The Plain Of Jars is probably South East Asia's most enigmatic tourist attraction. Situated in the remote north east of Laos are hundreds of huge stone jars scattered across several square miles. Historians are still completely baffled as to where the jars came from, how old they are and what they signify. They are, in short, jars of a deeply spooky nature.
Whatever its ancient history, the Plain Of Jars has had a turbulent recent past. Thanks to its proximity to the North Vietnamese border, this area of Laos became of key significance during the Vietnam War and as such was carpet-bombed by the Americans. Laos holds the dubious record of being the most bombed country in the world, despite never officially being involved in the Vietnam war at all. The legacy of the war is still being felt, with farmers and their families regularly being killed or injured by the unexploded ordnance which still litter the Plain. The Jars have been fully cleared of all UXB, but not straying from the designated paths remains imperative. The MAG (Mine Advisory Group) mission is to remove mines from the countryside. They have removed surface UXO from the Plain of Jars sites, and labeled the sites with red and white MAG stones. When you visit the site you are suppose to stay between the "white lines" (see photo #5 - Stepping over the line). Surface UXO means visable surface mines, so it is possible that landmines, and other below-surface mines still exist beneath the surface.
MAG is an interesting group - it is an British NGO and is one of the world's leading humanitarian organisations providing conflict-affected countries with a real chance for a better future. They clear the remnants of conflict (bombs, bomies, guns, missles, etc) from some of the world's poorest nations. They receive help with their work from many countries (England, France, Germany, etc.), but not from the United States - the country which keeps MAG in business (e.g. the one that dropped all the bombs in the first place - especially in Laos!). The Americans believed that the North Vietnamese were using Laos for their supply lines, so even though the Americans had no proof, and no idea where the supply lines were in Laos - they bombed the hell out of the country (sounds like a familiar story). But I won't digress into political opinions about War and the USA - lets talk about the jars instead!
There are three key sites to see the Jars, three places where they are clustered together en masse, but there are apparently over 400 locations where they are to be found scattered across the plain. Gathered together at the top of this hill, there were around 130 of them scattered about beneath the trees, mercifully undeveloped by any tourist organisation. Undisturbed amongst the vast wheat yellow and sky blue horizon of the countryside, the jars are mysterious, but there was also a sense of serenity too. That probably came from the fact that I and my tour group of 4 people were the only ones there! You have to marvel at their size - they are all at least a couple of metres long, and weigh several tonnes each, some upright, some leaning after being embedded in the ground, some completely toppled over. All of them are virtually black, and their tall, narrow, hefty bodies make them look like crude cannons, pointing in every direction as if fearing attack from all sides. The darkness of the jars' stone also makes them seem distinctly funereal and a little sinister.
No one is even sure where the jars date from. The current accepted theory is that they were created by an iron age megalithic civilisation, about which little is known. This makes the jars one of the most important prehistoric archaeological sites in the world. Even the smallest jars weigh several tonnes and none are made from local stone. So quite how they arrived at the top of this sizable hill is only one of the mysteries historians have grappled with. The biggest mystery of all is quite how the Jars fulfilled for the people who evidently went to a vast amount of effort in creating and placing them. The first site is also a must-see, in that it contains the biggest jar of all, over 2 metres high and almost as wide. This sits at the top of another small hill, dwarfing its surrounding jars, and looking over a small field below which contains scores more jars. Farmland surrounds the rest of the site, with the wheat virtually growing around the nearest jars to the farm's border.Nearby sits another jar with its lid in place, giving it a strangely comical air, like it's wearing a hat (looks like a weird mushroom).
Also at this site is a cave which was used by local people to shelter from the bombing, and many people come to pay their respects to the Buddhist shrine now placed within it to placate the spirits. Throughout the sites, are huge craters made from American bomb raids during the Vietnam War. People in this area are very resilent, and creative. They have survived a war in which they were innocent by-standers, and continue to live with the remants of that battle. Yet they are very creative, and use these bomb fragments in their housing. Unfortunately, many UXO still exist in this area, and every year many people are injuried trying to remove fragments for use in building their houses. Sadder still are the bombies (cluster bombs). When these bombs are dropped they break into little ball-like bombs (about the size of a hand). Children love balls, and bombies look like balls - you get the picture I don't think I need to finish this story. Support MAG - they are doing great work, but have a long way to go www.mag.co.uk