The main purpose of my long winding bus ride to Phonsovan was to witness the mystery that is the Plain of Jars. Upon arriving in the city it was obvious that I was traveling during low season, where were all the people? Two other foreigners joined me on a tuk-tuk into town where we were soon the 'Guesthouse hunt'. We walked from place to place, thinking that surely there had to be something for cheaper than 50,000 kip, but finally settled on Kong Keo after one of their friendly workers, Mr. Veomany recruited us off the side of the street corner.
The early morning and long bus wore me out so I decided to catch an afternoon nap before heading out to explore the town, where I ran into a group of travelers (two familiar faces from previous buses) looking for one more person to join their Plain of Jars tour. At 180,000 the price was a bit steep but my half asleep lazy attitude left me agreeing to join. However, later that night my plans changed when I met two Canadian guys at my hostel and we decided we'd rent bicycles and do it on our own, cheaper price and some built in exercise? Sign me up. Thankfully I was able to get my money back for the canceled tour, hope the group wasn't too mad...
Our plan was to leave early and beat the heat but being backpackers in Laos there was no rush to our schedule. We were fed and on our bikes by 9:30 but soon sweating under the blistering sun. The site is 'anywhere from 8-15 km from town" depending who you ask or which guidebook you read, but it really isnt' a difficult ride. There are some hills and my thighs were screaming at a few points, but it was more rewarding than the bumpy minivan ride that was our alternative. Admission to the fields is 15,000 kip which includes a short shuttle ride (electric jumbo golf cart) to the actual jar site. Of course we ran into the tour group I was supposed to go with but I somehow managed to avoid talking to them.
So, the Plain of Jars....there are actually numerous sites of these 'jars' scattered around Laos but we had the feeling of 'see one and you've seen them all'. The jar sites are exactly what they sound like, big fields filled with mysterious jars dating back hundreds of years. There are various theories as to what these jars were used for but we tried to ignore those while making our own. We did a fair job of being creative: funeral urns, wine/food storage, fermentation devices, tombs, and even alien related encounters (all Jonah, my travel partner). Ultimately I'm inclined to believe that the jars were used for some type of death related use, mostly due to the archaeological evidence.
We spent a fair amount of time walking through the site and eventually ended at a cave which was previously used as a hide out. The cave wasn't super impressive but did provide a nice shelter from the sun. There's a small visitors center at the entrance to the Plain of Jars which we saved for after our visit which turned out to be a good idea. Had we toured the center before the fields our theories for the use of the jars would have been much less original.
My final comment on the Jars site is the relation it has to MAG and the UXO's which encompass this area. Upon cleaning this side (paths and jar areas) workers removed 127 Unexploded Ordinances, but step off the poorly marked pathways and there could be loads more. It's crazy that even within the tourist attractions the ground is STILL laden with death traps, it just proves how dangerous daily life can be in this country. Overall the jars were worth the bike ride but I am glad I opted out of the full day organized tour which included sites 2 and 3, one was definitely enough.
Often overlooked on the backpacker trail, this is a destination to not be missed. Without the influence of 7/11, Mc Donalds or Starbucks this is a country that offers a raw, rich experience.