Hidden Asia – The Plain of Jars in Laos

This is a guest post by Sebastian King from the Where and Now website. If you want to guest post on Backpacking Addictz, please contact Josh admin@backpackingaddictz.com

Seb heads to the Plain of Jars in Laos to find an area rife with landmines and oversized pottery. The minibus rocked from side to side as it drew to a halt outside the jar sites. Ruby red dust danced and swirled around us as we stepped out. We stood at the foot of a large white sign that displayed a skull and crossbones. This did little to sooth our fears. We were quickly ensured by numerous individuals that as long as we kept to the white path we wouldn’t become the latest victims of the Secret War in 1960. That was reassuring. “I don’t like mines”, my Skinny Friend whispered in my ear. I told him to stop his whining. It would all be just a-ok as long as one of us didn’t suddenly decide to run off into the undergrowth, stomping.

Above: Mines Advisory Group Posters Outside The Plain Of Jars

The Loatian caretakers of the Plain of Jars are currently applying for UNESCO World Heritage status for many reasons. Not least the ongoing mystery as to how exactly 2,000 13 ton granite jars managed to materialise themselves in the middle of the Lao highlands over 1,000 years ago. I focussed on this riddle as I kept to the centre of the white path like Dorothy following the yellow-brick road. Our tour guide, Kham, led us towards Jar Site 1.

Above: Site 1 Has The Largest Array Of Jars That Overlook A field Of Smaller Specimens

On site 1 the jars were more oval and rounded, however the sizes varied greatly from three to ten feet in height. Whilst leaning against a particular colossal boulder that eclipsed us all Kham spoke about the local theories for the never ending conundrum. We listened intently. It was an imaginative tale and it went a bit like this: The Kings of Lao wanted to throw a party that no one would ever forget so he employed giants five times the size of a normal man to quarry the rock from the surrounding mountains and bring them to the site on which we now stood. These insanely strong and tall men then managed to sculpture the boulders, as per the Kings’s instructions, into containers for Lao Lao rice whiskey. The party was a hit with the locals so the Kings decided to keep the jars topped up with liquor for a later date until the Mons invaded, defeated the Kings and drank all the Lao Lao. Kham pointed incessantly at one particular jar that had its lid preserved. There was a rounded bump the size of a man’s head on the very top. According to local legend, the lids were designed specifically for the hands of giants.

Above: The Majority Of The Lids Made For The Jars Lay On The Floor

It was a short hike across the luscious Laos countryside to site 2. This was the uppermost position that surveyed a sea of enormous stone containers.

Above: View From Jar Site 2

Struggling for breath and sweating profusely, my Skinny Friend and I strained to listen to Kham’s next instalment of wisdom. This time his explanation seemed slightly more plausible. The jars were the burial sites of an ancient village. The diverse range of sizes and designs symbolised the differing social statuses of the deceased. For instance, from our elevated position in site 2 we were able to make out three distinct jars that were set apart from the 247 other, smaller, members.

Above: The Jars Were Originally Designed To Have Lids. But Lids For What?

Kham told us that these regal urns only overlooked the people in order to protect them in the afterlife. I wondered why the Kings were stuck on the middle-ground and hadn’t insisted on claiming the summit for their own. Who or what could possibly be positioned above the Kings? Then again, I suppose we weren’t exactly talking greedy Tudors and opulent Victorians here. At last one of us managed to buck up the courage to ask the question that had been constantly bugging us. My Skinny Friend pointed towards lowly site 1, “But if the Kings are down there.” He took a deep breath and motioned towards on the nearby jars, “Then who’s up here?” In terms of listening, I was too busy trying to see if I could crawl inside one of the urns. It was a challenge. Then I realised someone probably died in there and so I sharply jumped back out again, alert and poised to learn.

Above: The Jars Are Deeper Than I First Expected.

Ignoring my childish behaviour, Kham pointed his palms to the sky and replied, “The Guardians”. “Ah. So the Guardians look after the Kings?” Kham shook his head, “No. Guardians see everything.” As for a theory as to how the urns were transported from their source in the distant mountains Kham had no answer. We headed off to explore site 3, devising our own wacky stories about the possible origin of the jars in our heads. We walked across a gushing river, across an endless sea of paddy fields until, eventually, we arrived at site 3. By all accounts this was a bit of a trek but the scenery was picturesque with verdant mountains nestled on the horizon.

Above: It’s A Treacherous Journey Across A Monkey Bridge To Reach Site 3

Site 3 much like Angkor Thom in Cambodia, is gradually being reclaimed by nature. Vines cling onto the granite and sandstone jars and saplings grow freely in the stone fault-lines. Kham took us into the shade and informed us that there are actually over 400 jar sites scattered across the highlands but these are too dangerous to explore because they have not yet been checked for landmines or UXOs (Unexploded Ordinance). It was amazing to think that something as beautiful and charming as the Laos highlands could harbour such incredible hidden perils.

Above: Site 3 Is Gradually Being Taken Back By Nature

We were truly humbled as we made our way back to the minibus, carefully keeping to the white pathway. On the journey home Kham took us to see the remains of an old Russian tank that was rotting at the side of the road. Only the chassis of the machine remained and the rest had been stolen and sold for scrap metal. It was spooky knowing that only thirty odd years ago I would be standing in the middle of a bloody battlefield.

Above: Inside The Remains Of An Old Russian Tank

There was even time left to visit an enormous sitting Buddha dressed in a shimmering orange sash. According to Kham, the surrounding crumbling walls and pillars used to make for a majestic Buddhist temple before 1960. Today, despite the lack of a roof and the Buddha’s missing arm, the shrine retains its old charm. It’s still breathtaking and it’s still used for services.

Above: The remnants Of A Beautiful Buddhist Temple After Heavy Bombing

We bundled back onto the minibus and reflected on an experience that between us cost no more than $15 (US).

Seb’s Top Tip: Always employ a guide to oversee your visit to the Plain of Jars. The guide will have the lowdown on all the local myths and legends that surround this mysterious location, not least where not to step and why.

About the Author: Seb King is a part of the team at “Where and Now” an exciting travel website which captures a range of different aspects of traveling.  Visit the Where and Now website to check out more of Seb’s great travel adventures: Where and Now. Also check Seb out on Twitter @where_and_now.

Guest Post: If you want to guest post on Backpacking Addictz, please contact Josh admin@backpackingaddictz.com


Josh Boorman

Editor-in-chief

Backpacking Addictz

admin@backpackingaddictz.com

Facebook.com/backpackaddictz

Twitter: @backpackaddictz

Backpacking Addictz is a website set up by backpackers for the use of backpackers. On this site you will find a lot of very valuable information surrounding different destinations around the world and tips and advice on budget travel and backpacking. You will also find an enthusiastic and insightful backpacking blog which is regularly updated with new posts and article.

Backpacking Addictz – Backpacking Guides are a fantastic, cheap and easy way to get hold of a vast amount of backpacking information prior to setting off on your backpacking adventure.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
 
Joshua Boorman

Joshua Boorman

Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
Joshua Boorman
About The Author

Joshua Boorman

Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.

3 Comments

  • Mike

    May 5, 2010

    Wow, that is an amazing story. The mines warning would probably scare most people off. Did you have full confidence in your guide(s)? We’ll be in Laos this Fall and I am looking forward to seeing some of these things you have.

  • Josh

    Josh

    May 5, 2010

    Thanks for your comment Mike. Seb King from Where and Now actually visited the Plain of Jars and I thought It sounded like an amazing experience.

    My travels to Laos were also incredible please feel free to drop me a line if your keen on knowing anything else about Laos….off to Vietnam next!

    Cheers
    Josh

  • Michael Anthony

    May 13, 2010

    Hey Josh ! Tell Seb King , great Read !! Found it very interesting ! Love Culture , really like anicent culture !
    Hope to visit ASIA someday ! U guys have given me some great tips , ideas , and a great adventure to follow ! Thanks Dude !

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field