Phonsavan Plain of Jars

Phonsavan Travel Blog

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Phoumy at a bomb crater.

"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 Plain of Jars site 1.
French archeologist Mrs. Coloni studied the jars in the 1930s and found traces of a human civilization, which she estimatedf was 2000-2500 years old. In some of the jars she found a few human remains and urns with ashes buried next to the jars. The most likely theory therefore seems to be that the jars were used as grave tombs or sarcophagi.

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 Plain of Jars site 1.

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.

At Plain of Jars site 1.
Arriving at Site 3 we first had a tasty noodle soup in Ban Xieng Di, after which we visited the hill with 150 jars and quickly viewed the shrine for Buddha statues that had been destroyed during the war.

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.

The gang with The King's Cup.
Since then the Lao have rebuild the city, although nothing much remains of the splendor that once had been on par with that of Luang Prabang. The remains of Wat Phiat Wat are a handful of columns, the foundation and a big sitting Buddha. Elsewhere in town the That Foun stupa is still standing. It's overgrown by weeds and has a tunnel running through the heart, made by Chinese Haw plunderers that were looking for treasures. We climbed up part of the 30 meter stupa to see a smaller stupa inside.

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.

At Plain of Jars site 1.
Phoumy told the kids to share the books and pass them on. They were delighted with their gifts and it was good to see that it's still possible to make kids happy with something a lot simpler than a Gameboy or Nintendo.
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.

At Plain of Jars site 1.
After a visit to the cybercafe we opened one of the bottles of lao-lao we had bought near the Pak Ou caves (a sweet and less trong variety) and had one final nightcap before retiring relatively early this evening.

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.

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Phoumy at a bomb crater.
Phoumy at a bomb crater.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
The gang with The Kings Cup.
The gang with The King's Cup.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
Cremation cave at Plain of Jars si…
Cremation cave at Plain of Jars s…
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
At Plain of Jars site 1.
Burning fields around Phonsavan.
Burning fields around Phonsavan.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2.
At Plain of Jars Site 2 (lid for t…
At Plain of Jars Site 2 (lid for …
Surroundings of Phonsovan.
Surroundings of Phonsovan.
Burning fields around Phonsovan.
Burning fields around Phonsovan.
UXO along the way.
UXO along the way.
Paul and his tape worm having nood…
Paul and his tape worm having noo…
At Plain of Jars Site 3.
At Plain of Jars Site 3.
At Plain of Jars Site 3.
At Plain of Jars Site 3.
Broken Buddha statues at Ban Xieng…
Broken Buddha statues at Ban Xien…
Russian War tank at the Plain of J…
Russian War tank at the Plain of …
Russian War tank at the Plain of J…
Russian War tank at the Plain of …
War Junk.
War Junk.
War Junk.
War Junk.
Pineapple clusterbombs.
Pineapple clusterbombs.
Using cluster bomb shells as stilt…
Using cluster bomb shells as stil…
Using cluster bomb shells as stilt…
Using cluster bomb shells as stil…
Using empty cluster mobs as fence …
Using empty cluster mobs as fence…
Wat Phiat, Muang Khoun.
Wat Phiat, Muang Khoun.
Wat Phiat, Muang Khoun.
Wat Phiat, Muang Khoun.
That Foun stupa, Muang Khoun.
That Foun stupa, Muang Khoun.
Climbing the That Foun stupa, Muan…
Climbing the That Foun stupa, Mua…
Pig in Hmong village.
Pig in Hmong village.
Hmong village.
Hmong village.
Handing out books in Hmong village.
Handing out books in Hmong village.
Handing out books in Hmong village.
Handing out books in Hmong village.
Kids in Hmong village.
Kids in Hmong village.
Buffalo along the road.
Buffalo along the road.
New Years Eve of the Hmong.
New Year's Eve of the Hmong.
Phonsavan
photo by: droonsta