Laos – Vang Vieng and the Mysterious Plain of the Jars

Vang Vieng – Set in the mountains along the Nam Song River, Vang Vieng is a very scenic town. There are many activities available that take advantage of this mountain setting and we did as many as we could in the few days we were here.

Karst Mountains and Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains and Nam Song River, Vang Vieng

Water Cave – We were not interested in visiting another cave, but this one was quite different and sounded like a lot of fun. The cave is a low-ceilinged, long, narrow chamber with a shallow stream.  In order to get into the cave, you have to float on an inner-tube and pull yourself along on fixed ropes. With such a low entrance, not much light gets inside, but we had headlamps and were able to see a few features. We spent about 45 minutes in the cave. It was a really fun, unique way to experience a cave.

Water Cave, Vang Vieng
Water Cave, Vang Vieng

Blue Lagoon – A natural spring fills this deep lagoon with cool, fresh water. It’s on private property and the owner set up a zip-line, swinging ropes and dive platforms to keep tourists entertained. When we were there it was just us and 4 local boys who were having a blast. We joined them and had a lot of fun, zip-lining into the water and jumping from high platforms. It was really refreshing on a hot 35° C day.

Zip-lining at Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng
Zip-lining at Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng
Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng
Zip-lining at Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng
Jumping off platform at Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng
Jumping off platform at Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng

Kayaking on the Nam Song  River – We rented kayaks and cruised down the Nam Song River one afternoon. There were a number of rocks to avoid and a few grade 1 rapids (very easy), but mostly it was a relaxing day, enjoying the river scenery.

Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Smokey haze over Nam Song River, Vang Vieng
Smokey haze over Nam Song River, Vang Vieng

Trekking – We went for a small trek in the mountains behind Vang Vieng, but in the end the best pictures were from the farmlands in the valley. There are a few treks here but they’re mostly on jungle covered trails with no views.

Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Farm, Vang Vieng
Farm, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng
Karst Mountains, Vang Vieng

Tubing – One afternoon we did one of the most popular activities here. We rented inner-tubes, including a tuk tuk ride 6 km up river. We then floated back down the river for 3 hours until we reached town. There are several party bars on the way down, we stopped for a beer at a couple and felt like we were 20 years old again.

Sunsets in Vang Vieng – Beautiful sunsets are easy to find here. We enjoyed having dinner or drinks by the river and watching the sun go down.

Sunset, Vang Vieng
Sunset, Vang Vieng
Sunset, Vang Vieng
Sunset, Vang Vieng

Phonsavan – Located 100 km from Vang Vieng, as the crow flies, or 230 km and 6 hours by bus, is this small mountain city. They don’t see many tourists in Phonsavan, but there were still a few good restaurants and coffee shops. We hadn’t been to a market in a while as they all started to look the same, but knew we’d find a few surprises in a Laos market. At first, we saw a number of different fruits, veggies and edible leaves, then we saw the meat area with pigs’ snouts and feet and other meat in the open with flies buzzing about. Just as we were about to leave, we saw something new: bamboo rats and other unidentified furry rodents laid out for shoppers to select. Some were skinned, and some still had their fur. We knew Laotians eat anything and everything, and now we can confirm it. (Don’t worry, no pictures)

Market in Phonsavan
Market in Phonsavan

Plain of Jars – We came to Phonsavan to see the mysterious Plane of Jars on the Xiangkhoang Plateau. These large stone jars are quite impressive. They are ½ – 2 m tall and as much as 2 m in diameter with rounded bottoms and are hollowed out so that they appear as jars. Some of the jars have lipped rims carved in to their tops, others are flat. The jars are found in clusters on hilltops around the province.  In all there are over 90 sites and thousands of jars. We visited 3 sites.

Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan

Some of the jars are lying on their sides, others are broken from erosion, by invaders or by bomb explosions. There are still quite a few, however, that are intact and upright. There are also large discs at some of the sites, but they don’t appear to be lids.

Closing one of the broken jars in Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Closing one of the broken jars in Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Celebrating our repair of the broken jar in Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Celebrating our repair of the broken jar in Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan

The jars were carved out of massive limestone and sandstone boulders, 2500 – 3500 years ago using iron tools. Archaeologists think they were carved into jars at the mountains where the boulders were found and then either pulled by elephant or rolled 5 – 7 km to the various sites.  Most of the jars have no decoration other than a few of the discs and one jar that had a man carved in to it. Since it is just one jar, many believe this was added hundreds of years later. Archaeologists are still trying to determine the purpose of the jars, and anything about the people who made them. They have found skeletons, glass beads, pottery and relics by some of the jars so one theory is that they may be related to burials. One recently researched site however, has no skeletons at all, so the mystery is still unsolved.

Image of a man carved on the Jar, Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Image of a man carved on the Jar, Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Decorated disc in Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Decorated disc in Plain of Jars, Phonsavan

War in Laos – While in Phonsavan we learned a lot about the wars that took place in Laos in the 1960s and 70s. Southern Laos had many bombs dropped on it during the Vietnam War. Some were targeting Vietnamese, others were dropped when planes had to turn back due to bad weather. Planes couldn’t land when they were full of explosives, so they dropped their bombs in rural Laos. At the same time, Laos was involved in a civil war. The king and his brother were fighting over the ruling of the country. One side was supported by the US and the other by the Soviets. During our visit to the Plain of Jars we saw many massive craters left by bomb explosions from the war.

Plain of Jars and 4 bomb craters, Phonsavan
Plain of Jars and 4 bomb craters, Phonsavan

During the 60s and 70s there were over 270 million cluster bombs dropped in Laos, more than Vietnam and Cambodia combined. 30% of those bombs did not explode and there are still many unexploded bombs in the ground today. Local farmers are still being killed or badly injured from accidentally triggering an unexploded bomb while working in their rice fields. Apparently, since 1973, one person is killed or injured every day from one of these bombs. Laos is finally receiving assistance and is funding an agency, UXO, who is finding and detonating these bombs. In December 2017 (3 months before our arrival) they found and detonated a cluster bomb within 75 m of one of the sites we visited in the Plain of Jars. There is also a not-for-profit agency, CORE, in Vientiane that provides prostheses for amputees. It was a real eye-opener to see the devastating effect of war.

Cluster bombs, Phonsavan
Cluster bombs, Phonsavan

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Laos. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca Click on a picture to view it as a slide show.

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