We set off to Phonsavan not knowing what we would expect. The weather had been so cold in Luang Prabang we changed our plans at the last minute to see more sites rather than a more active approach further north. We also wanted to see more of rural Laos at the same time and to see the infamous plain of jars. More on them in a moment. After a bus journey of 7 hours and with numerous stops for the poor travel sick laos people we arrived to be greeted by plenty of people looking to fill there rooms. Gems had spotted somewhere in the book that sounded ok, so we got a free minivan to the guest house. The owner a bit tipsy at this point told us he had 3 types of rooms, as follows: cheap room - cold shower, average room - luke warm shower and more expensive - hot shower. We opted for luke warm, but looking back hot may have been better because there seems to be no let up in the weather here either. More cold. This was only going to be a 2 night stop anyway so we opted to have washes rather than a dose of flu.
It was when we started looking around the grounds of the guest house that we realised this was a place like no other we had visited on this trip so far. Mr Kong - owner had the biggest collection of war shrapnell I have ever seen, to include grenades, bomb casings, magazines, cluster bombs, even guns and helmets. One cluster bomb casing was used as a fire to keep his guests warm.
I had read up a little about what happen to Laos during the Vietnam war and beyond, but was shocked about the level of devastation they had to endure while the US indispicably dumped the equavelent to 1 ton of bomb per person every 7 minutes for 9 years and had the cheek to try to keep it secret from the rest of the world. Laos is the most bombed place in the world ever. The US dropped more bombs on Laos than they did in the whole of world war 2 on Germany and Japan.
Over 30 years on and Laos people are still living with this menace everyday and it is causing problems in being able to cultivate food to feed local villages. 30% of all the bombs dropped on Laos did not go off, so you can imagine when reading these figures how long it is going to take before this threat is eradicated altogether. Estimates believe this could be something like 2020.
The bombs used where cluster bombs which there only purpose is to injure and kill as many people as possible. We have heard US aircraft use to just dump their bombs in Laos if the weather was not good enough to complete missions in Vietnam because it was to dangerous to land with a fully armed plane. The picture of one of these mirrors a small ball with some in colours like yellow. The most effected are young children who might think they are a fruit or a ball to play with and unfortunately accidental deaths and serious injuries are widespread as they detonate.
The good part to this is the work being carried out by MAG a Manchester based company that recruits, trains locals, and provides equipment to clear areas where these "bombies" are found. Gems and I were proud to come from UK in this instance. My only question was where are the US when it comes to cleaning up their own mess that they left. Just giving money, which isn't enough in my opinion.
Anyway Gems and I booked onto a day trip which took in a bomb crater site, a waterfall a local village and the plain of jars. It was a good day with the highlight for us being the village that where using the bomb casing as stilts for their houses, pig troughs and flower beds. The children were very funny and we enjoyed seeing how the people were being resourceful in what is a very hard way of life.
The waterfall was also interesting, apart from the walk back up as it was tricky walking over the log crossings and slippy stones as we made our way up. Both Gems and I got a wet foot each for our troubles and were both Knackered when we got to the top.
In the end we could not understand why the plain of jars is the main attraction here. There are 3 sites. The one we saw had over 250 stones jars. No one knows how they got there, but they believe they could be over 2000 years old as some similar have been found in China and have been dated. They were good to see but I suppose it is the myth that is the attraction here and not the actual jars.
We both got back to the guest house after being at the MAG office to find a party in full swing. Mr Kong and Sang had there own version of the plain of jars, which was to drink rice wine until they topped it up with the equivalent in water and they both played music around the fire. We had some good food and between Gems, Tanya (a dutch girl)and me polished off 3 fish. Hmmmmmm!
It was a nice ending to a very mixed emotional 2 days, we where both glad to have experienced it.
Next stop some warm weather hopefully in Vang Vieng!