After a few days in Luang Prabang, we headed into the centre of Laos and into the mountains. The bus to Phonsavan took 8 hours and as soon as we stepped off, we noticed the difference in temperature. We are now 1500m above sea level and the night time temperatures are around 3-4 degrees – it’s not freezing, but we’re in SE Asia, and we’re not prepared! Luckily starting in Russia means we have been carrying round useless jackets and jumpers for 4 months which finally made it out of the bags again!
Phonsavan is a bit of a strange, quiet town, only really visited by a few tourists who come to see the Plain of Jars. There are a few agents selling tours, but with limited numbers of people in town it looked like it could be an expensive day and that we’d have to get a private guide to take us. Luckily we made friends with some Germans and an Italian so managed to book a tour together for the next day, before having a nice dinner and trying to remember our A-level Deutsch (sehr gut).
The Plain of Jars is around 2,500 years old, similar in age and feel to Easter Island in Chile or Stonehenge.
The jars are around 5ft high and are thought to be ancient funeral urns, although not a lot is known about them. There are hundreds scattered across this part of Laos but we visited three sites. They were amazing to see, the sites are very atmospheric with beautiful views and surroundings.
They are also fascinating because they are the site of a huge amount of destruction during the 60s and 70s. The Americans dropped millions of tonnes of bombs in Laos during the “secret war” making it the most bombed country in the world and the Plain of Jars area was the most bombed part of the country. Many of the jars are damaged, fallen over and the site is full of bomb craters.
The area is also covered in unexploded bombs, and many local people still die every year. In Phonsevan we visited the MAG (Mines Advisory Service) centre who are a British charity working to help clear the area and where we watched a fascinating and sad documentary. There are so many bombs it will take decades more to make the country completely safe.
The next day we headed south to the much warmer Vang Vieng and home of the infamous backpacker sport of tubing. Although it was a bit out of the way and really cold, we were really glad we made the trip to Phonsavan.