The Plain of Jars and unexploded bombs

Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We left Vang Vieng after a flying visit on the 9.30am bus to Phonsavan. We finally arrived at 3pm after a bus journey that reminded me of the end of the Italian Job, only more scary, with pineapples instead of gold and more bananas and bamboo (Micheal Cain wasn't there either). Beautiful scenery of mountains and valleys and ethnic minority villages, all at high speed and round hairpin bends. Paul assumed his usual bus travel position, unconscious and I put my ipod on shuffle (trying to get the battery to last as long as possible) and ate oreo cookies and pringles in an attempt to not feel sick (it works for me).

When we got to Phonsavan were picked up and transfered to the Maly Hotel for free - we'd booked ahead. We got talking to two nice Englsh girls on the bus and they didn't know where to stay - it still surprises us that most people we meet find accomodation when they arrive, maybe they think they'll get a good deal, but we have been able to negotiate with hotels before we arrive, get a discount and usually a free pick up and check out reviews on the interweb to make sure the place is ok. Maybe that's the project manager in me, stupidly well-organised, but after 6 hours on a hot bus with no air-con who wants to turn up and find everywhere full, or that the bargain room you find is full of cockroaches.

The Maly Hotel is owned by Sousath, who knows all about the area, helped open the Plain of Jars up to tourists. He also lived in a cave nearby during the Vietnam war and used to dismantle unexploded bombs to use the explosive to catch fish (more info here).

We had come to see the Plain of Jars, but the real story here is UXO, unexploded ordanance dropped over the whole of Laos by the Americans during the Vietnam war - it's called the Indochina war here and those bombs kill and main hundreds of Lao people each year. To be fair some of the bombs are left over from French, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese invasions over the past 100 years. One of the reasons this province is so poor is because people cannot farm land that has not been cleared of mines, and the clearing work takes a long time and requires experts. Mostly it's kids who are injured as the cluster bombs that were dropped have left tennis ball shaped bombies that they find and play with. On our first night we went to the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) office to get more info and buy some t-shirts. MAG is co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

On our second day we arranged a tour of the Plain of Jars and after a funny start, where a rude Austrian woman stamped her feet and said our group of 12 was too big, we were split off with 4 other young Brits and we had a really fun day. We explored 3 sites of jars, huge 2 metre high jars, some with lids that were either used to ferment lao lao rice whisky (we prefer this explanation) or they were used to bury cremated bodies (probably more likely - otherwise there would have been loads of Lao Lao around!). It reminded us of stone henge - although here they had elephants to help move the heavy jars - some weigh up to 6 tonnes. Archeologists are still trying to solve this 2000 year old puzzle and would have a much easier time if the ground wasn''t littered with UXO. All over the site MAG had set out markers showing where we could walk.

We also visited an old Russian tank, used by the Lao army and a charming old lady who was making Lao Lao rice whisky. She ferments rice, along with some flavouring that looked like wood chips, for 2 weeks and then she boils the rice and distills the alcohol - she was in the middle of this bit when we arrived and she gave us some of the hot fresh Lao Lao to try - wowzer, it's strong stuff !! One kilo of rice costs 4000 Kip (25p) and it will make 1 litre of Lao Lao which she can sell for 8000 (50p).

At one point we heard a noise and I asked the guide if it was thunder, and he said that the MAG team were out clearing someone's land. It really brought home how real the problem is.

Phonsavan itself is a new town, everyone left apart from the soldiers during the war and the surrounding countryside was covered with agent orange (a defoliating chemical used to strip the leaves and make people on the ground easier to see from planes). Now the countryside looks very English and there are lots of pine trees.

Another flying visit, after 2 nights we got up and onto the 8.30am bus to Luang Prabang, the bus journey lasted 8 hours and was no less terrifying than the journey there. Thankfully my ipod lasted the whole journey and whilst Paul slept I watched out of the window as we stopped for people to buy various goods from the roadside: firewood, melons, pineapples and we even did an emergency stop for a dead leopard hanging outside someone's hut - the driver can presumably sell it for a profit in Luang Prabang. We don't support killing endangered animals for food and fur, but when people live in huts made of wood and palm leaves it's hard to argue.

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rfbevis on

War & Morals
Another wonderfully written blog, well done. As the great powers continue to fight their just wars on terror, communism, drugs weapons of mass distraction or whatever other bogus excuse they fabricate; they leave behind an inevitable and unjustifiable trail of broken lives and misery in the cause of freedom. It was ever thus. It goes on. Over 200 brave squaddies pointlessly wasted in Afganistan to achieve a country in chaos with a whole generation of Afgans terrorized!!!! Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!! Dads rant of the day. The yanks dropped more ordinance on neutral Laos than were used on all sides in WW2. All to make the people free. Ooops there I go again.
Enjoy the gibbon thing 7 safe journey to the land of smiles.


ironinkent on

Hi Emma Hi Paul
Have now caught up on your exploits - excellent. Look forward to hearing about Luang Prabang.
About to set off for plane to Rodez.
Take care both

WILLIS25Keisha on

Set your life easier get the business loans and everything you

KirstenHarper30 on

Buildings are expensive and not everyone can buy it. Nevertheless, loan was invented to aid different
people in such situations.

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