The lively town of Phonsavan is the capital of Xieng Khuang province and is famous for two reasons.
Firstly, the area was one of the most heavily bombed in Laos, and that's saying something in the most heavily bombed country in the world. Today the region remains littered with unexploded ordinance (UXO) and the evidence is everywhere. The resourceful locals use bomb casings and other remnants for every purpose imaginable: as fences and parts of their housing, as tools, vegetable planters, decorations and barbecue fireplaces.
Secondly, the province is the site of the mysterious Plain of Jars. The centre of Xieng Khuang province is littered with clumps of large stone vessels, believed to be ancient funerary urns. The origin of these enormous jars is unclear, inciting international debate.
The scenery in the province is very different to any you'll see in the rest of Laos. Rolling hills are covered in the wet season with green grass and sparse forests of pine trees -- a striking contrast to the usual high mountains and dense jungle.
The Jars aside, Phonsavan itself is a fascinating place to visit with a number of attractions in its outlying areas. It perhaps should not be the first place on an itinerary in Laos, but it's great if you're planning a fair amount of time exploring the country.
The town is now experiencing a bit of a tourist boom and a considerable amount of infrastructure has been or is being built and the town is now well and truly on the tourist trail and rightly so. Just be sure to come here for more than just the jars.
Accommodation options are plentiful in town, with a plethora of budget-range choices and a healthy selection of midrange places to boot. Most of the accommodation is centred around the main street running through town -- take a short walk along the main road and you'll see plenty, many with free WiFi.
A post office, banks and internet cafes are all available along the main street in Phonsavan. There is an ATM at the local BCEL bank close to the main intersection in the centre of town. Money can be changed at many guesthouses in town along with tour shops and the bank. 3G internet access is available in town on the big mobile networks such as Unitel and ETL.
There is also a hospital in town, but as for most other places in rural Laos, this is best only used for treating minor ailments. More serious injuries and emergencies should definitely be treated in Vientiane (or even better, Thailand).
By Adam Poskitt