We spent New Year’s Day exploring the big attraction of Phonsavan: the Plain of Jars. The area has quite a few archeological sites one can visit, and overall there are thousands of jars carved out of stone dotting the landscape. No one knows what the jars were for, although speculations abound. Some jars are giant, others are waist high. Some have lids, most do not.
We rented bicycles and rode the 10 or so KM to Site 1 through red, dried landscapes. We paid the admission price, and went right on it. There were loads of local families around having picnics; it was still pretty quiet though and we were the only falang (white) tourists around. The area was a very large field with a hill and a cave, and there were quite a lot of jars lying about the place. It was neat to see, but I wouldn’t really say that it’s worth the detour. After all, it’s just a field with stone jars.
Inside the cave an alter had been erected and locals visiting the site would stop and pray.
The Plane of Jars, like much of Laos, can be quite a dangerous area. It is a little known fact that Laos is history’s most bombed country, something that occurred in what is dubbed the Secret War. Indeed, during the Vietnam War, the US bombed Laos repetitively in attempts to kill Vietnamese army hiding in Laos. Of the over 2 million tonnes of ordnance dropped on Laos, an estimated 30% did not explode. This is called UXO, and it is highly dangerous. The Plane of Jars are covered in UXO and bomb craters. A fantastic organization, MAG, has been hard at work clearing UXO in the country. Still, it is very hard work. As such, Site 1 has trails and one must remain on the trails. One also needs to remain on the white side of the MAG markers to ensure one’s safety. A sign at the site’s entrance explained that thus far, 127 UXO and 31,814 pieces of shrapnel had been cleared – and that’s just from a section of Site 1.
After our visit at Site 1, we rode back into town and decided to visit the local MAG information center. They have great information on UXO and how it affects the region. UXO prevent people from farming, building latrines, playing in fields. There are terribly sombering stories. For example, some of the cluster bombs that were dropped are yellow and look like tennis balls; children who found them would play with them – you can imagine the terrible result. Yet, there are also great stories of success. The center (and they have others throughout the country) is really worth the detour. Travis bought me a souvenir T-Shirt, and from the profits MAG will be able to clear 10 cubic meters of land. Now that’s a good T-Shirt!
A final thing about UXO: there are so many around, people use them as fences and decorations. Pretty crazy stuff!