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Plain of Jars

July 21, 2012


I’m really glad I don’t use some sort of pun for my post titles. I was tempted to go with “Gimme the Kalaw” a few weeks ago, but I felt it may set a dangerous precedent. Here at Plain of Jars, there’s no telling what sort of awful pun I may have used. It may have even been a Jar Jar Binks reference. Bullet dodged.

The Plain of Jars is both the home to its eponymous jars, 2,000 year-old stone structures whose existence remains a mystery; and various bomb sites from the Vietnam War, whose existence could be considered a mystery politically.

I rented a semi-automatic scooter in Phonsavan, the town where I (and every other tourist) stayed. I could have taken a tour instead, but tours cost more and seemed less interesting. This way, I could see the sights that I wanted to see, which happened to be the three jar fields. I could also skip the tourist traps, like “handicraft demonstrations” that are thinly disguised sales pitches.

Finding the three jar sites was more difficult than I expected. The first one is easy, it’s well marked by road signs and was much more filled with tourists than the other two. I think most of the package tours just go to Jar Site 1 since it’s just a few minutes out of town.

Finding Sites 2 and 3 took some doing. While looking at my horrible map that the bike shop gave me (a copy of a copy of a copy) I overshot the turn by a couple miles. I decided to just press on to Muang Khoun, the former capital of the province. I grabbed lunch there, but didn’t see anything worth checking out while riding around. I guess there was a cool temple that I missed, but getting directions would have been impossible since my Lao is a little rusty and nobody spoke English.

I doubled back and found my turn, on to a gravel/dirt road. Riding on this thing was brutal and bumpy. My skill level still isn’t super high in these sort of situation, plus the bike itself was a shitty Chinese model that occasionally refused to shift into 4th and rattled like a chainsaw in any lower gear. Getting from Muang Khoun to Jar Site 2 took over an hour.

The jars at the second site looked pretty much like the jars at the first, although the surrounding countryside was much prettier. At some point, a tour group came through, lingered five minutes, and left. I wanted them out anyway. I felt like they cheated. They bought their way in, while I earned it, goddamnit.

I moved on to the road toward Jar Site 3, which was even bumpier and more precarious, but at this point I was getting better. I passed a few herds of cows, walking unaccompanied along the road. My horn didn’t work, so I did the obvious thing – I yelled “Moooooooove!” Gotta say – definite bucket list check-off there.

There’s a waterfall between Jar Site 2 and 3, so I followed the path to that. A short ways down that road, there was a small ravine town in the road, maybe three inches across and a foot deep. I used standard NES B-button physics and turboed over the ditch. Easy. Farther along, I came to a rock bridge over a creek that would eat pieces of shit like my tires for breakfast, so I parked and walked. Not long after I started walking, the overcast sky grew more ominous. I decided this was pretty much the worst possible place to get caught in the rain, so I got back on my bike and resumed my quest for Jar Site 3. Turns out the weather held, and the rain never came.

Quest really is the proper term here. I no longer cared about seeing the jars so much, I knew they would look the same as the others. This was about getting there, surviving the trials, and not getting my bike stuck in quicksand or getting gored by a bull on the way.

Once I got to the Jar Site 3 ticket booth and parked my bike, there was still a little ways to go. I had to cross a rickety bridge that was missing several planks to get across a river. Then, I had to cross a rice paddy on narrow little paths. Next up, a hill with three fences to cross over. Oh yeah, and if I veered from then path, I literally could have stepped on a land mine. Not likely, but possible.

Jar Site 3 was easily my favorite of the three. Maybe it was because it had the best view. Maybe it was the fact that free range cows were walking around in it. Most likely though, it’s because my quest was complete. All I had to do after I left was drive for an hour on a nasty dirt road. Cake.

This is Craters Coffee Shop in Phonsavan , where I hung out quite a bit. It’s decorated with various bomb debris, which is everywhere in Phonsavan. This was one of the most bombed areas of Laos during the Vietnam War.

And here is one of the bomb craters that gave the coffee shop its name, at Jar Site 1.

A trench line, also at Jar Site 1. The lead picture is from this plain too, as is the next picture.


This may be the ugliest bird I’ve ever seen.

Sure-fire sign that a region is impoverished – a backhoe draws a crowd. I saw this sort of thing in several other places in Laos after this.

Jar Site 2.

This is the rock causeway that I opted not to ride over. I was miles from anything, so a flat tire would have been bad times.

Rice paddy on the way to Jar Site 3. I was on foot here.

One of the paths through the rice.

Crossing the last fence to get to Jar Site 3.

Finally made it to Jar Site 3! I was joined by some cows shortly thereafter. I still wonder how they got over the fence.


Of course, the requisite bike pic. This was one of the worst bikes of the trip, but it did come with the coolest helmet.

p.s. – I wrote another trip-related post, but I felt like it was more at home at my other blog,


From → Laos

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