Jars of Tragic History

Trip Start Dec 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 03, 2011

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Where I stayed
On the friggin bus again

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Xiangkhoang,
Monday, January 3, 2011

There were many options to visit Plains of Jars - minivan tour, motorcycle rental or on a bicycle. The cheapest being on a bicycle looked pretty attractive but I decided against it. A blessing in disguise. The US$20 minivan tour of nine passengers and tourguide, took us to three jar sites, a Lao Lao making village (more like just a hut) and an abandoned Russian tank. The mainly unsealed hilly routes to all three jar sites were treacherous, to say the least. Being dry and arid, vehicles kicked up clouds of dust on these dirt roads and I would rather pick up my bicycle and walk if came on one.
There are numerous Jar sites but only site 1, 2, 3, 4 & 16 are open to tourism. The rest are closed not because of archeology reasons - they are simply not cleared of unexploded ordnances. Jar site 1 is the most impressive with many randomly positioned jars, some badly damaged. The views from hilltop were spectacular with the jars forming part of the picturesque landscape. A recently discovered "quarry" with unfinished jars located approximately 18 km from site 1, is probably the most significant clue to the construction of these ancient stone jars. They were thought to be transported to various sites on timber logs. Why, how and when the jars were made and by whom, still awaits a scientific answer.
Site 2 and 3 are much further away with site 3 locked within farming lands with no vehicular access. A short 30 minues hike from our lunch stop brought us through paddy fields and I must say that it was a pleasant hike. Both Site 2 and 3 are small but rested on hilltops overlooking fields, farms and meadows. This trip to Plains of Jars was well worth the back breaking bus journeys. To be able to visit this ancient historical artefacts, I consider it priceless. It was fortunate that not many tourists came in droves, allowing for plenty of photographic opportunities.
Back in town at 3pm and desperately looking for a bank to cash my traveller's cheque. The one and only bank unfortunately was 2 km out of town and I had to walk because I ran out of cash. To my dismay, the bank was closed today due to new year's day on Saturday. There were some bank clerks (the door was not locked) who almost refused to do any transaction for me. But after a few lines of "No Kip for dinner, no cash, only cheques, spent on bus and plains of jars..." a lady took pity, relented and cashed my cheque.
With 4 hours to my overnight bus to Vang Vieng at 730pm, my diary had a good write up before my sawngthaew pickup hauled me to the bus station. It was freezing again, almost like a typical melbourne winter night. Sat beside a fellow Singaporean on this bus to Vang Vieng which was a surprise to both of us. In fact, Louis was the only Singaporean I had met throughout my journey in Laos (I saw bus loads in Siem Reap much later). His expression was priceless when I told him I am Singaporean - he went "Wah! Singaporean! So rare!" Louis had just completed a two months vietnamese trip and was passing through Laos for the return journey home. The bus we were on was actually a Vientiane bound bus and apparently I was the only Vang Vieng passenger onboard. Everyone else was heading to Vientiane. 
As expected the bus seats were oversold. A young local girl perched herself on the bus dashboard and another teenager curled himself in the open bag storage. A young Laotian chap had his seat number where Louis was occupying but agreed to swap seats so that the 2 singaporeans can chat. I spoke with the young Laotian again at the supper/toilet stop. Most Laotians are interested to find out about travellers and of our countries. He spoke good english and works in Vientiane as a bank clerk. As it turned out, his english was self taught. The supper stop was probably somewhere out in the mountains. If you look up the nightskies of rural Laos, you will be amazed at the clarity of the cosmos.
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