Plain of Jars, Phonsavan
Trip Start Sep 18, 2004
69Trip End Jun 05, 2005
Written on March 16th, 2005
Bus ride from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan
On the morning of March 4th, we got on the one and only bus from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan. Travelling in Laos had been an early morning affair. There was typically only one daily departure to the city we wanted to go to. The bus was always scheduled to leave early in the morning (7:00 am to 8:00 am). In reality, the bus usually didn't leave until it's full. In order to get a seat, we had to get to the bus station one hour before the scheduled departure time.
On most Lao buses, besides the driver, there were always two or more people on the bus to collect fare, help securing luggages on top of the bus, and fix the bus when it broke down
The bus ride was about eight hours speeding down some winding roads. A passenger had purchased a brand new giant speaker. The speaker was in a box and stowed in the cargo compartment on the side of the bus. On one of the tighter turns, the box containing the speaker flew out of the compartment and was spectacularly skipping down the hill. Some one got off the bus to pick up the battered speaker and put it back into the compartment. The owner of the speaker didn't seem to complain but maybe it was because one of the bus guys had a machine gun.
I thought it's supposed to be hot in Laos!
The day before we left for Phonsavan, the weather had gotten much cooler. We were told it was very abnormal. Well, it got colder in Phonsavan. It was probably around 10C for the two days we were there. Many travellers had only summer clothes
The secret U.S. war in Laos
Not many Americans, including us, knew much about the secret U.S. war in Laos during the Vietnam War. Last year, when we went shopping for a washer / dryer at the Sears in Seattle, we were assisted by a salesman who surprised us with fluent Chinese. He told us that our tax dollar paid for his Chinese. During the Vietnam war, he was one of the many special agents dispatched to the Hmong villages on the border of China and Laos. His job was to get the Hmongs, a minority hill tribe in Laos, to rise up against the Communist Pathet Laos.
During the Vietnam War both the U.S. and Vietnam signed an agreement in Geneva to keep Laos out of the war. In reality, the U.S. government was worried about the communist Pathet Laos gaining power in Laos
Unfortunately, the Hmongs were not enough to combat the Pathet Lao. The US government then decided to send in the US Air Force to help out the Hmongs. Since the US was not supposed to be in Laos, the flighter pilots sent to Laos were not allowed to wear their dog tags, nor their uniform. The strategy was for one plane, known collectively as the Ravens, to survey the area. If the plane was attacked, it would radio back the coordinates, then multiple jets would drop cluster bombs on these coordinates. After the Vietnam War, a lot of US bombers before returning to base from a run in Vietnam would drop whatever bomb they didn't use on Laos, since it was dangerous and inconvinient to return to the base fully loaded. As a result, there were on average 300 bombings a month on Laos during the Vietnam war. After the war ended this number incereased to 13,000 bombings a month since the planes were no longer tied up in Vietnam. The US has dropped more bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War, then bombs dropped in Japan and Germany combined during WWII
The mysterious Plains of Jars
The Plain of Jars is a large area extending around Phonsavan from the southwest to the northeast where huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen groupings.
We visited three sites around Phonsavan, all on top of hills that are chok full of copper ore. These sites were perhaps chosen because of frequent lightening strikes due to the mineral contents under the hills. Each jar is carved from one piece of giant sandstone, quarried from a nearby hill. The jars used to be covered by a flat piece of round stone, but all the jars have been opened. The archeologists found bodies buried under the jars. The skeletons were people of substantial stature, around six feet tall. The current theory was that the jars were used in burial rites and contained offerings to the dead.
We head to Sam Neua in Northeast Laos to explore the extensive caverns used by Pathet Lao during the Vietnam War.