Jars and spoons

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Asia » Laos » East
January 22nd 2019
Published: January 22nd 2019
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We arrive at the bus station on the outskirts of Phonsavan an hour early - that’s a bit of a buggar really as it’s only 5am, it’s freezing cold, our guest house is bound to be locked up and we now have to vacate our nice warm beds on the bus! The journey was reasonably comfortable although the winding mountain roads did throw us around a bit.

Outside, a tuk tuk driver is right on hand to assist us - of course he is - he wants 80,000 kip to take us the couple of km into town. That’s outrageous, more than a taxi in the UK would cost! And it’s a share tuk tuk at that. I remain firm that we are not interested in paying tourist prices...and since it’s only 5am, we may as well stay here until daylight and then walk into town! Of course, we have no intention of walking but he doesn’t know that. He quickly comes down to 50,000 kip but I’m still not having it. The lady from the bus steps in, telling me that 40,000 kip would be a fair price so we agree this. Our tuk tuk driver is not happy though...he refuses to help us load or unload our luggage at either end!

We are unceremoniously dumped on the pavement outside our locked guesthouse. Here we stand deliberating whether to try to find a cafe or stay outside wrapped up in our blankets. At this point the door opens and we are welcomed inside. Our room isn’t ready but we can sit in reception. Well that’s a relief. Whilst we are waiting we book up for a tour of the Plain of Jars and Spoon Village - it’s the most efficient way of visiting and given the amount of UXOs (unexploded ordinance) in this area, it’s not wise to go without a guide!

It’s now light and we go for breakfast. The guesthouse have told us about a cafe that is open...it’s extremely expensive and not very nice - not a patch on the Scandinavian Bakery in Vientiane that it is trying to copy. We decide they don’t deserve a tip and we won’t be coming back again anyway!

Back at the guesthouse, we set off on our trip with three other guests. First stop is Spoon Village, so named because they make aluminium spoons for the whole of Laos using recycled metal from UXOs. We are shown the production process and then we are invited to wander through the village to see the contrasting architecture of the villagers’ homes. First there is the traditional wooden housing, but also modern concrete structures with bright new roof tiles. Our guide explains that many of the newer houses have been constructed over many years with the families building them bit by bit as they save enough money to continue. There are no planning regulations here so they can take as long as they need to complete the task. It is obvious that there is now more money in the country than 16 years ago. We also pass the site of a new electrical generating complex, financed by the Chinese - another reason why Laos is moving ahead rapidly.

Now we move on to the Plain of Jars. There are many of these jar sites (over 50) in the region but only a handful are safe to visit as the UXOs have yet to be cleared. There are a few theories as to why these jars were put here. Some Lao people think that the jars were used for making rice wine and that they were used by giants. Others believe they were ancient burial urns. Archaeology has revealed bones in some whilst others remain empty. One theory is that the place was an ancient cemetery with some urns occupied and some vacant plots so to speak. We visit the sites in reverse order because the main site, number one, is generally busier in the mornings.

We stop at a Lao restaurant for noodle soup - delicious, Wagamama eat your heart out - before preceding to sites two and one. We also stop at a crude homespun whisky distillery following a tasting session after lunch - it’s strong stuff - Ian thinks that it smells mostly of mentholated spirits!

Back at the guesthouse, our bags are still lying abandoned in reception. We collect our keys and settle into our room. It’s basic but clean and not too cold given that the general temperatures are quite low here in the mountains. We also find that the water heater provides abundant hot water fir the showers we would have loved earlier this morning! Oh well, better late than never.

We decide to try a Lao restaurant for our evening meal. We choose chicken with ginger and pork fried rice washed down with hot coffee - delicious.

So it just remains for us to collect our laundry - left this morning and now ready for collection - then dive under the bedcovers in a bid to keep warm!

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