Photo: Plain of Jars.


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Set on a high plateau of wide open plains and rolling green hills, Phonsavan is a long drive from anywhere to reach—the provincial capital of Xieng Khouang is a day’s bus ride from Vientiane or Luang Prabang, but visitors make the journey to see its archaeological wonder, the Plain of Jars.

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The name is self-explanatory: there are plains and they have jars but the reason why people left clusters of up to 400 large stone jars all over the province is an enticing mystery. How did they get there and why? There are over 100 jar sites in Xieng Khouang alone, but Site 1, 2 and 3 are close to Phonsavan and they receive the bulk of visitors. Tour guides or the visitor centre at Site 1, which boasts the most impressive concentration of jars, will explain the prevalent theory they were funerary urns. The popular theory is that giants used them to brew rice whiskey.

They were not kidding when they named it Plain of Jars. Photo taken in or around Phonsavan, Laos by Cindy Fan.

They were not kidding when they named it Plain of Jars. Photo: Cindy Fan

Fast forward from ancient history to modern tragedy, Xieng Khouang is also known for the heavy bombardment it suffered during the Secret War. Though Laos was guaranteed neutrality in Geneva, the country would become engulfed in the conflict between the North Vietnam-backed communist Pathet Lao and the Royalists with the Americans. The US, fearing the spread of communism, conducted a covert CIA operation that included recruiting the Hmong, a hilltribe group drawn into the conflict for want of independence and autonomy. In Laos, Xieng Khouang was the Hmong’s heartland.

While tens of thousands of Hmong boys and men fought and suffered heavy casualties on the ground, the US unleashed an intense aerial bombing campaign. By the time the war was over with the communist victory, when the last American plane evacuated and 120,000 Hmong suddenly became refugees in their own homeland, more than two million tons of bombs had been dropped. This works out an average of one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years. Xieng Khouang was one of the most heavily bombed provinces in Laos, and that’s saying something in the most heavily bombed country in the world ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,100 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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