Plain of Jars

Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, December 6, 2005

We got up early and headed to the station to get the bus to Phonsovan, an 8 hour journey. The bus was pretty empty with the majority of passengers being tourists. When we left the weather was cool and misty and as we headed higher and higher into the hills surrounding Luang Prabang, we found ourselves among the clouds. The views of the hill tops was fantastic.

Megs thought the driver was after a bribe because he played Laos music tapes at full volume for the entire trip. It drove the foreigners crazy with many of them putting in ear plugs. The only thing that stopped the music was when we picked up a local (and his AK-47 machine gun), dropping him off down the road.

When we arrived in Phonsovan we found a normal sleepy little town. Usually it is very quiet but the Hmong New Year Festival was in full swing. There were thousands of locals and American-Lao people who had returned for this festival partying at the local stadium. Apart from them there were only about 10 western tourists in town. Luckily we found a hotel for a few US Dollars a night (most places were full because of the festivities) and went for a walk. Not finding much we headed to the local Chinese restaurant for some fried rice, vegetables and fried potato (we didn't know what it was so we ordered it. It turned out to be french fries!). We then headed back to the hotel for some shut eye under our mosquito net.

The next day we picked up some bread and cheese for our lunch and headed to the tour office for our tour of the Plain of Jars. On the way to the first site we stopped at the local stadium to have a look at the Hmong New Year Festival. It was just a quick look but there were the normal kids rides, games and food with a Lao touch. Basically all the games were the same except one that was a wall of balloons where you throw three darts to try and pop the them to win a prize. Not surprisingly they fix the darts so they won't fly straight.

Heading on we stopped again a short way down the road to watch some cow fighting, apparently a local tradition. Not much action here although it was fun watching everyone run away when a crazed cow bolted down the road.

Arriving at the first site (the only UNESCO listed one) we paid our typical foreigner entry fee, 400% more than locals. We made sure to read the MAG (Mine Advisory Group) sign explaining about un-exploded ordinance (UXO) and headed along the cleared path, staying between the white and red markers. Outside of these they don't guarantee you won't be blown up as they've only done a surface sweep of the area. Interestingly the mine sweeps only occurred in March this year and were sponsored by NZaid.

The jars were amazing. Huge rock sculptures made god knows when and moved god knows how to their current position. They don't actually know what they were used for but think it was perhaps as a burial jar. Walking around we took in the site with over 100 jars. It was also interesting to see the effect of the carpet bombing in the area. The fields are littered with crater holes and very few trees due to the use of Agent Orange.

Continuing down the very bumpy road we proceeded to site two. Up on the top of a hill in the middle of no where, again with another few hundred scattered jars (some with lids). Finally we made it to the last site where we made our selves vegemite and cheese sandwiches (yummy) then hiked across the rice fields to check out the jars. We both enjoyed this site the most because of the scenic walk to get there. We had to cross streams, bamboo bridges and weave our way through the flooded rice fields.

On the way back we stopped at a village where they made rice whiskey, but weren't keen to try any so it was a quick stop while the others had a taste. Arriving back in town we had a look at the old US airfield used during the Vietnam War. It is right behind the main street and looks untouched, though not maintained. We could just imagine a plane landing there between all the houses.

More noodles and veges for dinner then off to bed for an exhausted sleep (and to listen to the other hostels guests, a surveying team, party on into the night).
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