|I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to make the detour to Phonsavanh, which is famous only for the mysterious Plain of Jars. Travelling in Laos is not the most comfortable experience, and owing to the mountainous terrain, the roads are always long, slow, poorly maintained and winding. The bus trip from Vang Vieng to Phonsavanh is 9 hours, and the trip from Phonsavanh to Luang Prabang, my next destination, is another 9 hours, so you see my dilema!
In in the end I decided that it was worth the trip, especially as I didn't know when I would be in Laos again, and being an ancient history fan I couldn't resist the temptation of visiting a site such as the Plain of Jars. The jars are historical mysteries, dated from around 2000-3000 years ago, and are located on three seperate sites, two being on hilltops. Historians are yet to figure out the purpose of the jars, and the theories vary wildly from something as mundane as storing whisky, to the more culturally significant theory that they are funeral urns. I like to think they are funeral urns because it seems a little more meaningful!
The jars are quite large, varying in size between 1 and 3 metres long and approximately 1 to 1.5 metres wide. They are made from very soft stone, however it is still possible to see the chisel marks inside where the stoneworkers carved out the centre of the jars. Most of the originally had lids, although almost all of them have fallen off. On the side of one it is possible to discern a carved figure, which is a bit of a mystery. Archeologists aren't sure if this is the only jar to have such a carving or if the others have simply weathered away over time.
The tour I took out to the three Plain of Jar sites was really great, and our tour guide was a very funny fellow called TV. I have a sneaking suspicion he was drunk when he picked us up, and was very keen to have a few drinks at the whiskey village we stopped at. He kept insisting we have another drink, another drink, but after two shots most of us gave up as it was only 11.10am! TV said if we were tired we should drink Laos whiskey with magic mushrooms in it as it would make us strong!
A serious side of the trip, and especially at the Plain of Jars, was the fact that the area is yet to be fully cleared of landmines. The path is marked by stones that are half painted white, have painted red. Walking in between the white stones is safe, as the area has been fully cleared by landmines. Walking outside of this is still extremely dangerous as the land has only been visually been cleared of landmines. As the paths are only a couple of metres wide, it was really sad to realise that such an important site, and indeed much of Laos, is deadly to its people. Our tour guide informed us that before the clearing of the mines started in the 1990s, approximately 100 people a year in that area alone would die from hitting mines while farming.
In a funy coincidence, one of the blokes on my trip has the same birthday as me, which is the first time I've ever met someone else born on the 30th March. Funny the people you meet while travelling!