Laos' version of Stonehenge, the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan forces you to ask many questions while providing few answers. Accompanied by huge craters that mark the footprint of America's Secret War, this area of the country is a must-visit for history buffs and conspiracy seekers alike.
See and Do and Activities
Most people stop at Phonsavan to visit the Plain of Jars, a collection of mysterious huge jugs that many think are over 2000 years old. Researches have yet to conclude what exactly the jars were used for and who used them, but current theory points to ancient burial rituals. The strange thing is that most of the remains inside the jars seem to be from young men, not the noble elders that researches expected. Nothing valuable has been recovered, but the survival of the jars themselves is interesting considering most things in this part of the world start to crumble after a few hundred years.
The jars are easily reachable from Phonsavan on a motorbike or you can take an overpriced tour that drives you from site to site, without much explanation. There are three main sites, although visiting Site 1 and either 2 or 3 should be enough. Otherwise you get jarred out. Each site charges an admission fee of 10,000K. If you only have time or energy for one site, then visit Site 1. It has the most impressive jars and is closest to town. In fact, you can even bike.
If you do rent a motorbike, there are other places worth visiting along the route to Site 2 and 3. Stop at the waterfall for lunch, see the abandoned Russian tank, and take a walk through the "Spoon Village," where villagers use scrap metal from US bombs to craft spoons, bracelets, and bottle openers. Whether you choose to support this trade is up to you, just know that several villagers have died or lost limbs because of their desire/need to gather scrap metal to make a living.
Aside from visiting jars, the other thing to do in Phonsavan is learn about America's Secret War on Laos. The best place to do this is in the MAG office in downtown Phonsavan. They screen movies nightly (the one at 6:30pm is best) and have lots of information on the lasting effects of the war on the villagers. We have more info on this in our Vieng Xai post.
There are tons of hotels in town, so finding one isn't a problem. Finding somewhere decent is harder since most owners know you're stuck in town for two days regardless. The best place in town is undoubtedly Lieupi Mixay. For 80,000K, we had WiFi, AC, and CNN. What else can a traveler want? For something cheaper, try Sabaidee. For 50,000K, you get AC, but none of the additional perks.
Eat and Drink and Drink
We spent three nights in Phonsavan and each night we ate at Nisha Restaurant, which offered delicious and cheap Indian food. Bamboozle has wifi, good noodle soup, and nice tunes. It's the best place in town to just chill out.
From Phonsavan, most travelers head to Vientiane. We chose to skip the capital and embarked on the road less traveled to Paksan. The steep 100,000K ticket saved us some backtracking and the road isn't nearly as bad as the online reviews say. If you're running out of time to head south, this is a good way to go. Only thing to note is that the 7:30am bus leaves from the Nam Tok(sp?) market, not a bus terminal.
You can also do an out and back trip to Vieng Xai, the birthplace of the Pathet Loa (Lao Communism party). It's a difficult 9 hour trip to Sam Neua on winding roads. Most travelers do it only one way, crossing into Vietnam from there. Tickets cost 80,000K.
Interested in seeing the Plain of Jars and the remnants of the Secret War without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Phonsavan photo tour.
What are your thoughts on what happened in Laos in the 1970s? Let us know in the comments.