After our rejuvenating stay in Luang Prabang, we headed east to Phonsavan, the capital city of Xieng Khuong province to check out the mysterious Plain of Jars. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the bus station in Luang Praban, the bus was full, so we had to take a minivan for the seven hour drive to Phonsavan.
We were crammed into a mini van with ten other passengers (one more than there were actually seats for), there was no air conditioning, and the road was incredibly winding and bumpy. To make things worse, exhaust was blowing into the passenger area, making everyone even more sick. We were actually OK, but two people ended up losing their cookies. All in all, it was only a seven hour drive, and we survived. Just another crazy travel story to add to our repertoire!
Phonsavan is the dusty capital city of Xieng Khuong province. Here, you’ll find one major road housing many guest houses, restaurants, the bus station, and a few markets. A lot of the people make their living by raising cattle, and so the town has a somewhat cowboy sort of feel to it — somewhat gritty, very dusty, and full of hard working people. In fact, it is so dusty most people wear face masks, and we wore our buffs for protection. Despite the dust, we welcomed the cooler weather; Phonsavan has an elevation of about 3,600 feet, making the evenings and mornings quite cool (we needed our long sleeved shirts and coats for the first time). Overall, I would say Phonsvan stands out as the most different compared to any of the other cities we have visited.
The Mysterious Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars is a fascinating landmark about which not much is known. Basically, there are giant, stone jars scattered about different sites around Xieng Khuong province. They are culturally and historically significant, although as I mentioned, not much is known about them. Therefore UNESCO is involved in the archaeology and care taking of the jars, but the sites are not officially UNESCO world heritage sites yet, though they have been nominated for that status.
Although there is much speculation regarding the purpose of the jars, many archaeologists generally agree the jars are related to some sort of burial ritual from the Iron Age. Some contend that the jars are merely markers for burial sites, while others believe the jars were used as burial tombs. I think I’m going to go with the Lao legend that states the jars were used by an ancient giant to hold the moonshine he drank to celebrate his battle victories.
The first site houses the largest number of jars of the three main sites, but it is also visited by the most tourists. We stopped here briefly to see the huge collection of jars.
After visiting Site 1, we headed to Sites 2 and 3, where we were virtually the only visitors. It truly felt mysterious, fairy tale like, and magical visiting these mysterious giant jars. They are placed in the most scenic hilltops with just amazing views of the Lao countryside, which is in an of itself humbling. Unlike Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is still very sparsely populated, and much of the land is used for agriculture. This makes for breathtakingly peaceful moments I will never forget.
I left the Plain of Jars feeling simultaneously peaceful and haunted. Being in the countryside at these tranquil jar sites left me even more in love with Laos, its history, and its people. However, sometimes the truth does not hold such pleasant feelings. I also left the Plain of Jars haunted with the unsettling past that the Lao people live with to this day — the scars of the Secret Wars, which I’ll save for its own sad post. Nevertheless, Mitch and I had a beautiful day outside, absorbing the beautiful scenery and vistas of the Lao countryside and farm land.