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Published: February 26th 2013
February 25, 2013
Phansavan was a whole new experience then anything I’ve explored so far. This place is raw. The landscape is a lot like central Oregon and the high dessert. The air is colder, enough to need shoes and a sweater. Layers of dust are now mixed in with the usual exhaust that coats your lungs. We are 3 of maybe 30 falangs (foreigners) in the whole city which is a new experience compared to all the touristy places in SE Asia. That’s exactly what I wanted but it’s a new feeling having every person you walk by stare at you. Phansavan filled me with so many different emotions its hard to know exactly what I’m feeling.
What drew us to this city were ‘The plain of jars’. All three of us were intrigued by the mystery of these sites. There are over 150 different sites that contain over 1,000 of these treasures with no explanation as to what they are for or how they got there. Each jar is made of limestone and can weigh up to 6 tons. Our day started by renting motorbikes to visit site 1. The site was almost eerie and the concept of the jars frustrated Jacob and Rebeckah because of the lack of explanation and undetermined age. Some thought to be funerary urns after bones were discovered within them but Jacob read otherwise convincing us that it was also a tall tale. The scary part of the tourist attraction is the path you must walk along in order to avoid old land mines that are still active from the war. Signs painted with skulls and cross bones warn you at the gate to the entrance. This is not however why Phansavan was so moving to me. As someone who has been sheltered by a country whose top news is who won American idol, it was no surprise that I was completely unaware of the ‘Secret war on Lao’. To others unaware, the secret war on Lao took place during the Vietnam War in 1964-1973. America dropped 2.2 million dollars worth of bombs on the Xieng Khuang province every day over the course of 9 years. We did this because Phansavan among surrounding areas was a fast growing communist community and America did not like the idea of thinking differently. At the time no US soldiers were reported to have been in Laos and so the bombings were blamed on Thailand and it was believed so for the next ten years before our secret came out that it was in fact the USA, Too little too late. Scattered around town are bomb villages and craters the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Those bombs that were later found were brought into town and made into art. You can find showings of the documentaries made showing in a few places around town. The city was evacuated and forced to live in the jungle without food or homes for 9 years. Because they were originally farmers the act of hunting was new and a lack to game caused many to starve. I know this because of our new friend Bet who lived during the war and told us everything he could remember. The funny thing about Bet was that he would swear up and down that the documentaries are lies and that the Americans had nothing to do with it, which would explain why the locals were so kind and hospitable towards us. Because we had admitted the attack so much later some people still believe that it was Thailand and have simply moved on with out any new knowledge but the evidence is clear. America is great at lieing.
On a lighter note the one day we spent in Phansavan with our new friend was one of my favorite adventures yet. We met Bet at his restaurant where we had lunch. Bet speaks very good English so it was fun to converse with him over our meal. We told him we were trying to find bomb village and a waterfall north of town. When he jokingly asked if he could come we were elated and then continued to pry him until he gave in. so he left work and drove Beckahs motor bike an hour north into Maung village in the mountains. After getting questionable directions from a local to the falls we found ourselves at the top of a mountain preparing to hike down. A few hundred yards in Bet tells us Lao people don’t live in Maung village because they are scared, because they are rebels. So with our new found information we continue on our hike into rebel territory in search of a place to swim. We got close but not all the way to the falls. The hike was on a barely noticeable trail and you could tell no one had gone this way in quite some time. But as I rested my feet in the creek in the middle of no where I was surprised and relieved to see a familiar shade of gold. Out of the bushes walked a monk and I suddenly felt safe. He was with a young man in a pair of pink bunny slippers, they smiled and crossed the creek and disappeared into the jungle again. I confirmed with Beckah that they were indeed real. The day was ending and as we were almost back in the city of Phansavan Bet asked us if we would stop to meet him friends and have a drink. This sort of thing doesn’t just happen every day. What an honor to be asked into some ones home and shown such hospitality, so out of deep respect we agreed. We sat around a table with the large family and visited for hours. The head of the house brought us a bottle is ‘medicine’ (home made alcohol). It smelt like rubbing alcohol but the bottle was filled with different herbs. The way you drink in some ones home is whom ever has the bottle and glass pours everyone a drink individually and whatever hand you use to hold the drink is the direction in which the glass goes, and everyone gets to be the bartender The son of the household has been learning English at the college across the street and was excited to get to test out his skills so he taught us some Lao and translated for the rest of the family who was eager with questions for us. It was an incredible moment to be a part of. After the bottle was passed around several times I was excited that we had successfully finished it. But we were far from finished. Because this was so special it would be considered disrespectful to say no our turn down there offerings. 3 dry bottles later I had the boom box out and was teaching the hula! Side note: I have no idea how to do the hula but they had never even heard of Hawaii so I guess it didn’t matter.
“Mallao” means “I’m drunk” and repeating it was the only way this was going to end. Several hours had gone by and it was time for us to leave, but not before Bet made one more stop at a local karaoke bar where we were the main attraction. It was as if the room stopped and hundreds of eyes were on us wondering what the hell we were doing there. As time went on a person visited us from every table wanting to know our story and buy us drinks. Things got a little blurry after that and as the microphone got closer to our turn to sing I looked at Jacob and said “take me home.” And like a good boyfriend that’s just what he did, safely.
Bet you son of a gun, thank you. I will remember Phansavan forever.
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