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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Plainly an Adventure to See

The Plain of Jars
The Cover Feature of Good Morning Laos

Phonsavan, Laos
Billy & Akaisha Kaderli

The heat in Chiang Mai was becoming oppressive, and Song Kran was right around the corner. Wanting to escape both, we decided a trip to Laos would fit the bill quite nicely. We had heard of the Plain of Jars -- hundreds of jars scattered over extensive rolling grasslands -- and their history and mystery were appealing.

However, one cannot fly directly from Chiang Mai to Phonsavan where guided tours are available. So we flew Lao Airlines, via Luang Prabang, Vientiane and finally to Phonsavan. Since this route cannot be completed in one day, we opted to layover both in Luang Phabang and Vientiane, taking advantage of Laos’s fine French restaurants and wonderful wines. With a full belly and a pleasant attitude adjustment, we boarded Lao Air flight #402, the only flight per day to Xieng Khouang (also known as Phonsavan).

LOADED UP WITH OUR TRAVEL GEAR

Let it be noted that Phonsavan is no me-tropolis. The airstrip is smooth and straight, but once departing the plane we felt out in the middle of nowhere. At 1125m elevation, the notably cool breeze from an approaching rainstorm felt delicious, and the bruise-colored skies told us it would be arriving momentarily.

However, our fist step was to check in with immigration. Though we arrived via Vientiane and had not left the country, the Laos Government likes to keep track of foreigners, so we must have them sign and stamp our papers on each domestic flight. These bureaucratic governments love stamps and the people who know how to use them!

Before long, our baggage arrives from the plane by way of a small pickup truck. Though there are maybe only twenty passengers, this event quickly becomes a chaotic free-for-all. Boxes, bags and miscellaneous wrapped items are deposited willy nilly on the floor and we tripped several times as we reached for our backpacks. Meanwhile, during all of this bedlam, the local touts are desperately trying to get our attention by telling us about their brand new guesthouse and offering us a ride into town.

Noticing the advancing storm only adds to the drama.

We took the bait from one of them as he offered a very cheap fare, $.50pp, for the five Km ride into town. The driver turns on his windshield wipers and Vong, our self-appointed guide, begins to show us hotels and guest houses along the way. We feel a bit scooped up and harangued, but with the menacing weather and the obvious desolation of the area, choices were limited.

Initially, we researched a place in the center of town, and we made it clear to Vong our desire to see this place before we decided on any that he recommended. After all, we are seasoned travelers, and have met pushy vendors before!

NEW GUEST HOUSE, PRICE INCLUDED BREAKFAST

Oddly, all the guest houses in town were not able to supply running water for showers since their supply had run out 3 days before. It seemed a bit incongruous with the rain pouring down now like it was, but how could we argue? We decided on a newly built place called Banna Plain of Jars House, a short walk into town.

For $10 a night, we had a good mattress, hot shower, a desk in the room, satellite TV, and a window to the street below. Breakfast was included in the price served on a lovely terrace overlooking rice paddies with water buffalo grazing casually below. Although it wasn’t the place we researched, this would do satisfactorily.

 

After quick arrangements with Vong about a tour to the Plain of Jars for the next morning, he offers to drop us in town at a restaurant for dinner.

The Sanga restaurant near the Post office, well, actually everything is near the Post office, serves an extensive menu of Chinese, Thai, and Laos food, with a few Western items. For a couple of Dollars you’ll receive plenty of food, though not the same quality as in Vientiane, and the beer Lao was almost cold.

CULTURAL INFLUENCES HERE INCLUDE VIETNAMESE AND FRENCH

For the next morning, we wanted to get an early start, and ap-parently to Vong, that meant 8:00AM. We agreed to a price of $60 USD per person for one and a half days of his services which included three jar sites, a small village, and what’s left of a Russian tank. Lunch, water, a van and driver plus entrance fees were all included. The following day we were to go to a Sunday Hmong market and their Village of 700 inhabitants.

We admit to being a bit skeptical that our guide would show up at all after giving him half the agreed amount for a deposit. Remember, this is Laos, and sixty US is a lot of money. In fact, with one hundred US you’re a Laotian millionaire.

THE JARS SPAN MUCH LAND AREA

But as sure as Laos is the “Land of Mines,” Vong was right on time. After filling up with petrol, and Vong’s comment “This is Laos, P.D.R. That means, Please Don’t Rush”, we were on our way. Only about 12 Km out of town we arrived at Site Number One.

Due to its significant location between Myanmar, China, Vietnam and Thailand, the Plain of Jars has seen extensive warfare from the early 20th century until the 1970’s.

The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has performed UXO (unexploded ordnance) clearance on these three sites only, out of the sixty that have been discovered, all located in Xieng Khouang Province. A billboard sized notice explained that the colored concrete markers at ground level indicate the places that have been safely rid of explosives for tourists to walk. White shows the area that has been sub-surfaced cleared and red signals where it has been visually checked only. Our guide highly recommends that we walk between the white lines.

Since this removal of UXO was only completed one year ago, neither of us felt compelled to stray off course to test the Laotian healthcare system.

Site One is the largest both in size and in number of jars available with 24,000 sqm cleaned of 127 unexploded ordinances. Knowing this gave us a warm feeling inside.

JARS SITE NUMBER TWO

These jars were made during a time when long distance overland trade between India and China was transforming the local societies across this trade route. The jars themselves, weighing over three tons each, are carved out of both limestone and sandstone. Some are as tall as two meters and are over a meter in diameter. However, this is where fact and fiction part.

No one is certain as to what their purpose was or why they are here, but one theory is that they were used as fermentation jars for the deceased of a prehistoric civilization. Upon passing on to the spirit world, the body was placed into a jar and left to rot until only the skeleton remained.

The accompanying stench of this process might explain why the jars are located on hill tops as compared to valleys. The skeletal remains were then cremated and buried ceremoniously at an offsite location. These mortuary practices of both cremation and secondary burial suggest the sophistication of thought and belief of this ancient civilization.

 

To further this theory, a cave is located nearby, with carved out chimneys to create a draft for kilns where human bones and ash have been discovered. This explanation made the most sense to us as compared to local tradition saying the jars were for making rice wine or that giants used them for eating utensils, placing them here on the plains.

Whatever the reason for the existence of the jars it certainly makes for eye-catching landscape and lively conversation.

 

SOME JARS ARE LAID IN CLUSTERS

We continued our tour to Sites Two and Three, the furthest being 34 Km out of town. At the Third Site we enjoyed our lunch of noodle soup, while the local villagers were testing their sound system for the day’s party. After all, it was Laos New year too.

Refreshed, we made our way to the bombed Russian tank and a nondescript Lao Village before returning to our guesthouse.

Our general skepticism had evaporated. Vong turned out to be not only responsible, but a very informed guide and attentive to our questions and concerns. In fact, he offered to pick us up at our Guest House and take us back  to  the  airport  at  no  charge,  when  he returns to find his next customers, beginning the touring cycle once again.

When you arrive in the airport in Xieng Khouang, if he’s not approached you already, ask for him by name, and he will appear in no time.

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Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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Travel Info:

The airfare for this trip was 14,625 Baht pp, 6 flights to 3 cities on Lao Airlines. The tickets will read Xieng Khouang, which is another name for Phonsavan.

$30 USD for 15 day Laos Visas pp, upon entry, plus you must bring a passport size photo of yourself. The Immigration officials take Thai Baht and USD. Some vendors in town will too. Use up all your Kip before you leave Laos, as you will not be able to exchange them in Thailand. USD in small denominations will prove useful to you in any of the cities or towns in Laos.

Vongsavath Doungdara Travel Guide
Mobile # 856-20 5661217, 7661217 This is Vong's personal mobile phone number and can be reached here at any time. His command of the English language is quite good. He speaks English, Lao, and the local Hilltribe dialect.

Banna Plain of Jars House, Rd.07. Ban Tuern, Peak district, Xiengkhouang, Laos, PDR, Tel/Fax: 856-61212484, Mobile: 856-20-2482816 Email: chansmon@laotel.com , Vilai Thipphavone, General Manager

The Maly Hotel has the best food in Phonsavan. It is a short distance out of the center of town, but is worth the tuk tuk drive to have lunch or dinner. Maly Hotel, Ban Phonsa aat Paek District, Phonsavan, Xiengkhouang province Laos, P.D.R. P.O. Box 649 a Phonsavan Tele (856) 061312031, Fax (856) 061 312031, mobile: (856) 0202203355, Email: sousathp@laotel.com 

Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.

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