Let me preface this entry by saying: I loved Laos! With its mountains and rolling hills, genuinely curious, friendly population and lack of tourist hordes, this country definitely offers something special. Everywhere I visited intrigued and interested me at least a little. One of the more mysterious attractions I visited was the Plain of Jars sites near Phonsavan, Laos.
The area around Phonsavan is famous for two reasons. Xieng Khuang province is one of the most heavily-bombed areas in Laos, which is particularly devastating in the most heavily-bombed country in the world. One can see the legacy left by this era, as craters and holes riddle the landscape. Although approximately 80 million UXOs (unexploded ordinance) remain in northern Laos, various organizations have helped to clear the area, and crafty locals have used the empty shells to make tools, garden planters, fences and more.
Phonsavan’s second claim to fame is, fortunately, far more positive. The region is home to hundreds of large stone jars of mysterious origin, intriguing archaeologists and romanticists alike. While legend claims that the jars were used by giants to drink rice whiskey thousands of years ago, other believe that they were used as funerary urns.
It was fun to ponder the origins of the jars as we explored each of the three most commonly-visited sites. It was only in 2007 that sites one, two and three were cleared of any remaining UXOs, making them quite a recent tourism possibility. Markers indicated ‘safe’ zones for walking, as there is the possibility of encountering UXOs beyond these areas. I definitely recommend following any advice from your guide, and sticking to the trail.
I ended up booking a tour with fellow hotel guests: three people from France, and one from Quebec. Because of the legacy of French colonization, there are many French-speaking Lao people, and we ended up with one as our tour guide. I was able to follow along quite readily, only occasionally asking for translation from my tour mates.
And it certainly didn’t hurt that the gorgeous landscapes captivated our attention as well!
Although far smaller than other stone creations like Stonehenge and the Easter Island heads, the Plain of Jars does make the list for the world’s biggest monoliths! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend making the 7-hour journey from Vientiane if you’re pressed for time. If you’re spending a bit more time in Laos, however, consider paying a visit to these sites!