Our Top 5 Activities in Xieng Khouang
The Jar Sites – Mysterious and Beautiful
The Plain of Jars is an archaeological landscape that combines ancient history with the contemporary history of the last Indochina Wars, offering authentic insights into Phuan, Hmong, Khmu and Tai Dam cultures. The local nature is easily accessible yet off the beaten track.
The ritual burial jars were used in secondary burial rituals, and with their minimalistic Iron Age aesthetics are an ever-present part of the landscape in Xiengkhouang and the only remaining witnesses to a vanished civilisation. Unlike Ancient Greece or the First Emperor of China that date from around the same time, we know very little about the civilization that created The Plain of Jars. The biggest Jar can be found at Jar Site 1 (7 km away from Phonsavan) but Jar Site 2 (30 km from Phonsavan) was the favourite of the French colonial mission for a reason. The Jars are scattered around small orchards on little hills. There is a pleasant hiking path (rather an afternoon stroll) to Jar Site 3, which is surrounded by rice fields.
When you had enough of the Jars, you can also visit the close-by village of Ban Napia (30 min. from Jar Site 2). In 1975 a mysterious stranger came from the communist North and taught the villagers a skill he learnt during the American bombardments: how to make spoons from bombs. Visit the village souvenir shop and mini-exhibition to learn how they do it! The money you spend at the souvenir shop will directly benefit the villagers. There is also a 1 day hiking tour to the woods beyond Napia to the Hmong Village of Namkha, that has some interesting renewable energy project going. Tours can be booked online here.
Muang Khoun – The Old Phuan Capital
Muang Khoun is located 35 km south of Phonsavan and until 1975 was the capital city of Xiengkhouang and the Phuan Kingdom. Not much remains after countless wars with Siam, Vietnam and Chinese bandits. After the American War in 1975 the town was so destroyed that Vietnamese engineers built a new capital in Phonsavan. A new history trek (currently being developed) explains the history of the Phuan kingdom and of the few remaining monuments. The destruction by the American bombs is hard to describe in words - this old, former capital once rivalled Luang Prabang in its splendour!!
Get on the War Trail – East of Phonsavan
On Road No 7 east of Phonsavan are many sites bearing witness to the remains of the last war. Visit the Tham Xang Cave in Ban Ta to learn about the life in the caves during war time - many of the local village guides grew up as children hiding from the bombs. In the Hmong village of Ban Tajok people use discarded bombs are building materials for their houses and further afield Tham Piuw Cave National War Memorial commemorates the killing of hundreds of civilians by a bomb attack. A bike tour on the back road to Ban Khai runs through a pock eyed crater landscape.
If you have more time, take this 2 day trip to Ban Phakeo, the original Hmong Mountain village. Not only get the opportunity, through community based tourism, to spend a day and a night in an authentic and traditional Hmong Village, but you will also see how the local people turned once deadly bombs into useful, everyday, materials.
This Top 5 Pick was written by Andreas Hofmann. Advisor for tourism with the German Development Service in Xiengkhouang (2009-2012), who has explored the Plain of Jars extensively. You can visit him at the tourist information office.