Thursday, April 07, 2011

Loads of Jars, no jam in sight

This blog post sees me in the Lao city of Phonsovan. My last day in Luang Prabang was amazing, I visited the Kuang Si Waterfall, pictured below, and had a wonderful cool swim. Not far away 'Save the Bears' had a sanctuary for a few Asian Black Bears which was also very interesting.
 After the heat and fun of Luang Prabang, (yesterday) I took a long bus ride to Phonsovan on one of the world's windiest roads. Through the mountains there was just never a straight stretch anywhere! And what makes a long bus ride longer? When you break down of course! Half way through the journey the bus was making some unhealthy sounds, so we pulled over and the driver made a phone call. A two and a half hour wait ensued before another minivan arrived and whisked us to Phonsovan in just under three and a half hours. But sometimes these things are okay. We had a little bamboo shelter, a dam near us, farmland and mountains, it was cool... and quite a nice little spot for a relaxing break.
 Phonsovan is not an amazing place. Spread out, but not packed full of goodies really. The hotel is fine, the main road has a bit of traffic but there is that 'ghost town' feel. Nevertheless, the countryside around Phonsovan is incredibly beautiful and green, as is much if not all of Laos. Really full of farmland and jungle, it's quite the picturesque country. And Phonsovan has one of the more curious tourist attractions in all of South East Asia - The Plain of Jars.
Really, there are multiple plains of Jars, I was on a tour that saw three of them today, filled with these stone jars, some are only three or so feet high, others are massive, one measured up to 2.7 metres in height and was also suitably rotound. What is the secret? What aer they for? Som many jars - site one has some 300 plus. Well, to me and other in my group they seem like they were once tombs, that people weren't buried, but encased, as they once had lids. The age of these jars is said to be 2500-3000 years. A tradition that now appears a mystery. This is also the place to avoid the tourists, the jars only see 3000 a year. However, this area has a more recent and violent history that affects it to this day...

The area surrounding Phonsovan and incorporating the plain of jars was heavily bombed by the US from 1964 to 1973. There was more than 1.3 million tonnes of ordnance dropped on this region. This means land mines, bombs and cluster bombs, the size of a tennis ball which explode outwards spreading shrapnel everywhere. They estimate over 30% did not explode. So now they litter the countryside and could explode when enough downward pressure is used (ie people walk on them). It affects farming, destroys families. Why the US cared so much about LAOS going communist is a bigger mystery than Vietnam. A country that only recently reached 6 million in population whose majority are farmers. Poor, subsistence living by people who are warm hearted and Buddhist. So any answers???
A group called MAG works tirelessly clearing landmins and bombs from this area. They do amazing work.
This is a link, please follow it. This country is amazing. I love it. Highly recommend Lao to anyone.... Until next time!

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