Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars

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January 31st 2012
Published: February 3rd 2012
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Jar site 2
31st Jan ’12 Luang Prabang to Phonsavan (home of the Plain of Jars)

Time to hit the road again, this time by tuk tuk (which was actually late this time) to the bus station and then by minibus to Phonsavan which was supposed to take about 8 hours.

The minibus was a bit of a surprise as it was actually pretty large, newish and had only 8 seats in the back. The luggage all went on the roof and as there was only 9 passengers (1 went in the front) we all had a good bit of space. Not so good was the fact there were no head rests (and when you are jolting along for 8 hours this would have helped the old neck) and the small Lao boy who was travelling with us was sick for the entire journey! His mum must have gone through about 20 plastic bags, all of which were chucked out the window once he had filled them! The poor Aussie guy sat next to them suffered the most. Everyone had to put headphones and music on to drown out the sound!!

The road was pretty rough and wound up and down
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Bomb crater
and in and out of the mountain ranges for just about the entire journey. We stopped for lunch at the top of one of the mountain passes and the views would have been stunning but were covered in clouds. This also meant that the whole journey was also pretty cold.

The landscape we could see was gorgeous, deep wooded valleys and towering mountain peaks, small villages which lined the road with the backs of the huts built out on poles over the drop offs. Little children were all playing along the roadsides and just about every bamboo hut had a satellite dish!!

When we finally descended down into the valley we followed a not quite so windy road into Phonsovan. By now it was really cold and the town was quite a surprise after Luang Prabang. It was a really rough and ready place with no character at all and not at all what we expected considering it is the main destination for Laos only real archaeological site. There were the usual guesthouses and small restaurants lining the main road but a distinct lack of visitors.

Our hotel was just off the main road and was a
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Keep your fat arse between the white markers!
big echoey building with enormous ornately carved wooden furniture in the lobby and had the honour of being one of the only two buildings in the district that had a lift!!

We went out to try and find out about trips to the Plain of Jars and it quickly became apparent that virtually none were guaranteed to run as they did not have enough people. This meant that we would have to consider doing it privately which was VERY expensive, we bumped into the Aussie guy from our minibus and he said 4 of them had organised a trip from their guesthouse and why didn’t we join them. So we went along to his GH and asked about it but were told it was full!! Later we saw him again and he had had a word with them and we could join it but by then we had got something sorted out.

We ended up booking with our own hotel who guaranteed the trip would run at the agreed price no matter if it was only us two. We had no idea they ran trips until we went back and the lad on the desk asked if we had got sorted out, we then found out they could book our tickets onto Vang Vieng also. By now after seeing the dismal state of the town and the hassle of trying to organise trips without having enough people we decided to only stay for 2 nights instead of the 3 we had planned.

1st Feb ’12 The Plain of Jars

We turned up to wait for our trip pick up, still unsure if it would actually run, but it did and in the end there were 4 of us on it. The other 2 were a Czech girl who was a film maker and an elderly Belgian man who we will refer to as Hercules Poirot – looked nothing like the one in the tv series but sounded exactly like him!!! He was a very interesting character who had been in Laos many times and knew lots about the history of the country and the Plain of Jars. He had been in Thailand when the Americans used it as a base to launch their bombing raids on Laos and described hearing the planes taking off each night and kept referring to the fact that ‘of course the
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Jar site 3
Americans were never in Laos’. I am convinced he was something to do with the military but he never let on.

During the Vietnam war Laos (who was not a part of it) was the most heavily bombed country and even today the people are still being maimed and killed as a result of unexploded ordanances. There are non- governmental organisations from various countries working here to clear the land of these uxo’s but America has not done anything to help (but of course vehy vere never in Laos).

While we were on our tour we came across a truck from one of the organisations (MAG) which is british funded and sirens were sounded as they had found a device they were going to detonate.

The whole of the Plain of Jars – sites 1,2 and 3 which we visited have been cleared but you still have to walk within the pathways which are lined by stones marked in white where they are now safe. All around these sites are bomb craters so no doubt many thousands of jars were also destroyed during these bombing raids.

The villages in this area have used the scrap to
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Jar site 1
make objects and to decorate their land. One village is known as the Spoon village as they use the bomb casings to make spoons. There is also a cave in this area where 235 villages were killed in one fell swoop as they hid from the bombing, because an American pilot fired a bomb directly into it. Apparently the Americans knew exactly where the villages were as they could see the bamboo fences surrounding villages and could then target them. No doubt they also realised that lots of villagers used caves to hide in too. It’s heart breaking.

The Jar sites are amazing, they are not particularly large, but some of the jars are really huge. The whole air of mystery about them is intriguing – what were they used for? Why are they there? And how did they get there? No one actually knows but there are lots of theories.

Jar site 1 has the most groups of jars and they are in a kind of wide circle around a central rocky area with a cave in it, my guess is some King was buried in it and the jars perhaps contained his belongings to help him
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in the afterlife but who knows?

There are a vast number of Jar sites in this area but very few are fully excavated and just recently a quarry has been found which is where they believe the stone came from. French archaeologists worked on the site until 1930 but no one has been working on the Jar mysteries since, so Hercules told us.

Between the 4 of us we bribed the driver to take us to visit the waterfall and what a gorgeous place it was. As it was high season there was not as much water flowing but what there was was impressive and I should imagine in the rainy season it must be a majestic sight! We all clambered around on the rocks and sat soaking up the tranquillity.

When we got back into town it was raining and cold again, we attempted to find an Indian restaurant that we had read about but it appears that like much of the town it has given up. I ended up feeling very sorry for Phonsavan, we are here in high season and yet there is virtually no one else here. When we arrived an Explore trip
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Lots of jars at Jar Site 1
was leaving so they do get tour groups and yet it just seems deserted. How the various businesses keep going I have no idea, it must cost more to light the restaurants than they actually make.


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