With his feet tucked firmly in the ground we watch as he deftly pours molten metal into a wooden mould. After a few moments he knocks the excess from the top, unwraps the mould and removes a perfect spoon. He is quick and in a matter of minutes the pile of spoons has grown considerably. This, to me, is the ultimate definition of “life giving you lemons and making lemonade”. Why? Because this “metal” is sourced from UXOs, unexploded bombs, or ordnance.
Where are we? We are in a backyard in Ban Napia, better known as the Spoon Village about an hour’s drive from Phonsavanh, Laos. In the most heavily bombed region of Laos, the most bombed country in the world. We have come to see the famous Plain of Jars and this is a detour our guide thought we would enjoy.
Our guide, Mr Vang, next takes us to site 3 of the Plain of Jars. “All the tours start at site 1” he tells us. And he is right, we are the only ones here. Again we are reminded of the legacy of war as we are told we must walk between the markers because of UXOs (Unexploded Ordnance) in the fields. The fields have cattle roaming in them and I really don’t want to ask what happens if 400kg of cow stands on a UXO. Instead I concentrate on the scenery and wonderful sight of the“jars” before me.
The Plain of Jars (dating from the Iron Age 500BC – AD 500) is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia. There are several theories about the jars use, the most likely being that they were used for burial. The most outlandish being that they were used to store an ancient form of alcohol! Mr Vang likes the last one and we all have a chuckle about the drinking habits of his ancestors.
Back in the car we head onto site 2. Not in a farmers field this time but on a beautiful hill top with views over the countryside. We again are told to walk within the markers. This time there are a couple of other tourists, but not enough to ruin our photos.
Site 1 is closer to town and is by far the most popular. It has a museum attached and we learn some of the history of the area and theories about the jars. Rather like Machu Picchu it is modern man’s best theory stuff, but the scientific evidence does support the burial chamber theories. The information about the level of bombing inflicted on this area during the Vietnam war defies belief. I notice that a couple of Americans reading the boards beside me go very quiet. It is sobering stuff.
Tips for Visiting Plain of Jars
Phonsavanh is a seven, yes 7, hour bus trip from Luang Prabang. Unless you get a bigger bus and encounter roadworks like we did and it take NINE hours, yup 9 hours. The roads are hideous, but saying that the scenery is fantastic. Minibuses are a much better option, they do take 7 hours because I saw them passing us! Don’t think about hiring a car as the road are seriously rubbish in Laos. If your budget stretches to a driver or flying I would do that as the Jars are well worth seeing.
Despite all my talk about UXOs we were never worried about our safety. But we did as we were told and did not venture off piste. Do take a tour for the knowledge of the guide. We only had three people on our tour, us and a German lad (some Americans we met thought he was our son, yup we felt old!).
Phonsavanh is a big town. I had expected a one horse place, but we were surprised by the size of it. There is a very glamorous museum being built there which is expected to open in November 2018.