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Plain Of Jars
Just outside of the town of Phonsavan in the Xieng Khouang of Laos is a mysterious historical site known as the Plain of Jars. In large plateaus amongst the Annamite Mountains hundreds of imposing stone jars are scattered around the countryside. What these massive vessels were used for is still speculative, but they were thought to of been utilised in human burial rituals.
Found in clusters of between one and four hundred jars they suffered tremendous amounts of damage during the Indochina and Vietnam American Wars. The quantity of unexploded ordinances (UXO’s) left over from the years of intense bombing regimes is estimated to be around 80 million. The provincial capital of Phonsavan was the centre of the most heavily targeted area. As a result the territory these jars are found in are extremely hazardous to the people who farm the lands around them. Over 20’000 people have died since the war ended in accidents involving these live munitions. There are some great NGO’s involved in mine clearance of the land.
We had no idea of any of this horrific history before we arrived in Phonsavan. We had decided to stop there to explore the Plain of Jars, which we also knew very little about. Taking our motorbikes around between the three sites took us two days instead of the usual one due to our foolish to ride deep into clay tracks before a heavy storm made our eventual exit quite problematic. Misadventures aside, visiting the Plain of Jars was one of the most interesting missions from our time in Laos.
Site 1 Plain Of Jars
The largest of the easily accessible sites offers a varied selection of things to see. Welcoming you is a modern information centre with interesting history and fascinating facts of the Plain of Jars. From there you take an over-sized golf cart to the site. Walk amongst the scattered objects and see the biggest jar discovered. You will weave around bomb craters scarred into the land from the Secret War. An imposing cave set in the middle of the paddock was the location of the old kiln. Climbing to the top offers superb views of the surrounding landscape.
The turn off for is about 5.5 km out of the town heading pas t the bus station You will come across a faded sign that has an arrow pointing right for 2.5 km.
Motorbike parking – 3,000 kip
Entrance fee – 15,000 kip per person
Although it is much smaller than the other two sites, the views are superior. Two locations are set up on rolling hills amongst sparse trees. The trail to get to them is red clay and steep, quite treacherous if you are caught at the top during torrential downpour – which we were. One of the clusters in particular is very picturesque. Spread out around large willowed trees the jars are overgrown with shrubs and moss. With an overcast day the site gave out quite an eerie vibe.
The turn off here is about 7 km out of town and just under 2km after Site 1 turn off. You have to continue on the un…….. road for about 5 km. It took us about 45 minutes to get out here
Entrance fee – 10,000 kip per person
The furthest away from town of the three sites, this place requires a nice walk through terraced farmland and up a lush hill. The collective area where the jars are placed is not overly large, but the size of the imposing jars makes it all seem a lot more considerable. Our favourite of the three, it was great to have a pleasant hike involved to reach the site. You can stare past the jars, through the trees and over the valleys towards the surrounding hillside.
Like Site 2, Site 3 is about 6 km past Site 2. It took us about an hour to get out here.
Entrance fee – 10,000 kip per person
You can rent a bicycle (20,000 kip) from many places on the main road. The road is mostly gravel to get out to the sites, especially site 2 and 3. I wouldn’t recommend site 2 and 3 on a bicycle as the roads weren’t that crash hot. As for site 1, the road is a lot better and you could easily do it on a bike with a couple of small hills. Ride carefully and be safe.
To rent a semi-automatic scooter is 70,000 kip and 100,000 for an automatic one for the day. You can also rent a scooter from many places in town. Shop around and have a look at the bike before renting. Be careful riding out to site 2 and 3, as the road sometimes has very loose gravel. Take your time and drive with caution. Site 1 road is a lot nicer and is a lot better road. When it is rains these roads can be very slippery and accidents can happen easily. Ride sensibly.
There are may tour agencies in town to do a tour if you would like. You are looking at about 150,000- 180,000 kip per person. But shop around as prices may differ.
8 thoughts on “Plain Of Jars – Exploring History Near Phonsavan, Laos”
Thanks for the post, it was very useful in our recent biking adventure in the Plain of Jars!
Glad it helped Carmen. Happy travels 🙂
Lovely photos. This is on my travel list, but I have a question: Once you get to each of the sites, how much freedom do you have to walk around the site? Can you wander around amid the jars or do you need to stay on actual paths through the site to avoid UXO?
You can wander around anywhere that is “cleared” by MAG. There are red and white markers throughout the sites, and you have to stay on the white side of them. But you can walk right up to them and even walk into some of the cracked ones.
great post and love your amazing photos
Cheers Trevor 🙂
I’d heard about this place, but didn’t have time to visit as my time in Laos was very short. It looks like a great place to explore! Beautiful pictures, too.
Thanks for the comment on the photos, Nathan. We had heard a few things about them before we got to Phonsavan, but had not done any research until we arrived in town. They were quite a spectacular sight. Hopefully next time you’re in town you can get a chance to check them out. Thanks for reading.