Phonsavan and the plain of jars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day we set out to Phonsavan. A town that reputedly has no charm whatsoever as it was built in the 1970ies as a district capital. There are many grey buildings in grey streets set in grey surroundings and we reached it      on a grey day. The drive to Phonsavan was the exact opposite though, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe drove through sunshine and luscious green mountains. The road through those mountains was small and windy, but fortunately tarred and while our driver was driving very safely, we took many of the turns with squealing tires. To recover from the hardship of being driven around, we stopped at a number of local markets on the way, where our guide showed us what was for sale. I snapped a quick picture of one of the animals on display and got a loud protest. Our guide hurried over with the explanation that taking pictures of caged animals is impolite because they have caused an uproar of animal welfare people in Western countries in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After a little more discussion on how the local hunters knew about the outrage of animal activists in Europe & the US, the core of the problem was revealedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA: The problem really was that they were hunting illegally and any documentation of this activity could lead to serious trouble with the government for them. Especially if they kill endangered species.
We took about 8h to cover the 260 kilometers from Vang Vieng to Phonsavan, and it was freezing cold when we reached it. Unfortunately, our hotel had neither heating nor closing doors. We would be suffering the next two days or more precisely, during the nights as the temperatures were dropping down to 0 degrees. Of course we had nice covers and could request as many more as needed, the local people live in even less isolated (or closed) rooms with fewer covers and still make it through the night.
The next day we set out to visit the plain of jars. The first stop was, obviously, the first site. We had started too early and the valley was still covered in fog when we reached the jars. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was quite a desolate view: The grass was brown, the weather grey and in between the jars. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnowing that this site was bombed with over 260 million bombs by the US doesn’t help to lighten the mood. The reminders are omnipresent: UXO-signs mark the area that have been cleared from bombs and are safe to walk in. Leaving these areas is forbidden and, quite properly, very unhealthyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. The plain of jars also shows a multitude of bomb craters and trench lines from the 1960ies-70ies. All in all, the first jar site was quite depressing and we weren’t quite sure where the magic of the jars was supposed to be. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis changed dramatically when we reached site 2. By that time the weather had started improving, we could see the first rays of sun breaking through the trees and shining onto the smaller and more aesthetic jars scattered around. Some of the trees had grown in or around the jars, bursting them into multiple pieces over time. The atmosphere had changed, we were enthralled by it and enjoyed our stay there tremendously. If we had to do it again, we would probably not stop at the first site anymore, but go directly on to site two. This being said, we will probably never do this again because of the long and windy windy road leading from Phonsavan to anywhere else.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The last site has the appeal of a garden. It is fenced in, mostly to keep the cows out, and the jars are scattered around with trees and flowers growing in between. It lacks the dramatic effect of the trees growing and outgrowing the jars of the second site, but is all in all very plea   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA sant.
We wanted to take an unannounced detour to see the original city of Xieng Khan, the district capital up to the 1970ies, when it was bombed by the US. A burned down Buddha, symbol of the devastation caused in Laos by a war, that was never declared and that they weren’t supposed to be involved inOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. This proved to be more of a problem than expected. Laos is still a communist country and the government likes to control what everybody does. Therefore our travel schedule had been pre-approved by the government and any changes needed to go through a whole batallion of higher ups before our tour guide could approve them. Unfortunately it was also the first day of the year, so that the tour guide had trouble reaching anybody. “No, the travel agency is always open. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe manager is probably just passed out drunk” was his explanation when we pointed out that it was a holiday and the office might be closed.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the end he did us the huge favour of driving us there without anybody’s approval but the plea to give him a good recommendation with the company to make up for the trouble he was in. After about deviating from the scheduled road by about 10km the tourist agency called him to investigate the situation. I guess our car has GPS.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Buddha itself, while iconic, turned out to not have as much flair as we expected. One of the reasons is that it is not actually standing in the abandoned down, but that the town has been rebuilt over the years and only the burned down Buddha and some remains of the temple have been conserved. As it is today it looks a bit out of place where it is standing.
The other sight, an old, decaying stupa had much more appeal. Also a survivor of the war, it is now a mixture of building & nature, with trees and grasses growing out of it everywhere. I much preferred it to the Buddha.

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