Plain of Jars
Xieng Khuang Province, a mountainous limestone ‘karst’ area
lying roughly midway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang,
suffered badly from US saturation bombing. Most of its towns
and its capital were flattened, and large craters are still
to be seen.
As might be expected
from a town built after the war, the new provincial capital,
Phonsavan, is no architectural treasure house. However, it
escaped the horrors of Soviet-style concrete box tenements
that were inflicted upon Vietnam. The streets are mostly wide,
paved and tree-lined.
The population of
about 80,000 people includes large proportions of ethnic minority
people, mostly H’mong and Vietnamese.
In the recent past,
there have been a few instances of guerrilla activity in involving
ethnic minority groups in the Xieng Khuang area, but all seems
to be calm nowadays. There are also an unknown number of unexploded
cluster ‘bomblets’ around Phonsavan. The danger areas are
known, and if you travel with Haivenu, you'll have a specialist
guide to keep you out of harm’s way.
The only reasons for visiting Phonsavan are its airport, and
its proximity to the Plain of Jars. This enigmatic attraction
is exactly what its name describes – a large plain dotted
with massive stone jars weighing up to six tonnes, some with
lids. Their origins and purpose are a mystery: theories range
from extraterrestrial visitors to a now extinct race of giants.
The jars are estimated
to be around 2,000 years old, but there is no organic material
to enable carbon dating. Even their composition is not clear.
Some jars are made from limestone, others from granite, but
some appear to consist of a grey conglomerate that has led
some experts to surmise that it might be a sort of ancient
'concrete' that closely resembles stone.
There are several
‘jar sites’ scattered over the plain. Sites 2 and 3 are generally
reckoned the most interesting. Site 2 has 90 jars, and Site
3 has 150. The latter is near a small, attractive village,
Hai Hin Lat Khai.
The site is impressive
and indubitably mysterious, but unless you're fascinated with
the ‘X’ Files or how the Pyramids were built, it’s probably
not worth the extra time needed to break your journey solely
to see the Plain of Jars.