Plain of Jars

Plain of Jars

Around the World in 32 Days : Country three

       Leaving Luang Prabang and landing in Xiengkhoung, home to one the most humble little airports I’ve come across and access point to Phonsavan, is a thirty minute flight…or a 8 hour bus ride. That should give you a pretty good idea of the road conditions in Laos. We met our tour guide at the airport, (recommended by http://www.trekfortwo.com), dropped our packs off at the guest house, and heading out for the tour. We only booked one night here and wanted to make sure we saw as many old stone jars as we could.
Jars

DSCF1015
The main draw to this part of the country is the Plain of Jars, a collection of peculiar stone relics that litter the landscape in the area. What they were used for is a matter of some debate, but it’s generally accepted they were used in some sort of burial practice. Alone, they are pretty unique – at least in my travels – and well worth a visit, but if you view through the lens of more recently history, it’s even more remarkable that any of them are left standing at all.
Tree Jars
The U.S. bombing campaign here, lasting from the late 1960’s to the mid 1970’s dropped more bombs in this small area of land than in the entirety of World War Two. It’s hard to even comprehend that level of destruction, but there are remnants of it everywhere. Bomb craters still dot the countryside, as does unexploded ordinance. Various government and non-profit entities have been working together to clear the land, like the charity Mines Advisory Group (MAG) but hundreds of people die each year from triggering munitions that are over four decades old. Some have found a way to profit from the leftover war detritus, melting down the metal from the old bombs and casting it in molds to little trinkets. Spoons, bottle openers, crosses, birds, and all types of items are for sale. The ethics behind buying some of these items are delicate. On one hand, you are providing income to a desperately impoverished people, but you are also encouraging the practice of seeking out possibly dangerous explosives. I don’t think I would choose to visit one of these places, but we had a little bit (or a lot) of a language barrier with our guide and ended up at one anyways. Objectively, the process is pretty interesting melting down the metal and then pouring it into wooden molds, but I still didn’t fell comfortable being there. Going from a sense of historical awe at the jars sites, to a sort of shameful guilt at the spoon making village, covered a lot of emotional ground.
Spoons
Phonsavan, to me, is a place you get in and out of pretty quickly. If you have a deep interest in the area, or an abundance of time, there are other things to do; lakes, mountains, tons of other scenery can be explored. It’s just that, aside the Jars, there isn’t anything that really stands out as unique, or unique enough to justify more time here at the expense of other adventures. Facilities, roads, food, everything is underdeveloped here, and if the Plane of Jars ever does get its UNESCO World Heritage status, the city will have to overcome some serious obstacles to support the increase in tourisms that would follow. I hope they are able to; Lao people seem to be friendly and kind overall, and deserve to reap some benefit from their historical treasures. My advice? Get here before tourist outnumber the locals.
Stupa

How we got there: Flight Luang Prabang to Vientiane to Xiengkhoung to Vientiane $280USD Where we stayed: Namchai Guest House – Functional with A/C, best you’re going to get for under 18 bucks a night.
What we did:
Plane of Jars 1, 2 and 3
Tour of the old town, i.e. a couple bombed out buildings and a few ancient stupas. I would skip everything but the jars to be honest, but if you’re there I suppose it doesn’t hurt to see the rest – there is little else to do anyway. Having to buy tickets at every little stupa does get old fast though, and feels a bit scammy.

 


Where we stayed: Namchai Guest House – Functional with A/C, best you’re going to get for under 18 bucks a night.
What we did:
Plane of Jars 1, 2 and 3
Tour of the old town, i.e. a couple bombed out buildings and a few ancient stupas. I would skip everything but the jars to be honest, but if you’re there I suppose it doesn’t hurt to see the rest – there is little else to do anyway. Having to buy tickets at every little stupa does get old fast though, and feels a bit scammy.

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