Phonsavan Plain of Jars
Phonsavan Travel Blog› entry 13 of 27 › view all entries
"There's whiskey in the jar."
Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy
Phonsovan is a relatively uninteresting place, with dusty roads and lots of construction work, not unlike Udomxai. But it's not the city itself that make tourists come here, it's the surrounding Plain of Jars. This 'plain' is actually a group of 20+ sites scattered around Phonsovan where huge jars of unknown origin have been found. The jars have been sculptured from a sort of solid sandstone and granite. In the area quarries with half finished jars have been found, which seems to prove that the jars were fashioned there and carried off to the different sites. The different sizes of boulders explain the enormous variety in shapes and sizes of jars.
There's many different local myths and theories about the function of the jars, including storage for rice and whiskey used by a race of giants.
At 9 o'clock we were picked but by Phoumy and our driver and drove 15 km to Site 1. This is the biggest of the 7 sites that have been cleared of UXO so far by the MAG. Markers show where it's safe to walk through the fields and hills where the jars lie scattered. Site 1 is also the location of the biggest jar ever found, the Hai Jeuam or 'Kings Cup', named after mythical king Jeuam. Most of the jars weigh 600-1000 kg, but this specific one weighs an impressive six tonne.
At Site 1 we also visited a cave with a natural chimney that was probably used as a place to cremate the dead. During the Vietnam War the Northern Vietnamese had also used this as a hiding place.
A short trip in the van took us to Site 2 where 90 jars are covering two hills. There were also some lids lying next to the jars (over the centuries most of the smaller lids had been taken by locals to be used as grindstones). A tree had grown through one of the jars and had split it open. Phoumy, who had proven himself another likeable guide with an excellent sense of humor, told me that the tree had loved the jar very much, but it had broken his heart.
We decided to take a one hour walk from Site 2 to Site 3 across a couple of hills with nice views on the surroundings, where several harvested rice fields had been burned (or still lay burning) to prepare them for the next season.
Today we would also see how the inventive Lao had recycled empty bomb shells and all kinds of other war junk. Empty shells of cluster bombs had been turned into stilts for the houses or fence posts. A destroyed Russian tank that the Vietnamese had used had been stripped down of any removable part and only the empty body lay by the side of the road, a quiet relic of the devastating war.
The late afternoon found us visiting the old capital city of the Xieng Khuang province, Muang Khoun. The city had been so heavily bombarded in the war that it had been virtually abandoned in the seventies.
On the way back to Phonsovan we stopped at a Hmong village. I had taken the books we had bought at Big Brother Mouse, which we handed out to the village kids, soon realising that bad family planning had resulted in many more kids than we had books.
The pigs in the village had strange triangle constructions of wooden sticks around their necks, meant to keep them from jumping through the fences and running off. We also watched a ritual celebrating the end of the year (tomorrow was Hmong's New Year). Villagers had gathered in the field circling around, shooting guns in the air and lighting of fireworks.
Phoumy had done a great job and it was a shame to learn that he would not be accompanying us after today, so we said goodbye when we were dropped off at the hotel. We had a most excellent dinner at the Sanga restaurant that night, ordering 10 different dishes and beers and paying no more than 3,50 Euro per person for this indulgence.
One more thing worth mentioning about today was the weather. It had been around 35 degrees in Luang Prabang, which lies at an altitude of 600 meters. Phonsovan is located at 1200 meters and the weather is dramatically different here. The morning was cloudy and during the day the wind picked up. By the end of the day the temperature had dropped to 10 degress and at night I actually felt a bit cold beneath the covers. Tomorrow however we would be heading for a warmer place. The weather forecast promised a cloudless sky and 30 degrees Celsius in Vang Vieng.