14.03.2017 - 14.03.2017
The early morning in Phonsavanh in Xiengkhouang province Laos was cool and refreshing. Honouring the deal made with my guide for the day for a tour to 3 sites of the Plains of Jars as well as a detour to the Old Kingdom of Lao PDR known as Muang Khoun, Yee Yang arrived at the guesthouse just before 8.30 am. He was in good mood and all prepared for this 6 hour tours and so was I. After he handed over the helmet to me, we headed out first to Muang Khoun, the Old Kingdom of the ancient Lao PDR. Muang Khoun's location is quite a distance from Phonsavanh. It was situated in an area which the road heading out to Paksan, the border town between Laos and Thailand, which is 5 to 7 hours journey from Phonsavanh depending on the mode of transport. The journey from downtown Phonsavanh to Muang Khoun can be summed up as wonderful with many scenes such as the rice fields, Hmong and local houses and endless mountains with lush trees that dotted the road and formed one of the most spectacular background of natural landscapes that I had ever came across.
THE LANDSCAPES DURING THE JOURNEY TO MUANG KHOUN & PLAIN OF JARS
The nice cool morning breeze and the almost free traffic added in the marvellous moments of the journey to Muang Khoun. This once a great Laos ancient capital was established by the Phuan people of whom were of Tai-Lao ethnicity said to be migrated from south of China. What were left now in Muang Khoun for tourist such as me to experience were not significant. Muang Khoun is not a major tourist spot though it has now gained more popularity which usually being offered as a side tour apart from the main Plain of Jars sites hopping. The first stop in Muang Khoun was That Foun. It is located just above the small hill from the main road with an entrance fee of 10,000 kip. This ancient chedi has been standing against time but the structure nevertheless looked rather fragile with some overgrown bushes and small trees and could possibly crumbled just about anytime if no immediate steps taken to strengthened the structure. There was a opening entrance on the mid-base of the chedi which used to be open for visitors to get in but during my visit, it has been covered up with plank woods to block people from access to the chedi. According to Yee Yang, formany years, irresponsible people entered the chedi and digging the base of the chedi which caused damaged to the stability of its structure and that was why the local authority has barred entry into That Foun. Yee Yang added that, the chedi also suffered from structural defects due to people thought there were bronze, silver and possibly even gold bars hidden inside the base of the chedi. Attempts to search for such gold bars and to steal them caused all such defects at first and eventually, the chedi was in the state of what it is today after years of looting. Looking at the chedi, this was of no comparison with ancient chedis and temples in Ayutthaya, Thailand but non the less, it was kind of surprise to be able to see such an ancient chedi in Laos.
THE CHEDI THAT FOUN & WAT PIAWAT @ MUANG KHOUN
Not far away from the chedi, was another historic site of Muang Khoun known as Wat Piawat. This was an ancient temple that formed part of the ancient city of Muang Khoun. There were many temples during the glory of Muang Khoun but almost all other than Wat Piawat has been completely destroyed during the Vietnam war. The degree of damages that devastated Moung Khoun was so great that almost all the ancient ruins and temples were wiped out as a consequences of the heavy bombardment during the war. I wonder if the war did not happened in Lao PDR, Muang Khoun's ancient ruins could be as massive as the one in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Taking a brief tour around Wat Piawat,it was observed that the walls of the temple were all damaged with few pillars sighted still standing within the temple structure. The large sitting Buddha structure with most parts of it still intact with some parts were seen slightly damaged. This could be one of the mystery and wonders of how the Buddha structure could have stood the test of the war possibly due to the holiness of the temple itself.
From Moung Khoun, the journey continued on to visit the mysterious Plain of Jars. There were 3 sites to visit. As Muang Khoun was located nearest to Jar Site 3, our first stop was the latter. The Plain of Jar Site 3 was one of the more remote site of which it was located within a large rice field area. To get there, we first has to passed through a long winding dusty pathways that crossed over some villages and finally reached the end of the road. Once Yee Yang parked his bike, we walked through the rice field area for possibly 500 metres before reaching the Plains of Jars Site 3. In all the 3 sites visited including the Site 3 over here, there were many small square concrete blocks with red and white markings on left and right of it with the word (MAG-the Mines Advisory Group, an NGO that provide assistance to the locals in removing unexploded ordnance). If the white marking is on the left of the concrete block, that signify the pathways on the left was safe from unexploded ordnance. If the red marking is on the right, that signify that the right pathways was filled with unexploded ordnance. This Jars site 3 was located on a higher ground surrounded by lush trees and rice fields. It was not a huge site but there were quite a number of jars found scattered around the area under the trees. The height of the jars at this Site 3 was observed to be of different sizes from low to average high and some were already broken. One of the significant experience to note here that the scene on the background of this site was serene and wonderful overlooking a massive rice fields with mountain landscapes surrounded it. A search over Wikipedia noted that archaeologists who did a study on how did the jars came into existence,it was widely believed that these jars were being used as urns to keep bodies of dead people which was known as a practice in ancient India as well as the royals of the South East Asia countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. There was also a theory created that the jars were used to collect rain water by travellers on caravan during their journey while other theory included a Lao King created the jars to brew traditional liquor to celebrate his victory. Despite all the theories, the mystery of Plains of Jars remained unanswered.
THE JOURNEY TO JARS SITE 3, ITS SURROUNDING LANDSCAPES & THE JAR STONES AT JARS SITE 3
From Jars Site 3, we moved on to Jars Site 2. Getting to Site 2 was just as interesting as Site 3 with the long winding road that cuts through the countryside heading into the mountainous area. In fact, Site 2 was located also on a higher ground just like site 3 but without any rice fields on the background. There were many lush pine trees in surrounding with the jars being scattered mostly on a small area on this small hill area. Due to the number of pine trees around the area, the place was shielded from the sun making it cool and a good place to relax while winding down. The height of the jars were taller than those in site 1, some as high as over 180 centimetres. Site 2 also offers some magnificent view from the site itself which overlooked open fields and mountains on the other end. Here,we stopped for lunch not too far from a sole restaurant within Site 2. My lunch was a hot rice noodle soup with generous portion of mix fresh vegetables. After having that hot bowl of noodles, now I know why Laotians like their noodles so much. If you are in Laos, do not forget to get a bowl of hot soup noodle and the answer is in that hot bowl itself.
THE JOURNEY TO JARS SITE 2, ITS SURROUNDING LANDSCAPES & THE JAR STONES AT JARS SITE 2
The final destination of my Plains of Jars tour was the Site 1. This was the largest site among the 3 sites and located within a small peak and an open fields area. There was also a cave existed within the Site 1. The height of the jars at Site 1 were mixture of high and low structures and can be seen scattered around on a small hill and the open field. Inside the cave, which was on the edge of the open field, there was an altar in the middle of the cave, commonly found in Chinese influenced temples placed in the middle of the cave. It was believed that the cave wasused for cremation of corpses in consistence with items such as human bones found around the stone jars. The overall Plains of Jars tour was an eye opening experience where this provide another edition of travel opportunity to explore and seek adventures to unknown places without much planning. I have a plan to get to Xiengkhouang but along the way, there were so many uncertainties that arise while on my journey. But the fear, the anxious and what happened next made up all the excitement to this adventure.
THE JOURNEY TO JARS SITE 1, ITS SURROUNDING LANDSCAPES & THE JAR STONES AT JARS SITE 1