Phonsavan, plain of jars, Vientiane and Cambodia Visa's oh my!
A mere 8 hour bus journey from Luang Prabang on some of the windiest roads I've encountered so far on my travels, and I arrived at the rather... umm.. Arid town of Phonsavan... Why had I come here?
Well... to see the plain of Jars of course!
At any rate, after the 8 hour bus ride and chilling to various sounds (I was feeling a little mute, so I cranked up some Neutral Milk Hotel and followed it up with some Jean Grae - I really seem to be growing fond of her hip hop while on holiday... mmmm) we
arrived at the Phonsavan bus station, I quickly got friendly with 2 people.. A Lady Charlotte, Social worker from London (who I'm stilling hanging out with) and Pierce, a fun almost-uni-student from the UK as well.
We all ended up heading to the Khong Kheo guesthouse (I Think that was it's name, near the old runway) - and then after securing some rooms we went out to explore the town... of which there wasn't much, eventually having some beers and shooting the breeze - after that we went in search of a Meal, originally we had decided to find the Lao Youth Centre Restaurant, or something along those lines.. which took a while, but we eventually discovered it, though it's now called the New Wave (opposite the Maly hotel) ... sat down, got menus, went to order and was told they only had sticky rice... hmm... so we went across the road to the Maly (best food in town it says on the door, which I think was actually accurate - which also has a nice display of weaponry on the wall, actually everywhere has a nice display of weaponry on the wall in Phonsavan..heh).
At any rate, the following day we were up at 9am to do a day of touring the plain of Jars (sites 1, 2 and 3) - our guide/trip wasn't cheap ($8 US each) - but I think in the end it was
probably worth it because his interest in the sites and the Laos war was wonderful, and I learnt a great deal - the day started off with a visit to the quite large market in Phonsavan (well worth a look all on it's own) - followed by a visit to a derelict russian tank, then site 3, site 2 (with lunch) and site 1 - site 1 being the biggest. In all there are 60 jar sites known to locals, and 50 documented so far by UNESCO.
The jars themselves are a bit of a mystery, but dating puts them at around 2,500 years old - far longer then the Laos people have been occupying Laos - and each one is cut from solid stone, some with lids, and weighing up to 2 tonnes - and dates back to the
early stone age of the original south east asian people in this region. I dont think you could describe it as an exciting place, but it's definitely quite surreal to think of just how old
they are and to see them rising out of the ground like monaliths - a Laos stone henge.
The really interesting thing is that this is also a hot spot of the secret war in Laos (Laos being the most bombed country in the world, aproximately 3 million bombs dropped over a 10 year period AFAIK) - and in site 3 was the situation for a large revolutionary camp, where various Vietkong troops and supplies were smuggled from Vietnam. Bomb craters are everywhere and UxO is a major problem, the MAG (Munitions/Mine Action Group) has
done a lot of work (supported by nzaid no less..) to make safe paths to the various jars - and it's depressing to think of the damage done to this truely unique site during that conflict.
The following day I left Phonsavan, originally I had planned to go to Vang Vieng - but after to talking to some people I didn't really feel like it - for some odd reason I was in the mood for a city - so I skipped and got a bus straight to Vientiane. The bus ride was quite comfy, I took VIP - which has more leg room and you get a free drink of water and biscuits, at the cost of another $1 US. The ride was uneventful, accept for a flat tire and that one of the support crew for the bus driver carried a Kalashnikov with him everywhere he went, at one point the barrel was resting on the back of my seat (Though I didn't know).. which would've been OK till an Israeli guy pointed out that they've got a notoriously ineffective safety.. erk - while changing a tire he just left it lying on the ground outside where I could've just picked it up... Laos does have a bit of a banana republic feel at times - you just have to keep on smiling ;o)
Vientiane is pretty cool - the decaying french colonial architecture is eerily beautiful, combined with the dusty roads and really good french food.. I'm splurging while here on a very nice room, with Aircon and T.V! Which is costing a whopping $12 US a night, sometimes it's nice to remind myself that I'm not a
"scratching to stay alive" backpacker ;o) but a lazy overpaid software developer after all.
The food here is great - and expensive for Laos - but still bloody cheap for home and of equivalent if not better quality - dinner with Charlotte last night was a big ice cream sundae (3 big scoops of Rum & Raisin).. a really nice Carbonara pasta and a couple of big bottles of beer.. for approximately $9 NZ... not too shabby. I discovered that she's met Tom Waits in person, and seen him in concert - I'm rather jealous!
Probably the funiest thing today was heading to Patuxai, a large concrete monument that is very reminiscent of the Arc De Triomphe n Paris.. It was built in the 1960's with United states purchased cement that was supposed to have been used to construct a new
airport.. I wonder what the states thought of that ;o) Also interesting (and Just by the arch) are 2 rather large fountains, which are sychronised to funky Thai and Laos music
that plays in the background - they're pretty cool, and donated by the Chinese government - In fact everything in this country that looks new appears to have been donated by some foreign government, even on the outskirts of town Japan is funding the
construction of a weather radar station. Yet just like China most people don't have clean water. On the down side today I went to apply for my Cambodian visa,
however it's bloody labour day here - and everything was closed... so I'll have to do it tomorrow, hopefully it can be processed quickly as it would be a shame to burn up too many days here, apparently it can take 3 days (ugh!) - though you may be able to convince them to do it on the spot.. so I might need to do some sweet talking or attempt my first bribe (I was silly not to get it done while in Chiang Mai, when I got my Laos Visa... only takes 1 day to do it in Thailand.. meh)
At any rate, I'll probably post some pictures next time I update with what I've been snapping lately and talk about my adventures with the Cambodian embassy.