The Plain of Jars

An enduring oddity

What we say: 4 stars

Despite being off the main tourist trail, Phonsavan is well worth visiting, with its Plain of Jars a particular highlight. Hop on a tour to see the plain, or just grab a motorbike and hit the road. It is totally worth it.

Phonsavan isn't a town we would call

Phonsavan isn’t a town we would call “bustling”.

The Plain of Jars refers to an entire area where mysterious limestone jars are found, with three separate sites open to the public. Each site holds clusters of jars carved out of solid stone and seemingly dumped all around the surrounding landscape, making for some truly amazing scenery. Their size and shape vary vastly as do their positions, with some tipped over and some intertwined with surrounding shrubbery. Nobody is certain of their true purpose, but it is thought that they may have been used during funerals.

Jars on a plain. The Plain of Jars.

Jars on a plain. The Plain of Jars.

In years gone by, the sites were riddled with unexploded ordnance (UXO) and their use as tourist attractions was severely limited. But over the past decade, much effort has gone into cleaning up the UXO and now there are safe walking paths throughout the area — just don’t stray too far from the path.

Bombs were dropped all around the jars sites.

Bombs were dropped all around the jars sites.

Site one is the most popular, due to its proximity to the centre of town, but one could argue it’s the least interesting of the three despite having the largest single jar and the largest number of jars. There’s a cave and some bomb craters to look at here besides the jars and a small snack shop to grab a drink and bite to eat.

It's not just about seeing a bunch of stone jars. The scenery is great too.

It’s not just about seeing a bunch of stone jars. The scenery is great too.

Site two is much further out of town and requires a ride along 11 kilometres of rough dirt roads. Although the roads around here are terrible, it gives you one of the better glimpses into rural Lao life in the area. The primary location of the jars at this site is on top of a small hill shaded by large trees. Many of the jars are broken and tipped over here, presumably due to tree roots sneaking their way into small fissures. Lovely views of the surrounding area can be enjoyed from a small lookout nearby.

Part of the fun at jars site 3 is navigating the bovine inhabitants.

Part of the fun at jars site three is navigating the bovine inhabitants.

Site three is located not too far from site two and is arguably the most picturesque of the lot. Rolling hills, bomb craters, rice fields and plenty of cattle are what greet visitors to site three. By the time most people arrive here, they’re not really interested in jars anymore and are quite happy to take photos of the scenery.

These jars are shaded by trees at site three as cattle roam around keeping the grass short.

These jars are shaded by trees at site three as cattle roam around keeping the grass short.

The small restaurant at the gate to site three serves up a mean noodle soup with great quality meat — you pay a bit more than the Lao average, but the quality makes up for it.

Accommodation options in Phonsavan are plentiful — tour agents offer day tours with guides but your guesthouse will likely offer similar ones. A fairly standard price for a basic tour of the three main jar sites and a few extra stops will usually cost about 150,000 kip per person. Or grab a bike, and roll your own adventure!

Last updated: 31st January, 2015

About the author:
Adam gave up a corporate career in 2009 and left Australia for the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asia. He now lives in Indonesia, where as well as writing for Travelfish.org he plays around with www.pergidulu.com.
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