Sunday, December 23, 2012

Plain Of Jars

Visiting the magical site of the Plain Of Jars in Laos raises more questions than it answers. What are they doing here in the seemingly middle-of-nowhere? What were they used for? Were they made here, given their size, or did some ancient civilisation cart these around with them.

The Jars can be visited, on a few specific sites, from the fairly remote town of Phonsavan. I took a flight to get there, from Luang Prabang, risking life on Lao Aviation - but then the bus ride out of Phonsavan to return to the capital was the most frightening, harrowing road journeys I have ever taken. Single roads along windy mountain sides, at speed, with all manner of human and animal seat-mates you can and cannot imagine. I will leave the decision about how to get there to you!

Many theories abound about what these jars were for, out here in the middle of this expanse of space. But it seems that since my visit, the notion of it as a burial site seems to have been supported by archaeologists working in the area.

Although traditional Loatian stories of the jars being carted up here to be used to make and store rice wine to celebrate a battle victory, or the idea that they were used to collect monsoon rainwater where free flowing water was hard to come by, could equally be true!

This region is also one of the most bombed areas of South East Asia. Massive craters dote the sites of the Jars - and the town of Phonsavan is littered with re-fashioned artillery bits and pieces. Quite a sight to see!

The Plains are also dotted with UXO, and so taking a guide is needed, to ensure your safety. Traveling alone at this point, I am certain I was massively ripped off, but at the same time got a personalised guide and tour of several sites, at the time I wanted. Travel is a balance of options, sometimes!

After my day checking out the Jars, I met up with Ash who was travelling around the area at the same time, and we had dinner at one of the few places at the time, and then many beers to see into the night. I still remember our conversation as I boarded that scary bus, before he waved me off.

Very remote, pretty isolated from the trappings of Westernisation and excess tourism, the Plain Of Jars and Phonsavan is a bit of work to get to, but the mystery is worth the trek.

I wonder how much it has changed since I was there?

This post is part of a series marking 10 years since I travelled to Cambodia to work as a volunteer. Laos was one of my side-trips.

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