Phonsavan is a dusty town in east-central Laos. It is the center of the aftermath of the American-Vietnam War in Laos. It is also home to an ancient treasure called The Field of Jars. The Field of Jars in now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fields are many and spread out. Each field has a collection of ancient jars from societies over a thousand years old. It is believed that the jars, usually four feet tall and three feet across, were where dead bodies would decompose before burial for spiritual reasons. Once bone and teeth were the only things left, the family or priest collected the remains and buried them in a pit that was normally used by a single family. This is the latest theory, although we can never know for sure.
Our first and only full day in Phonsavan took us to the first three field sites. I think there are well over fifty sites in total, but most sites are isolated by hundreds of meters of land that might have land mines and UXO's (“unexploded ordinances”).
Of the sites we saw, Site 1 was the biggest and most interesting, Site 2 was the most relaxing since it offered shade, and Site 3 was the prettiest. Site 1 was currently undergoing a new archeological project that was apparently going to last several years. While we were there, we were able to talk to the archeologists who we happy to explain their work, theories, and tech.
The land we explored in Phonsavan was strangly barren, possibly the aftermath of deforestation during the war, or the aftermath of the slash-and-burn agriculture so common in Laos. Either way, the haze was concerning.
The aftermath of the war left this region of Laos ravaged. As we rode our motor bikes, we could see caters in the hills and fields that marked were little “bombies” landed from the air raids. Although the bombies were about baseball sized, they were dropped in the thousands and each took a 10m radius hole out of the Earth. Exhibits told us that on average, a plane dropped a bomb load in Laos every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 7 years. The communist resistance made strong holds around the jar sites so each site has a crater every 100 yards or so. Some of the jars were damaged as a result of the bombs.
Since the war, a large percentage of land is considered unsafe to trek since unexploded ordinances and land mines still scatter the landscape. No one in Phonsavan should walk off trail unless the ground has been cleared. Many groups are working to clear the land, but the work is slow moving, dangerous and tedious. Apperently they find and safely detonate about 200 explosives per year. Safe trail is mark with scattered, unobvious blocks (see below…the 'MAG' side is uncleared, while the white side is). This obvious danger does not keep the locals from wandering the hazardous fields however. A local archeologist told us some Lao are commonly found searching with metal detectors, taking home the bombs found, and fishing with them. We couldn't believe it, but it's true.
During the rest of the day, we tried to visit a waterfall that was recently diverted into an aqueduct adjacent to a new road, and we indulged in some awesome Indian food in town.
On to Paske! It's only one, little twenty hour bus ride away.
Grant and Danielle