Mysterious Plain of Jars
After five days in lovely Luang Prabang it was time to move southwards to the mysterious Plain of Jars.
High Mountains and a Flat Tires
Although Phonsavan is only about 265 km away from Luang Prabang the journey took us a good eight hours by minibus. The main reason for this is the very winding road.
Especially during the first few hours the road snakes around the mountains. During our lunch stop at 1600 meters above see level we even felt slightly cool (I think this was the coldest we have felt in Asia for a long time – except in Cinemas in Singapore).
On the plus side we were rewarded by amazing views of jungle covered mountains.
Once again we realised how sparsely populated Laos is. With about 7 mio inhabitants it is slightly less populous than Switzerland (about 8 mio) but is almost 6 times larger in terms of area.
Ah yes, I have almost forgotten to mention that the minibus had a flat tire after about ten minutes of driving – luckily this was fixed within minutes.
Wonderful Host and Troubled History
Our host for the next two nights was Kong who runs a guesthouse next to the bus station.
He was also our tour guide for the next day. Besides being a very funny and easy going fellow he also has a wealth of knowledge not only about the Jars but also about Laos history.
So we learnt that Laos is the most bombed country on earth. During the Indochina (aka Vietnam) War more than 200 mio bombs were dropped over the country whereof 80 mio are still undetonated.
This translated into a bomb run every 8 minutes during 24 hours a day for 9 years. Unbelievable.
The air base where the bombers started was run as a covert operation by the CIA and was the busiest airport in the world at that point of time.
It was used as a forward base fighting Vietnamese and Lao Communists. There is a good video here and plenty of information on Wikipedia.
As a result of the above we saw many bomb craters during the next few hours while walking around the Jars.
The stone containers are indeed quite mysterious and even after all these years of studies a lot remains unclear. What is is undisputed is that they are between 2000 and 2500 years old and made of stone from nearby quarries.
What is rather unclear is what the purpose of the jars was. Some local legends claim they were use for Whiskey storage (I like this theory). However it’s more likely that they were burial markers as body remains were found nearby (some theories even think people were buried in them).
In any case it was very interesting to walk between the jars and enjoy the beautiful scenery around them. The several hundred jars are scattered around about 80 sites whereof we visited three.
As a prof of their universal value they have just been inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
And so we were super happy that we did the side trip to the Plain of Jars before heading further south to Vang Vieng.
Minibuses to Phonsavan run from Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Easiest to get the ticket from your guesthouse (includes the tuck tuck to the station). If you are prone to travel sickness we recommend to take a pill (and get a seat in the front of the normally fully packed minibus).
We highly recommend Kong Keo Guesthouse (if you do so say hi and ask how the swimming pool is progressing). He also runs the excellent tour.
If you go in November/December take a jumper and jacket with you – apparently temperatures go down to 5 degrees.