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Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars

Written on: Sunday January 27th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Faced with an almost 2 week wait before I go off on the Gibbon Experience, I decided to head back down the country to a small town named Phonsavan and the mysterious Plain of Jars. Paying a little more than most tours in Laos got me a fairly VIP trip. I was picked up by what turned out to be one of the only revolting, ill-mannered Lao people I've met so far in a brand spanking new Honda people carrier. The car was so new it hadn't even had the plastic wrap taken off the glove compartment and sun visors. Joining me were a Canadian couple named Duncan and Pam, and a quiet Irish guy named Mike.

The one knock-back on this particular trip ws the amount of time I spent in the car. The journey to Phonsavan itself began at 9am, and we didn't arrive there until after 4pm, although there were a few stops at local villages along the way, but other then the usual wave and 'Sabai dai', no real other points of notice. Our guesthouse was certainly a plus though, with a steaming hot shower and the chance to kick back for a while and watch the Men's Final of the Aussie Tennis Open and a couple of mediocre movies.

Without my dinner partner now, I ambled off at dusk to find the main town and grab a bite to eat. The next day I found out that I didn't make it as far as the centre of town, but instead put up with what I thought was the only place to eat there. A small little wooden shed structure with a couple of women out the front barbequing food, and preparing some salads, while inside stood 4 equally wooden tables and benches on either side, and some local Laos' eating at them. I for some reason immediately stood out and glances were thrown my way, and words muttered. It was like I was the new meat in the penitentiary. Fortunately these Phonsavanians were nothing like prison inmates and within seconds of sitting down two guys in their mid 20's turned around and in their best English asked me if I would sit with them. 2 hours later after continually eating BBQ meat and being forced to knock back glass after glass of Lao Lao whiskey I made my excuses at not accompanying them to the local nightclub to apparently meet their sisters, gave my thanks and with a beaming smile zig-zagged back to the hotel. By the end of my meal there were 7 locals all showing off their finest English phrases and making me feel as welcome in their town as I could have ever hoped for. In the same situation in other cities around the world you would be on your guard at being scammed or taken advantage of in some way, shape or form (damm Beijing tea ladies), but here I was completely at ease as the Lao people simply don't seem to have a bad bone in their body. My total at the end of night came to 16,000 kip, the equivalent of about 85p.

The Jar sites themselves are the remains of a 2 thousand year old civilisation. Over three sites we saw over 400 of these stone jars, where it is believed the community kept their food, stored their whiskey, and some believe because of the discovery of bones, where people were buried. The best and biggest site was Site 1, also where the biggest individual Jar is, a 2 metre high, ten tonne monstrocity. Sadly during the Second Indochina War the area was heavily bombed by the Americans and the countryside itself is littered with bomb craters, giving it somewhat of a sad feel.

The following day we headed out early, but as the others were heading south, I had to accompany them to Vang Viang first, before then taking the 5 hour trip back north to Luang Phrabang, a monstrous 11 hour trip in total. At first I thought I was going to have the comfort of a one night stop-over in the Vang, but my nose-picking driver decided he wanted to push on. Going by the name of Noi, he incessently left the car to shoot the crap from his nose by pinching one nostril and aggressively blowing through the other. This wasn't the worst of it. Wearing trousers that were too big so that he was constantly pulling on them to prevent them for falling to his ankles, despite being the portliest man I've met in Laos, he not the slightest bit embarressed or even aware of his behaviour around people. I don't know, maybe I'm getting old, but just peeing wherever he feels like it, rubbing his bogies down his jeans, and to the limits of my tolerance, constantly throwing litter, including glass bottles out of the car window while he was driving past was really pissing me off. His fews words of English were 'Hello' and 'Shut up', which he kept uttering at the CD player before punching at the stand-by button. At one point he hung some money out of the car window taunting a child to chase after the car in order to get it. Accelerating further and further away from the poor child, he eventually just let the money go. Towards the end of our trip he stopped off at the roadside and brought some large rodent-like animal that had been captured by a couple of locals and was being strung up and held by a piece of rope attached to his leg. Rubbing his belly as he tied the animal to the back seat of the van he motioned to me that this would be dinner tonight. And then despite all these negatives he still had the natural kindness to stop just before dusk, impart me to join him at the side of the road and so very kindly shared all the food he had with me. Even the nasty Laos' are nice.