Plainly an Adventure to See
Plain of Jars
The Cover Feature of Good Morning Laos
Billy & Akaisha Kaderli
The heat in
was becoming oppressive, and
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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.
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.
made our way to the bombed Russian tank and a nondescript Lao
Village before returning to our guesthouse.
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.
Billy and Akaisha
continue to journal and photograph their world travels.
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
Banna Plain of Jars House, Rd.07.
Ban Tuern, Peak district, Xiengkhouang, Laos, PDR, Tel/Fax:
856-61212484, Mobile: 856-20-2482816 Email:
email@example.com , Vilai Thipphavone,
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: