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Plain of Jars

May 22, 2021

… derives its name from the hundreds of huge gray stone “jars” that dot the landscape. Before we take a trip to explore the rock formation wonderland, Plain of Jars it must be mentioned that Laos is the most bombed country, per capita, in the world; while the entire world watched the U.S.-Vietnam war, few knew that a “secret war” was also being waged in Laos—with even more devastating results. Laos suffered the heaviest bombings of any country in history, an estimated 30 percent of all the munitions dropped remain unexploded and still deadly. NGOs in the area estimate that over 50 000 Laotians were injured or killed by unexploded bombs since 1964. Archeological dig in the area is therefore extremely dangerous. 

As a matter of importance, do you know how to pronounce Laos? Hold your breath, the final ‘s’ is not silent. Think of a buttoned blouse. Laotians are quite tolerant of us foreigners. They prefer that we pronounce the final ‘s’ but they don’t take offence when we say Lao, which rhymes with cow. The official language of Laos is known as Lao, a person can be called a Lao or a Laotian from Laos. Speaking in Lao the official name of the country is Muang Lao or Pathet Lao; both literally translate to “Lao Country.” The French added the ‘s’ to make the name plural.

Travel opens our eyes so we can read the stories of the world, hence my breakaway from reality to take a trip through cyber travel, besides it is a safer passport to travel with in our day and age. Some countries have reopened others are waiting their turn. I mention this for prosperity.

Laos was founded 19 July 1949. On a cyber travel ticket one needs to roll out the map to see how the lines are drawn. Laos is a landlocked country, sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, and borders Myanmar and China to its north. Before the French arrived Laos was divided into 3 kingdoms. It is too much for this page but to know Laos one must research her history. Historians and travelers wrote and diarised tales of exile, secret wars, warring kingdoms and now-toppled colonies. It has suffered through six centuries of more or less unbroken warfare.

The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos, interspersed throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Lao Highlands. A 2,500-year-old mystery that has never been solved. Exactly who created them, and why their culture disappeared, is not known. The tremendous fighting over and bombing of the Plain of Jars over a 14-year period decimated the population and destroyed its civilizational structures. The United States targeted North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces which were based in the area, blanketing northern Laos with a barrage of ordnance greater than all the bombs the US dropped in WW2.

Dating back to the Iron Age, peppered over hundreds of square kilometres in the mountains surrounding Phonsavan, some reach enormous dimensions – up to 3m tall and 1m wide – and weigh well more than a few metric tonnes. Local legend has it that after a war victory a group of giants had a celebration and drank wine out of these jars. The giants also used the jars to brew and store lau hai, loosely translated to mean ‘rice wine’ or ‘rice beer’. In fact many Lao elders will tell you that their lands were once ruled by giants. Generations of Lao grandchildren have heard the tale. 

Another common theory which makes plain economic sense to me; the giant jars were used to collect monsoon rainwater for travellers to drink from. The stagnant rainwater could be easily collected and boiled, making them very handy water fountains for thirsty caravan merchants.

To date the function of the jars is still debated. Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating has provided the first ever dates for the original placement of the jars… [to] 1240 BC to 660 BC.

On 6 July 2019, the Plain of Jars was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are tours to the sites, as well as motorbike rentals for those going by themselves.Visitors are restricted to three sites, they can be found by following signposts, or by GPS, and have a small entrance fee each.

Who knows maybe I will meet you on my motorbike at a giant urn, someday, in what was part of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia – An interesting ancient and sad recent history.

7 Comments
  1. The collection of rainwater for use makes logical sense to the giant jars. But I believe there still lies a bigger phenomenon for them, and the reason for the war. Maybe the rumours of hidden portals stands true.

    • I didn’t come across the suggestion of hidden portals. That is an interesting opinion, I must spend some more time, afterall these centuries nobody can really tell. It remains a mystery of almost 3000 years old. Somebody must know. Thank you for the tip.

      • So many mysteries flying around and in this information age, it’s difficult to filter some information. If you learn more on the same please share.

      • Yes, I have in my notes that an archaeologist is working on it. I will keep tabs on her.

      • Awesome

  2. Dear Abigail,

    Thank you for taking us on a scenic tour of Laos’ rock formation wonderland known as the Plain of Jars, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 6 July 2019.

    Yours sincerely,
    SoundEagle

    • How gently the eagle lands, I am most taken up by your appreciation SoundEagle. Such a discovery turned out to be a wonderful exploration of reading for me as well.
      Happy Tuesday to you.

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