The Plain of Jars

After a twisting road trip from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan, we come to the mysterious Plain of Jars.

I’ve wanted to come here for years. I first heard the phrase ‘Plain of Jars’ used in this context (I’m paraphrasing here):

‘The United States Air Force bombed the shit out of the Plain of Jars in Laos’

Plain of jars? Like, peanut-butter jars? I soon learn they are enormous stone jars, made by people about whom nothing is known.

When is a door not a door? When it’s a jar.

We hire a guide and a van and enjoy an all-day guided tour.

(If you’re wondering why we have so many clothes on, it’s because the weather is cool here in Phonsavan. For the first time in two months, socks, long pants, and fleeces are called for.)

It’s unclear what the jars are for. Different theories abound.

They come in all sizes.

Costco-size jar

This may look like a lid, but some say it’s a grave marker. Or maybe not. Nobody really knows.

During our tour, we pass through several villages. We stop in one for lunch.

Local houses

We also visit a cave, with some spirit offerings that look suspiciously like inukshuks.

‘♫ We will, we will rock you! ♫’


Sight or Insight of the Day – Plain of Jars

Besides the attraction of the jars, this part of Laos is well known as the scene of much combat during the Vietnam Era. As in Luang Prabang, there are branches of UXO-clearing organisations in the area. We drop in at the MAG visitor’s centre in Phonsavan.

Plain of Jars
Watch your step.

Our guide, Noods, is very knowledgeable about events of the war in the area, as well as being somewhat of a jar-ologist. Apparently his grandfather was a bigwig in the Pathet Lao.

In the 60’s and 70’s Laos, like much of southeast Asia, was a quagmire. Among other things, there was a nasty 3-way civil war going on in the country. Signs of violent conflict are everywhere.

Bomb crater from the Vietnam era - Plain of Jars
Bomb crater from the Vietnam era

Our guide extracts a metal detector from the back of the van, and within a few minutes, we come across:

  • several bullets of different calibres, some unfired
  • fragments of an F-105 that crashed into the side of the hill
  • the pull-pin from a hand grenade
  • the threaded fuse opening of a 250-pound bomb
Plain of Jars
Big-ass bullet

Remains of a tank. It’s stripped bare. I try to imagine how you remove the engine from a tank.

Plain of Jars
Tanks for the memories

Cluster bomb canisters hold up a structure.

Plain of Jars
Raising the roof.

Some of the hardware collected by locals.

From the USA, with Love

Not even the jars are spared.

Plain of Jars
Bullet-scarred jar

Some bullet-struck jars still have the bullet embedded in the centre.