Xieng Khouang Destination Guide
Phonsavan and the scenic Plain of Jars are fast becoming a popular tourist destination among travellers to Laos and are a must see for any Xieng Khouang travel plan. The scenery in the Plain of Jars area is stunning with rolling hills, green grass and sparse forests of pine trees. The Plain of Jars area also one of the most heavily bombed areas in Laos, and even today the region is littered with unexploded ordinance (UXO) and the evidence is everywhere. Arange one of our Plain of Jars or Phonsavan tours to get the best experience from the area.
Xieng Khouang's biggest attraction is the mysterious Plain of Jars.
Use this Phonsavan and Plain of Jars Destination Guide to determine what there is to see and do while you are in this beautiful part of Laos. Our Plain of Jars and Phonsavan tours page lists some competitively priced tours on things to do throughout the province on your Xieng Khouang travel. You may also want to speak to your local connection , such as your Phonsavan guesthouse, as they can give you detailed local information. More general information about things to do around the country can be found in our Laos Country Guide.
Things to See & Do in Phonavan and the Plain of Jars
Even as the civilization that made the Plain of Jars flourished, local society was transforming due to the increasing use of metals, advances in agricultural production and the increase in long-distance trade between China and India. All this set the ball rolling for urbanisation in Xieng Khouang.
Mortuary practices, such as burial and cremation, which were associated with the jars, throw light on the evolved local traditions, rituals, metaphysics and symbolism. These traditions persisted during the Angkor period and continued even after the arrival of Buddhist and Hindu philosophies in Southeast Asia.
When Muong Khoun, which was originally the capital city of the Phuan Kingdom, was almost completely destroyed by US bombs, the capital was shifted to Phonsavan. Out of the several Buddhist temples in Muong Khoun, which were constructed between the 16th and the 19th centuries, mostly only ruins remain. However, Vat Pia Vat survived the bombings and can be still be visited.
The spectacular and mysterious landscape of Xieng Khouang has groups of stone jars, varying in height and diameter from one to more than three meters, known as the Plain of Jars. There are records of over 50 such sites within the province ranging from a single jar to large groups containing as many as 400 jars! Local legend has it that the jars were originally built for an ancient king, but archaeological evidence suggests that the jars were funerary urns, carved around 2,500 years ago by Iron Age people. Three major jar sites have been cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and are easily accessible from Xieng Khouang. It is best, however, to stay on the main paths.
Thong Hai Hin, also known as Site 1, is located 15 kilometres southwest of Phonsavan. It has the largest collection of jars (over 330) and also the biggest single jar. According to local lore, it is believed to be the victory cup of Lao King Khun Jeuang, who supposedly liberated the locals from a tyrant.
The Plain of Jars Site 2 is known locally as Hai Hin Phu Salato (or table hill). It is located 25 kilometres south of Phonsavanh. Its name comes from the fact that In the 1930s the French frequented the hill for picnics. About 100 jars can be seen over the two adjacent hillsides here. A short climb to the top offers stunning views which are well worth the effort.
Arguably the most attractive jar site is Hai Hin Lat Khai or Site 3. Located another 10 kilometres to the south of Site 2 (approximately 35 kilometres from Phonsavan), this site has a group of about 150 jars located on top of a small hill from where one can enjoy great views of the neighbouring plains and the valley below, which is home to the prosperous farming community of Ban Xieng Dee. Located at the very entrance of the jar site, the farming community's village also has a small Buddhist temple that tourists are welcome to visit.
The lively town of Phonsavan is the capital of Xieng Khuang province and is famous for being the site of the mysterious Plain Of Jars, and also the most bombed area of Laos. The town itself is a interesting place to visit and is experiencing a bit of a tourist boom. As a result the infrastructure is being improved and a number of new Phonsavan hotels, restaurants, and tour services have been built.
An Indo-China war relic, Tham Piu Cave is the place where one rocket, fired in 1969, is said to have killed many hundreds of locals who were hiding there. Historical significance apart, Tham Piu Cave is worth a visit to catch a glimpse of the traditional villages and beautiful scenery all around. Close to the cave is yet another Plain of Jars area, which can be accessed from Ban Ngam Hom village. It takes a 45-minute hike inside a beautiful forest to reach the site of the jars.
At one time the capital of the Phuan Kingdom, Muang Khoun, is located 30 kilometres southeast of Phonsavan. Despite the heavy bombings it suffered, some French colonial buildings still stand in the centre of town along with Wat Si Phum and its massive sitting Buddha. Located on the fringes of town, the stupas overshadow Muang Khoun; the surroundings are more than worth a hike. Just a couple of kilometres beyond Muang Khoun, near Ban Phai Village, is another jar site. Located next to a mud road, the granite jars here are quite different from those that can be seen at the main Plain of Jars sites.
That Foun was constructed in 1576, around the time that That Luang was built in Vientiane. Located in downtown Muang Khoun, the stupa’s purpose was to cover Lord Buddha’s ashes, which came from India, at the time Buddhism was flourishing in Laos.
That Chomphet was built to evoke the Buddhist values of clarity and truth. The core belief of Buddhism is that happiness, prosperity and progress can only be achieved by doing good and maintaining respect and morality. Built in the same period as That Foun and located nearby, That Chomphet was nearly obliterated during the war in 1966.
Constructed in 1564, the ‘sim’ or holy building was constructed many years later, in 1582. However, in 1966, Vat Phiawat was completely destroyed by gunfire. Now, only some pillars and the Buddha remain.
The city of unique provincial architecture and antique Buddhist temples, Muang Sui was also the Neutralist faction’s headquarters in the 1960s and ‘Lima site 108’ (a landing spot for US aircraft). Now known as Muang Phu Kut, the district witnessed heavy fighting at the time of the Secret War, evidence of which is obvious in the cratered landscape and numerous war relics, such as tanks, bomb shells and military posts. Just like Xieng Khouang, Muang Sui too is being reconstructed and is now part of a new district known as Muang Phu Kut. However, on government maps, the town might be referred to as Ban Nong Tang.
The surroundings of this town are also worth a visit; they boast ruins of many old temples, including Wat Ban Phong that once housed a spectacular 14th century bronze Buddha known as Pha Ong. Wat Ban Phong still has some resident monks. At the district’s eastern end is Nong Tang, a beautiful natural lake, which is surrounded by tall limestone cliffs. The locals love to come to this spot for picnics. Near the lake, you can also visit That Banmang, a 15th century semi-ruined stupa.
Tourists, as part of their Xieng Khouang travel, could also visit the two hot mineral springs near Meuang Kham, on the way to Houaphanh. The larger of the two, Baw Nyai, is located 18 kilometers from Meuang Kham and 52 kilometers from Phonsavan. Developed as a resort, it has bathing facilities and bungalows. The source of the spring is in a heavily wooded area where plenty of bamboo pipes have been erected to allow visitors to bathe.
Located only a couple of hundred meters from Route 7 and just a few kilometres before Baw Nyai, Baw Noi, or the little spring, is on the road that leads to Meuang Kham. Locals sell handicrafts and woven products at the entrance of the stream. This is also the site of a few eroded stone jars from the Plain of Jars.