Second stop in Laos: discovering the mysterious Plain of Jars

After spending a few days in Luang Prabang, I travelled 260km by minibus to my next stop in Laos, Phonsavan. The transfer from my hotel to the bus station in Luang Prabang was included in my ticket: I was picked up by a tuk tuk that already had lots of passengers/luggage, which didn’t seem to have any space for me… But the other travellers did manage to make room for me… as well for the additional three passengers who got on after me! 🙂

I can't remember how many of us squeezed into this tuk tuk! I sat at the back facing the cars driving behind us...
I can’t remember how many of us squeezed into this tuk tuk! I sat at the back facing the cars driving behind us…

The ride through the mountains to Phonsavan

It was a 7h ride through the mountains: I was worried how crammed the minibus might be. There were three rows of three passenger seats, but they always add little plastic stools in the alley and pick up additional passengers. I was happy not to have to sit on one of those stools for such a long trip and happy the minibus wasn’t too full either!

The first half of the ride through the mountains was unfortunately very misty, but it was nevertheless interesting driving through many villages.

Here's to give an idea of the view along the road from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan

The sky was much clearer during the second half of the trip: each bend revealed a different aspect of the mountainous landscape.

Driving to Phonsavan
Driving to Phonsavan

The Plain of Jars

My main motivation for travelling to Phonsavan was to visit the nearby Plain of Jars, where mysterious ancient giant stone jars are scattered over hundreds of square kilometres in the forests and upland valleys of this region. Archaeologists estimate the jars to date back to the South-east Asian iron age, between 500 BC and AD 200.

Main Street in Phonsavan
Main Street in Phonsavan

One of the mysteries surrounding these jars is how they got there: they are made from varieties of rock that likely came from quarries 8km away. Transporting the stones or the jars, which weigh up to 10 tons would have been no easy task in those days!

The next mystery is the purpose of the jars:

  • Local legends suggest that giants used to live in that region and their king supposedly created the jars to brew and store large amounts of rice beer or rice wine in the jars for some celebration.
  • Archaeologists on the other hand believe the jars served a purpose in burial rituals. But we may never know for sure…

The jars are clustered on 90 different sites which were heavily bombed during the Vietnam war. Only seven sites have been cleared of unexploded bombs and made safe for visitors. I visited sites 1, 2 & 3. Evidence of exploded bombs can still be seen in the form of broken jars and bomb craters.

The walk to site 3 was particularly nice, as it involved walking through rice fields and there were nice views of the mountains. However the jars on site 1 were the most impressive… some were massive and there were so many!

Walking to site 3 of the Plain of Jars
Walking to site 3 of the Plain of Jars
Site 3 of the Plain of Jars
Site 3 of the Plain of Jars
Site 3 of the Plain of Jars
Site 3 of the Plain of Jars
The view around site 3 of the Plain of Jars
The view around site 3 of the Plain of Jars
Getting to site 3 of the Plain of Jars involved walking through rice fields (wasn't the right season for that though)
Getting to site 3 of the Plain of Jars involved walking through rice fields (wasn’t the right season for that though)
Plain of Jars - site 2
Plain of Jars – site 2
Plain of Jars - site 1
Plain of Jars – site 1
The stone jars at site 1 are quite big, as you can see
The stone jars at site 1 are quite big, as you can see
Plain of Jars - site 1
Plain of Jars – site 1
The view from site 1 of the Plain of Jars
The view from site 1 of the Plain of Jars
Bomb crater on site 1 of the Plain of Jars
Bomb crater on site 1 of the Plain of Jars

What about ice cream?!

Sorry to say, but I found no ice cream in Phonsavan! As an alternative, I suggest going to the market and getting a bowl of Asian desserts.

The Asian desserts you can choose from... I went for a mix of them all!
The Asian desserts you can choose from… I went for a mix of them all!
I really enjoyed this mix of Asian desserts, served with coconut milk
I really enjoyed this mix of Asian desserts, served with coconut milk

Interesting links

MAG (Mines Advisory Group) in Laos

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Wow, the jars at site 1 were huge!

    Anyway, the Asian dessert you mentioned in the last photo is called Cendol in Malaysia (which is actually the name for the long green jelly-like thingy). We serve them with palm sugar. It is so famous here especially in Penang.

    You should try it someday!

    Like

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