David and Amy, the couple who joined us on our tour to the waterfall out of Luang Prabang, were also going the same direction and the five of us shared our tuk tuk to the bus terminal for our early morning departures.
From Luang Prabang, I could have gone:
1. Straight up north into Vietnam, China or Burma
2. Head West (to North-West) on a direct path towards Hanoi, via an old Pathet Lao headquarters, or
3. Head West (to South-West) to Phon Savanh to see the ‘Plain of Jars’ and onto Vinh in north-mid Vietnam
We were heading to Phon Savanh. It was a very rough ride. The road went up above the fog/cloud of the cool morning at the hill top, then went into a fast-speed descend when I felt the driver was never using a lower gear to apply engine brakes. It was a bit scary. And it was not comfortable. In the evening, we arrived in Phon Savanh. As is always the case with Laos, the bus terminals are built outside of town so we had to use a tuk tuk into the town centre, where we would find an accommodation.
Phon Savanh was a tasteless, roadhouse town, that did not have much trace of tradition. We checked out a couple of hostels and backpackers, and settled at the open-floor dorm. The guy behind the counter was a friendly Italian gentleman, Marcello, who I gathered is married to the sister of the local owner.
I skimmed through the description of the ‘Plain of Jars’ where you’d find mysterious big jars scattered about the open fields, and did not find it particularly appealing. But I was enjoying the company of the guys and I could not be bothered to research on the other two border-crossing options (which may not be even possible if the visa-on-arrival was not accommodated by the other side – some ground borders have this problem, guidebooks say), so I was ready to join the tour and see what this place was about. After we checked in to the accommodation, we went out for a dinner and walked around the main street of the town checking out a few travel agencies. David, Amy and Martina knew what they wanted to see. I was rather tempted by the sound of the Old Town rather than historical sites or jars, and we agreed on a plan that had a bit of something for everyone.
At the visitor registration office – this is what David really wanted to see. In the late ’60s when the America was involved in the war in IndoChina (Vietnam, mainly), Laos was a neutral territory. America came up with an excuse to make them an enemy and dropped more bombs than any other wars in history. A part of Lao people also received the backing of the US military and planted plenty of mines, to fight others who lived in their own country. Even today, Laos cannot develop its land quickly because of the UXO – the unexploded Ordonance. This is a place that was destroyed by the agenda of the others.
Plain of jars, Site #1. It was just an ordinary field, excep there are these ‘jars’ carved out of granite and other hard rocks. There is no record that identifies why they exist. Some archaeological works in recent years discovered the foundries. But it is still yet unclear exact origin of the jars and why people made those. Laos is preparing to file for the World Heritage registration.
Mr Yeng, our guide for the day. He spoke very good English, and tried to show us a very neutral view to the matter of the war. But he was from the Hmong tribe, those northern people who live across from northern Thailand, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Southern China. And he obviously had a critical view to how America got involved in this region for their own agenda, at the cost of so many lives and still not formally recognising their war crime of attacking a neutral territory. We felt really fortunate to have him as our guide. We liked how he showed us the places of historical significance.
Mr Yeng took us to a Hmong village. I was not expecting more than a tourist-facing, sad affiar, especially after what we’d seen in Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang during our tours there. But this was a real working town, and we felt privileged to be allowed into their home. Mr Yeng called this a ‘cluster bomb village’, where some of the building materials are the shells of the US cluster bombs, that housed dozens of explosives inside.
We got back to the town as the sun set. There was only one place to go – this place we went for the dinner the night before, and even lunch during the tour that passed through the town, but we had to admit – the food was good and beer was cheap!