I just got back from visiting the small town of Phonsavan famous for the nearby archaeological site referred to as ‘the Plain of Jars’. There are thousands of jars spread across several different sites, but can only be found in Xieng Khouang Province. Three sites are currently open to the public. Archaeologists believe they were used as funeral urns. Local people believe they were used to brew Lao whiskey. I think the whiskey theory is more likely!
The jars range from 1-3 meters in height and weigh up to 13 tonnes. Perhaps what is more interesting (at least it was for me) is that the area was heavily bombed by the US during the Vietnam war. Over 12 million tonne of bombs were dropped over the province and around 30 per cent didn’t explode. The region is being cleared up by NGOs like MAG but even at current clearance rates it will take 100 years to remove all UXO (unexploded ordinance) and mines.
Locals use the bomb casings as decorations for their houses, for storing food and even as posts for their houses. Only a couple of tanks remain as they were mostly pulled apart and sold as scrap metal to Vietnam. I have a feeling that if they had of left them in place, the country would have made more money in the long run from tourism.
There is another tour which you can take which explores more of the military sites around the province, including a cave which was used as a hospital. The area has just opened up to tourism and much of the equipment which was used in the war remains in tact.
Phonsavan is about a 6 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang and a little longer from Vientiane. The roads are in good condition but they are very windy as they go around the mountains. There are plenty of places to stay but the town but there is not much to do at night. Tours range from around $10-$15 for the day, including lunch.
UXO and land mine warnings. The areas have been cleared, but it’s probably a good idea to stick with your guide.
This is the only jar where a picture can be made out on the side of the jar.
The only jar which is covered.
One of the many bomb craters.