What is the Plain of Jars?
Laos is home to the largest plain of the mystery limestone jars. There are other instances of these jars across Asia, however this is by far the most dense. The age of these jars is unknown; it is believed they originated in approximately 500 BC. Legends have it that they were originally created as funerary urns, as bones have been found within them. Others say they were used to smuggle salt across the Chinese border. The ancient myths believe the jars were drinking cups that the giants left behind. No one really knows what the sole purpose of these jars were. There are three main ‘sites’ to visit the plain of jars, the other jars are scatted in over 160 locations. The 3 designated areas have been UXO-cleared (unexploded ordnance) to allow safe visits for tourists. There is speculation as to how these jars were formed, some say they were chiselled out others believe they were created with a mould. From what I saw of the jars, there looked like incidents of both!
Where is the Plain of Jars?
The Plain of Jars is located just outside of a small town called Phonsavan, located in Xieng Khuang Province.
The entire Xieng Khuang Province was bombed heavily between 1964 – 1973, the area is now severely cratered by the American bombs that fell every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. Phonsavan is an extremely interesting town, with a bit of a spooky feel to it. It was almost as if you could feel the presence from the past, the presence from beyond the grave.
How to get to the Plain of Jars?
Most people travel to the Plain of Jars from either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, we decided to travel there from Vang Vieng to try and avoid backtracking.
From Vientiane a bus costs 160 000 kip and is 11 hours travelling. These buses depart at 6.30am, 8am, 9.30am, 11am, 4pm, 6.40pm, and a VIP sleeper bus at 8pm.
From Luang Prabang a minivan costs 115 000 kip and is 10 hours travelling. These bus departs at 8.30am and takes 10 hours.
From Vang Vieng a minivan costs 120 000 kip and is 8 hours traveling. This bus departs at 9am. There is also a sleeper bus option that departs at 11pm and is 200 000 kip (they have caught onto the fact that travellers will use overnight buses to skip out on a night’s accommodation.)
Once you have arrived in Phonsavan you can either hire a motorbike for 100 000 kip for the day (which is a popular choice) or hire a van with or without a guide for the Plain of Jars. Please note tuk tuks are not allowed to go to the Plain of Jars sites.
Phonsavan also has an airport, it should cost between 10 000 – 20 000 kip to take a tuk tuk to the town centre.
How to get out of the Plain of Jars
We went onwards to Luang Prabang.
Buses to Luang Prabang cost 115 000 kip and take 10 hours. The only bus departs at 8.30am
Buses to Vientiane cost 160 000 kip and take 11 hours. These buses depart at 7am, 8am, 10.30am, 4.30pm, 6.30pm and a VIP sleeper bus at 8pm.
There are also buses from here that cross the border to Vietnam.
How we go to the Plain of Jars
These were our options,
Depart Vang Vieng at 9am, arrive Phonsavan at 5pm – 120 000 Kip per person.
Stay in guesthouse house – 60 000 kip per person.
Hire a motorbike and see Plain of Jars – 100 000 kip per person. (the first sight charges 15 000 kip per person for entry and the second sight charges 10 000 kip per person)
Stay in Guest house – 60 000 kip per person
Depart Phonsavan at 8.30am, arrive Luang Prabang 6.30pm – 115 000 kip per person.
Total for transport and accommodation = 455 000 kip per person ( x 3 of us travelling 1 365 000 Kip in total)
Otherwise we could take the sleeper bus and knock out the first nights of accommodation, but that actually worked out more expensive.
If we travelled this way we would have also used three days of travelling to visit the Plain of Jars, and although Phonsavan has many other places to visit. We were short on time and the Plain of Jars was the only thing on my list.
I asked for a quote on a private car, first price was 1 800 000Kip, eventually I got them down to 1 600 000Kip, which was more than I wanted to pay, but agreed anyway. This worked out 533 000 Kip per person.
Our private car picked the three of us up at 6am, our driver stopped at a few places along the way to show us his favourite views and most tasty street cart snacks. We arrived at Phonsavan at 11am. Our driver didn’t speak much English but he did the best he could the try and communicate with us. He climbed trees to pick berries for us to try and pointed us in directions to find hidden caves we never would have found otherwise. We spent 2-3 hours visiting the sites and the went to our drivers favourite noodle soup shop for lunch. After lunch we jumped back in the car and head for Luang Prabang on the SCARIEST ROAD IN SOUTH EAST ASIA to arrive in Luang Prabang at 8pm.
Now I’ve spent a lot of time on buses in South East Asia. I’ve been squashed on with live stock, I’ve been sold a 9 hour sleeper bus ticket and ended up in a tin of sardines. I’ve watched as the bus seems to get closer to the edge of the mountain at every turn. I’ve had drivers blindly overtake semi-trailers on the wrong side of the road. But nothing compares to the road from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang.
Now you may have noticed the times quoted for bus journeys were double the time our driver took, so you can imagine, he was travelling quite quickly. Now can you imagine that it has been pouring rain for the last 24 hours and the rain has not eased off. On top of that the final 3 hours of the journey was in darkness – just to make sure it’s the scariest drive you’ve ever been on. Add in a heavy layer of fog – you know the type of fog where you put your high beams on and it’s even worse? Oh and I forgot to mention, the road is a constant zig zag, scaling up and down the mountain faces with local Hmong children playing on the road, pigs chasing their piglets, chicken’s chasing their chicks, dogs and cats playing, and road blockages from cows (at one stage the driver skidded to a stop and the cows face was inches from the bonnet). After a few drifts around corners, our driver stopped to let air out of the tyres (don’t worry about maybe slowing down?!) At one stage the road turned to sand and we were weaving in between massive trucks and diggers whilst they continued to work!
But I am still in one piece! And yet again with another story to tell! The three of us agreed that this was definitely the best way we could have done it. And if there had of been a fourth person, it would have worked out nearly the same price as the bus. I thought I would share my experience as when I tried to research this journey there wasn’t a whole lot of information. Maybe you can use this to save three days when you’re travelling Laos!