The big Indochina trip: Phonsavan and the plain of jars

Phonsavan is in the middle of an area know as the Plain of Jars. There are thousands of  giant stone jars spread out at a number of sights in the countryside around the city. The area was a base for the Pathet Lao and was heavily bombed by the  Americans during the war. As records go, Laos holds one of the saddest ones, of being the most heavily bombed country in the world by capita. Around 30 percent of those bombs failed to explode and a lot of the jar sights are dangerous to visit. There are however three sites that have been cleared of UXO (unexploded ordnance) by an organisation called Mines Advisory Group or MAG for short. Those sites are open for tourists to visit. No one knows for sure what the jars where for or who made them but the archeologist Madeleine Colani, who did excavations in the 1930’s,  believed they were urns used for burials. 

Site one is just a couple of kilometers from Phonsavan city center and it’s the biggest of the three. There are a few hundred jars there spread across the plains. It’s interesting to see such a large amount of jars in the same area but sadly there’s very little information about them. 

Some of the jars at site 1

Note the bomb crater and the jar that’s been split by the blast

There’s a small cave by the jars that Colani suspects was used as for cremation.

Site two is on a small hill in the forest, the jars shaded by some big trees. You get a bit of an Indiana Jones feeling there, but it was ruined by the bus load of middle aged European tourists who arrived just before me. 

The stone jars at site 2, feels like Indiana Jones 

The road out to site three was really bad and the last two kilometers was just mud and I went slipping and sliding all over the place; it’s just pure luck I didn’t fall over. When you get to the parking lot you have to walk on the little dirt path between the rice paddies before you get to the jars. After sites one and two, ate three was not super interesting but still pretty good. 

The jars at site 3

It only takes a few hours to see all three sites but if  you don’t have that much time you could skip site three. Sites one and two are really worth seeing, I especially like the feeling of site two. 

When I was done with the jars I thought about going to some of the other places nearby Phonsavan but it started raining pretty heavily so I headed back to the guesthouse. Not wanting to sit around all afternoon I then went to the MAG office right around the corner where they have a little exhibition on clearing up UXO UP and even show some films about their work. I think it’s really powerful to see how the people of Laos are still affected by the war 40 years after it ended. Since they do good work both here and in other countries I donated some money.

Right across the street from MAG is a bar that uses old bombs as decoration. 

After MAG I took a short round of the nearby market. Since we don’t really have them in Europe i always like seeing markets. 

Phonsavan market

That was it for sightseeing. In the evening I went to a restaurant called Lao Falang that serves really good Italian food. After a month of noodles and rice it felt good with some comfort food. I spent the rest of the evening hanging out at the guesthouse, sitting around the fire drinking beer and chatting. 

1 Comment

  1. When reading your comment on site 2 I got a vivid image of a bunch of middle aged Europeans running around wrecking and smashing jars to pieces. Somehow quite liberating but luckily not true.

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