Monday, February 1, 2010

Plain of Jars, Phonsavan

We read awful things about the bus trip from Hanoi to Phonsavan, Laos, so we went ahead and booked a flight from Hanoi to Vientiane and then caught the once daily flight to Phonsavan. It turned out that the flight had been cancelled the previous few days due to weather so we felt lucky to arrive when we did. With only a few weeks left in our trip, it was worth it to fly.

Phonsavan, Laos, is completely different from anywhere we have visited in SE Asia so far. The city is a 9,022 ft ( 2,750
m ) so the afternoons are warm, but it got quite chilly in the evenings. We stayed at the Vansana Plain of Jars hotel and had a real log fire most nights to take the chill out of the room. Phonsavan is still somewhat unknown so there are not that many tourists. The city is growing and there are a lot more hotels going up, but the infrastructure for tourism is still visibly in progress. The Plain of Jars is on track to become a World Heritage Site in 2012 so I would expect tourism to pick up a bit as awareness of the region increases.

The main attraction in Phonsavan is the Plain of Jars. No one quite knows why these giant, sandstone jars were created or how they ended up where they did, but they are a beautiful mystery to ponder. Many of the existing jars were damaged or destroyed during the Vietnam War and only a handful of the 400+ sites are accessible due to unexploded ordinance (UXO) danger. It was a bitter sweet experience looking across a beautiful landscape of mountains and valleys covered in rice paddies, pine trees, and cluster of jars, that were also scarred by bomb craters and trench lines. UXO Laos or the Mines Advisory Group offices are great places to learn about the ongoing impact of the wars in Laos. In addition to clearing UXO, these groups provide education to villagers regarding the dangers that exist as well as job training and treatment for victims of mines and other hazards.

The Lao people are some of the friendliest we have met in SE Asia. This is definitely an area we would like to come back to for some trekking or possibly even a motorcycle tour.

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