooster started up at 4.30am!!!

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