23.11.2010 - 24.11.2010 27 °C
We were picked up from our guesthouse by a very plush minibus, that we hoped was taking us all the way to Phonsavanh. Unfortunately it was not to be as we were moved onto an older, but actually more comfortable bus for the journey. However, the bus was only 7 hours, not the 10 we had been led to expect, and so we were happy when we arrived at 4:30pm.
We let ourselves get scooped up from the bus station by a guy who promised us a 40,000kip room. Done! It ws surprisingly nice as well and we were pleased with the decision we made!! We wandered into Phonsavanh to have a little look round. There wasn’t much there, but there was an interesting UXO (unexploded ordinance) information centre. This area was one of the worst affected in Lao during the Vietnam war, and there are still a lot of bombs that havent exploded that are all around the area. During the Vietnam war (and the secret war that America fought with Laos at the same time: more on that in our next blog post), America dropped 2 tonnes of bombs per person living in Lao at the time. This makes Laos the most bombed country per person in history, and the bombs total more than all the bombs dropped in Europe during the 2nd World War. The centre was about how the bombs that didn’t explode are affecting Laos now, since a lot of them didn’t explode, and they estimate that they’ve only cleared 1% of everything there. Apparently 30-60 people are killed in Laos each year, and an average of one person a day is injured by UXO. They also affect a lot of people by making land unavailable for use as farmland. People get injured and killed by accidentally hitting the UXO during farming,trying to take the bombs apart to use the gunpowder inside, and children get hurt because one of the bombs that is very prevalent looks like a tennis ball, and so they play with them, only to have it explode. The centre was interesting, if very scary, and the company that’s running it is doing a lot to remove UXO from the surrounding areas.
A map of where was bombed in Laos
After this, we went on the internet for a while, and then had rice and tofu for dinner and went to bed.
The next day was our trip to the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars is exactly what it sounds like...lots of jars on a plain! They are a lot of boulders on fields all around this area of North Laos, and the biggest are near Phonsavanh. At some point, estimated to be 2000 years ago but nobody really knows, a group of unknown people carved them all into jars of varying shapes and sizes, with the biggest being an estimated 6 tonnes!! Nobody knows why they were carved, but theories range from them being storage containers for rice wine, to them being burial casks. Something this ludicrous we just had to see!!
We woke early and had a huuuuuuge bowl of noodle soup for breakfast.
We then headed off to find our preferred method of jar discovery transport....a motorbike! We rented one for 100,000kip (£8, $12.50), and after a quick bit of tuition from the guy at the shop, John was off, with Susie on the back, both of us feeling slightly scared, but feeling more reassured by the minute, as it turns out John is a natural on a motorbike!
We went to the first jar site, which is 15km from Phonsavnh, and paid our 10,000 kip a head entry fee. The first thighng we saw was a sign about how they’d cleared a thin path through and around the jars of UXO, but warning us to stay inside the white markers, as there could well be UXO outside these. Apparently they’d cleared 127 pieces from the two fields of this site.
The markers - the white path in the middle is the only safe area.
The jars themselves are completely ridiculous, and are just as they sound – lots of huge stones carved into jar shapes! There were also several bomb craters around the site, and a cave.
Then we set off to the second site...or so we thought. Somehow we missed the turning in our motorbike excitement, then scared an old lady by asking her where we had to go! With a lot of pointing and hand gestures, she pointed us back the way we’d come. We went, thought we’d found the road so turned off, and ended up on a 1 hour, 12km long exploration! Using the sun as a compass, we eventually found our way back to where we were going. It was really lovely to see some really untouristy villages, and the countryside was really beautiful. It was a slightly stressful induction for us motorbike novices, but at least the track was empty! We were relieved when we found ourselves again, because we didn’t fancy going all the way back, especially along the bumpy, tiny dirt tracks we were on!
Once we were on the main track again, which was still a dirt track, albeit a larger one, we headed to a waterfall. We climbed over the rocks down the side of the lovely, wide waterfall.
Next, John taught Susie to drive the motorbike, and she drove the next few km to another jar site. This was over a larger area, and quieter, and we had fun wandering around, looking at the countryside and the jars.
As we headed back, taking it in turns to drive and both getting quite confident, we stopped and saw a Russian tank that had been blown up.
We got back to Phonsavanh at 3pm, saw a cow in a truck on the back of a makeshift tractor motor,
had rice and spring rolls for a late lunch, returned the bike,
and then collapsed for the rest of the afternoon! We were both very tired and saddlesore, but really enjoyed our day.
Later, Susie went and bought some cool rice pots from the market, and got her toes repainted (it’s become a bit of an obsession – they’re now green with gold sparkly tips).
We had steak and chips for dinner – YUM – and then went to bed.