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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

25 Days of Laos (Part 10)

This is a journal of our 25-day trip around Laos on a rented Honda FTR that we fondly called Mustafa. It starts with a long bus ride from Hanoi to Laos and ends with a longer bus ride back to Hanoi.

Day 11: Sam Neua to Phonsavan
After spending the night in a hotel which is near a government office and the Sam Neua monument, we left very early for a 164-kilometer drive to Phonsavan. Around 35 kilometers away from Sam Neua, we spotted a beautiful waterfall and decided to have a stopover and take pictures. Tat Saloei, also known as Phonesai, can be spotted from Nam Noen. It's around 100 meters high and has a unique appearance because of the way the flowing water follows the contours of the rocks.

The way to Phonsavan was quite interesting. The kids that we passed didn't hesitate to shout "Hello!" and we spotted tons of free range farm animals moving about. 
The Sam Neua Monument -- This was shot from the entrance of the guest house we were staying at.

A Government Building very near the guest house we stayed in.

When we arrived at our guest house in Phonsavan, we saw the people we shared the tour with in Vieng Xai. With a few rounds of Laos beer and green mangoes, we got to know the two French girls and the Taiwanese guy who explored the Vieng Xai caves with us. After that, we all went to Nisha's Indian Restaurant for dinner.

Day 12: Phonsavan (Plain of Jars)
The next day, we headed to the Plain of Jars with the two French ladies and the Taiwanese guy that we met in Vieng Xai. It took us less than thirty minutes to find the first site. And, when we got there, we paid around 10,000 kip each for the entrance and 2,000 kip for the parking.

From the entrance, we walked down some steps to get to see the Plain of Jars. On the ground, you'll find several square, bi-color signs that will tell you where you're supposed to walk. According to the signs that we saw by the entrance, you're supposed to stay in the white side of the mark to avoid stepping on UXO's.

The sight of the dots of gray jars on the green grass makes the place look beautiful and photogenic. But, what really attracts the tourists to the Plain of Jars isn't just its beauty but the mystery that surrounds it. Why are they there?

People say that these jars are 2,000 years old. But, because no organic material like food or human remains were found in the jars, it was impossible to date them. Madeleine Colani, the French archaeologist who examined these jars in the found 1930's, thought that there was a connection between the stone megaliths near Sam Neua and the Plain of Jars. According to her publication in 1935, she found a bronze, human shaped figure and some beads in some of the jars but the location of these artifacts are currently unknown.

According to a local legend, these jars were created to ferment wine for the celebration of Khun Jeuam's victory against the cruel ruler, Chao Angka. These jars were made from some type of cement, buffalo skin, sand, water and sugar cane and was fired in a nearby cave kiln. Some say that they were used for burying the dead. Others say that these jars were used for holding rice. While I was there, I noticed that the jars were filled with rain water and I thought that they were created to collect and hold rain water for the dry season.

Now, it's used as a bin.

Maybe it used to be an aquarium.

They say that Khun Jeuam drank from this jar. It's the only jar with a lid.

Stay on the white side if you don't want to get blown up.

I thought this hill looked interesting.

The cave that was used a kiln?!

This cave was used to shelter them from bombs.

People always want to leave a mark.
After our walk around the Plain of Jars, we decided that we've had enough jars and headed to Muang Khoun, a once beautiful ancient capital that was destroyed by the Indochina war. There really isn't much to see but the stupa that was mentioned in the Lonely Planet. We saw it from the noodle place where we had lunch. We, however, couldn't find a way to the stupa. So, we ended up visiting a temple on a slope. The view from the slope was beautiful though. And, one a very dirty and worn board in front of the place where we had lunch, we saw a picture of the old capital before the war.

We headed back to Phonsavan and chilled at Crater's which serves Western food. They've got really good sandwiches. And then, we had to get some sleep for another long ride tomorrow.
Craters Bar and Restaurant

Quick Travel Tips:

Craters Bar and Restaurant. This restaurant serves Western dishes as well as some Lao and Thai dishes. You can easily spot it because of the shell cartridges at the entrance. 
Nisha Restaurant. If you're tired of Laos cuisine and if you're craving for some Indian food, this is the place to go.

Kongkeo Guest House. This is a cool guest house to stay in. Not only is it affordable, it's got really nice and clean bungalows and it's got warm and friendly people running it. And, if you're a fan of bombs, bullets and guns, you'll definitely have fun looking at and taking pictures of their unique decoration.

Plain of Jars. The entrance fee for Site 1 is 10,000 kip and the parking ticket is 2,000 kip. In Site 1, they sell some really cool souvenirs. With so much metal from plane and tank wrecks from the war, the locals had this brilliant idea of making spoons and jewelry from them. So, if you're looking for something unique, then get yourself one of these items.

The Journey Continues:

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