Phonsavanh – The Plain of Jars
After I finished my blog I left to my guest house, Hoxieng, to drop the bike and pick up my Romanian passport that I left it as guarantee. The guy was astound when he saw the passport because he never heard about Romania and now he saw somebody from there. But before I was able to reach home I bumped into Hunter in the market and we started chatting. He told me to go to the agency because the guy was concerned that I did not show up today to pay so he did not know if I will come with them the next day. He told me a little about himself, studied System engineering, that is applied math for solving engineering problems and he worked in MA for a defense contractor till last year when he left for Thailand, where he liked it a lot and decided to try to live and work there, so he posted his resume on a website in BKK. A high-school in Phisanoulok found it, called him for a math teacher position, interviewed him and offered the position at the interview. He was the only applicant and they offered him around $900/month a large salary for teaching in Thailand. The job was easy because the expectations are very low, just to be presentable and to be able to get along with the other people, so they liked him and they wanted to raise his salary and offered him another year to teach, but he decided to return in the States where he wants to teach math so, after his return, he will apply for the certification and start teaching math in high school. He found his way in life in Thailand! We kept chatting about my own family connection with math and I had to leave him to solve my immediate and non-math problems, in any case we would have met next morning for the trip. I went to the agency, I paid and I dropped the bike and eventually I took the passport latter in the evening, because the guy was not there, and I left to visit the night market for the last shopping, that are always a lot and the result was that I filled up the new backpack I bought in Vietnam with things from the market….
I went to sleep at 11pm and next morning, the host started to knock in a door and woke me up around 5am but I did not get down from bed till 6:15am when I went to see again the monks, but just the ones coming near my guest house. I packed and I went for a coffee that was good this time at Joma, reading the paper to see what is still going on with the hazy air that was settled over the city and country in the last days, caused by the fact that the peasants are burning the rice fields to clear them for the new plantation. The haze is terrible and it is also over Chiang Mai in Thailand causing a number of people to check into the hospital and obliging the Thai government to spray water from the planes to try to clear it. I paid the guesthouse and I asked them for an extra receipt, and I got both stamped by the travel agent, and they give me some water and bananas to have it on the way. The van was in front and the driver loaded my luggage and we went to pick up Hunter and Dana from their guesthouse and at around 8:15am we left towards Phonsavanh, the capital of the province Xieng Hoang the place where is located the Plain of Jars. The trip was more than awful because was on a continuous winding road the same way as the one when we crossed from Meteora to Metsovo, the only road where as a driver I got nauseous. But this road was not one hour like the other one, but 7 hours and continuously winding. We stopped several times to get air and all three of us were kind of nauseous. Each time I had to stretch on the car bench to calm my stomach but in the end none of us threw up. At least this! Obviously that the landscape was beautiful, we continuously crossed mountains, the country being very mountainous. Winding road with lots of hair pins going up and down for almost 7 hours! And if this would not have been enough, on the way Hunter mentioned to us that the road between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng was listed in February 2007 on US State Department Advisory list as a no-go destination for Americans. There were attacks on buses that happened in the past and the road was listed as unsafe. The Hmongs conducted a guerrilla war against the government forces that lasted since 1975 till 2004 when they gave back the guns but in situations like this, many guns still remain available used by wrong doers. These guys were coming from the mountains and attacked villages and buses but the book said that these incidents did not happen for a long time. Still on the way, in each village we saw at least one person carring an AK47 but when we asked everybody told us that they were government soldiers guarding the village and we should not worry because the road is very safe…
Finally at around 2:15 pm the road got to be in a lower plain and we arrived in the nondescript town of Phonsavanh at 3:15pm. I got a room for 70000 kips at “Nice Guest House” and we went for lunch of sweet and sour fish and rice. After lunch the sun was towards sunset so we went for a walk in the market that was full of unknown products and we tried some of them. Hunter has a passion for languages and he learned German and studied some Arabic and in Thailand learned Thai so he was able to talk with people here in Lao, the languages being very close to Thai. He knew a lot about the world, traveled in Eastern Europe also and he impressed me by the fact that he knew that my name is Romanian. Dana grew up in a farm in CT and he was a horse trainer. He went to the university on a scholarship for polo, a sport she told me many things about, and she worked in Hawai as a polo player and horse trainer. Now she wanted to play polo just for fun, staying away of the glitzy crowd that populates this game, and to work more to train horses . I lost them in the market and when I finished my visit I started walking the main street but it was nothing to see, just a beautiful sunset, so I sat in a restaurant to have a beer and read my book. The restaurant named symbolic “Craters” is located near the MAG office, that is the office sponsored mainly by New Zeeland to do demining here, the main danger in a region that is littered with mines and UXO, all sorts of detonable devices from the American war and also from the war between the Vietnamese and Royal Lao Forces. The area was bombed to oblivion by the US because the Vietnamese settled here and they were running the front from this area, so the number of sorties was extremely high to the point that the capital Mueng Sai was completely obliterated and after the war was over, they had to move the capital of the province in Phonsavanh, because there were no buildings left standing in the old capital. MAG did the demining of the main sites in the Plain de Jars and the sites can be visited since 1990 but still you have to walk only on marked path, being a slight possibility to still exist undetonated explosives. The number of bombs that were thrown from planes was so large that their cases are used for decoration in town, “Craters” having four tall cases standing in front of the restaurant and there are many more in Bomb Cafe and other. You can see all sort of bomb cases, both from aluminum and steel, the ones from aluminum used to make pans and pots by the villagers. I had my book and beer till 9 00pm and I went to the hotel earlier for a shower and a good sleep but unfortunately I was awaken latter by some noisy guests.
Next morning I woke up at 6:00 am I packed and I went outside in a nice sunrise for a quick walk and breakfast. I met Hunter and Dana and at 8:00 am the driver came to pick us up in the hotel. I went to the bus station to buy a ticket for tonight bus, (VIP bus at 7:00pm – 6 hours to VV , local bus at 4:00pm – 7 hours to VV) and I noticed that the price dropped considerably at the bus station compared with what I spoke with people in the city! No surprise! From there we left for Plain of Jars, an area that has a lot of jars, huge stones sculpted inside used probably for storage, but about which nobody knows anything when or by whom were built. It is a megalithic mystery of Laos, the only place where these Jars/stone exists. There are several legends, each minority having his own, but the bottom line is that nobody has a clue. There are about 60 sites in the area with jars like this but only 3 are visitable being demined. The bombs thrown from the American bombers left many craters and destroyed many of jars in the area named in the war, PDJ, a French acronym for Plain de Jars. We met or guide, Mr. Yeung who joined us latter on, and we visited Sites 1,2 and 3, all being relative close to one another but still you have to go by car. What is interesting is the large concentration in each of these sites and nothing in between. The supposition is that the jars were used by the villages for storing various things, including people , alive as jail or dead as in a cemetery. Some jars have lids but very few still remain. Mr. Yeung gave us all sorts of stories and we visited also a cave used by the Vietnamese army as a hospital. Some jars were short but several were as tall as the height of a person. The whole visit was short, maybe about 2-3 hours and it proves that it can be done in one long day RT from either Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng but the agencies want to do it in no less than three days. Because we still have lots of time on our hands we went to visit a destroyed Russian tank and the old capital, the obliterated city of Mueng Sei. The only 3 things that remained standing was the old French Office, the old temple dating from the 16th century and an old stupa. All three are kept as they were with no renovation, a relic of the bombardments. We visited all three and we went back to Phonsavanh. On the way back, realizing that we have a lot of time left in the day, we decided to change gears so Hunter and Dana asked to be driven that day to Eastern Laos, instead of the next day, an me , after a short stint at the Internet Cafe to complete my story I picked up a tuk-tuk for $1 and I went to the bus station where I changed my ticket for a local bus at 4:00pm, and they even gave me 10000 kips back. The other local bus in the morning at 9:30am did not leave because of lack of passengers. Because I felt so nauseous the other day when we came by minibus I was horrified by the prospective to take again the same road, even for only half of it. So I did not eat and drink anything all day, except some fruit in the morning. I had a bottle of water with me and that’s it and I kept pondering if the VIP bus from 7:00pm would be better that the local, that has small seats and no AC. But to my surprise the ride to Vang Vieng was very smooth with no problems and no nauseous feelings. I understood once again that these minibuses, that are great because they pick you up at the hotel, are a pain because they drive faster and you are less comfortable in them. After a good part of the way with the local bus when I saw that I feel perfect I ate a sandwich and bananas and drank some water. I chat with two Dutch girls from Rotterdam who were traveling for 3-4 months and they plan to visit so much in SE Asia that even I thought that is a little exaggerate. We talked a lot about Burma where they wanted to go but they were reluctant. The VIP and the local bus takes the same 6-7 hours to Vang Vieng and I reached Vang Vieng at 10:30 pm, the bus station being on a long Airstrip built by the Americans in the war, Lima site 27, and right away I got my luggage to Nana guest house very close to the bus station, that for $5 gave me a spotless room with two beds and a perfectly clean bathroom. I did not have too much time, people in Laos go to sleep early so I went right away on the main street, got a crepe with chocolate and a beer, weird combination, watching in awe the restaurants and discotheques that populate this town, where people are not sitting but they lay down on some kind of elevated tables, with another table in the middle, similar with what they have in the tea houses in Central Asia or in Dahab, Egypt on the beach. I watched a snippet of Friends, that runs on all TVs in Vang Vieng, a snippet of a soccer match of Manchester United and went to bed. During the night it rained twice, strongly, but when I woke up in the morning the rain was over.