Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Plain of Jars

Visiting the Plain of Jars in eastern Lao was an amazing experience.

From She Flies With Her Own Wings


The history of the area (heavily bombed by the US in the 1960s and 1970s during the Secret War), combined with Lao's natural beauty and the mysterious megalithic Jars, make the Xieng Khouang province an incredible place to visit.

However, our voyage here was well away from the beaten path. It was hard to believe, but we were only a handful of tourists in the area. Our tour group to the jars was only five people, and we only saw a few other tourists the entire day.

There are over 50 sites in the province where large stone jars from the Iron Age (500 BC) lay in fields. To this day, archaeologists and researchers do not know what the jars were used for, or precisely how they were made. Some think that they were used in burial rites. There are jars all over eastern Lao; however, only a few of the sites are safe to visit.

From She Flies With Her Own Wings


That's because all of eastern Lao is riddled with unexploded ordnance (UXO). During the 1960s and 1970s, the US carried through over 500,000 bombing missions in Lao in an attempt to disrupt the Ho Chih Minh trail. Operation Lam Son 719 was intended to cut off the People's Army of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from its logistical system running through Lao.

From She Flies With Her Own Wings


However, about 30% of the bombs and cluster bombs dropped on Lao did not detonate. Consequently, Lao people living in the area today are faced with constant danger every time they dig in a field or farm new land. The UXO is holding Lao in its place as one of the 20 poorest countries in the world, because people are unable to farm or use the natural resources of the land. Since many people are subsistence farmers, they try to supplement their income by collecting and selling scrap metal collected from bomb craters - a dangerous pursuit. Some NGOs are helping with the removal of UXO, but it is a very slow process. When we were visiting the remains of an old Russian tank, we heard a large explosion as a nearby removal team detonated one of the leftover bombs (on purpose).

From She Flies With Her Own Wings

From She Flies With Her Own Wings


Despite the sobering history of the area and the fact that the Jars sites were riddled with bomb craters, the scenery was vivid and beautiful.

To get to Site 3, we hiked across some rice paddies.
From She Flies With Her Own Wings

From She Flies With Her Own Wings


The view was incredible:
From She Flies With Her Own Wings


From She Flies With Her Own Wings


From She Flies With Her Own Wings


From She Flies With Her Own Wings


From She Flies With Her Own Wings

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