General Phonsavan Blog

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Phonsavan is the capital of the Xieng Khuang province.  It isn't a great town, but it makes a nice base for exploring the surrounding area.  The hotels are cheap and pretty comfortable for the price, but there was always the noise to deal with.  When you enter Laos they should just have an "Under Construction" sign at the border.  The entire country reverberates with the sounds of hammers and saws and what not.  There wasn't a single morning that we didn't wake up to the sound of a circular saw.  This isn't an exaggeration.  The spike in tourism means new structures are going up in every major town in the country, and 7 a.m. is a prime sawing time.  We'd try to find hotels that didn't have the tell-tell bamboo latticework surrounding bricks and plaster, but there was no avoiding it.  And what baffled me was that the buildings in Phonsavan were all brick.  What were they sawing?  And whatever wood they were cutting wasn't uniform, so instead of a gentle hum of the cutting of a 2x4, it sounded like medical students butchering a cadaver.  So we woke up every morning at sunrise to put in our ear plugs - my #1 travel necessity.
Phonsavan has a few decent restaurants.  The best part of the town is that despite the fact that the only people come to the city is to tour the Plain of Jars, you can still find an inexpensive tour.  And the landscape is worth seeing.  The rolling hills look like nothing else we've seen in Asia.
The most interesting part of the town is probably all the remnants of war scattered throughout the area.  It's a painful reminder of what the people of the region suffered through and what they are still battling to overcome.  Hotels and restaurants display bomb shells that have been found in the region.  There is no shortage of these items and many places in town have a dozen or more.  There is one restaurant with two 6-feet-tall shells that stand like pillars marking the entrance to the café.  It is called (in poor taste in my opinion) "Craters."  I find it shocking that this establishment so blatantly embraces a bombing campaign that left tens of thousands of people dead just a few decades ago and still consistently claims lives in the region.  It's one thing to have a museum-like collection of bullets and bomb casings.  It is another to name your restaurant after the ravages of assault and then cater to Western tourists.  We didn't eat there.  And the darkest part is that it is next door to the M.A.G. office.  This is a group dedicated to clearing the area of UXO (unexploded ordnance), which still wreaks havoc throughout the region.

The office also has a large collection of detritus from the Secret War.  But the most painful displays are of posters warning of the danger of UXO.  There are several that show how to identify different types of ordnance, then graphic renditions of what these items can do.  Many are targeted at curious children and show cartoon children losing limbs in violent explosions.  Later in Vientiane we saw a children's book about a child who loses a leg while looking for an errant soccer ball in a rice paddy.  The story is about how fellow children should include and embrace those who have suffered such catastrophes.  The fact that events like this have made their way into children's literature highlights what a genuine concern things like this are for the young people of Laos.  Make sure to look at the photos for this entry, which include the posters.
The province's major attraction is the Plain of Jars, which actually includes a dozen jar sites in the region.  However, only a few are open to the public.  The three major sites have been cleared of UXO and can be visited on a one-day tour.  That's what we did.

And forgive alternate spellings of Phonsavan.  When people start using Roman script they just make up whatever spelling they want.  So I sometimes alternate.
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