We started this morning with breakfast at “Craters”…a local cafe we had dinner at last night, that has bombs and other war stuff as decoration. However, breakfast was expensive (78,000kip) and COLD! Not wanting to make a fuss we ate up our luke warm eggs, cold bacon, and not even and attempt to heat up baked beans, and were on our way. Today was a very special one, Vince took me to see the Plain of Jars.
Along the way we saw the usual animal life of chickens, goats, cows and water buffalo. Mike and Aad had skipped breakfast and gone ahead and when the ANIMAL pulled into the Plain of Jars site 1, we were surprised to see their bikes still there. We paid our 15,000 kip each entry fee and a little golf cart took us out to the bottom of the hill leading up to the Plain of Jars.
Plain of Jars Site 1 covers 25 hectares. It has 334 jars with the biggest (Kings Cup) having a diameter of 2.5m and being 2.57m high. The area had been cleared by MAG (Mines Advisory Group) removing 127 UXO (unexploded ordnances) from the site, including bombs, rockets, artillery shells and mortars. They also removed 31,184 scrap pieces.
Laos was heavily bombed with a mission every 8 minutes, 24hrs per day for 9 years by the Americans. 580,000 bombing missions with 2 million tons, of mainly anti personnel cluster bombs were dropped on Laos. Over 270 million “bombies” were dropped, up to 30% failed to detonate so over 80 million live bombs remain undetonated. Each cluster bomb shell contained hundreds of individual bomblets or “bombies” the size of a tennis ball. There was a cluster bomb on display in the Visitor Centre and I had a hold of one of the “bombies” ….a very somber experience. Vince had told me previously that today many children pick these up and play “catch and throw” with them thinking they are a ball and then it goes off!!!!!!!!!! Tragic!
Site 1 is the most investigated of the 33 sites (only 3 have been cleared by MAG). Archaeological evidence from Neolithic to 19th Century has been uncovered. Inside the jars they found bones and teeth, and around the jars, charcoal and glass beads. Burial pits are also around each jar containing bones, teeth, metal objects, glass beads, stone and pottery. There could be in excess of 2500 burials at this site. The large white stones (quartz) serve as gravestones. It is thought that cremated remains were put into the jars, and a second option was for whole bodies to be put inside and left until just bones remained and these were then removed and buried. Lids were thought to have been of perishable material such as bamboo. The stone discs on site are not lids, but another type of grave marker. Over 2000 years of history leaves questions?
Phukeng Mountain is the sandstone and conglomerate quarry used for the stone jars. The site was a strategic military post during the 1964-1974 War and the hill still has trenches and foxholes as well as bomb craters. The Plain of Jars was thought to be a cross roads for trade. French Archaeologist, Madeleine Colani, investigated the cave in the hill and found evidence of cremation. Some people think it was a kiln to bake the stones instead. However, the evidence suggests the jars were actually carved out of stone, not made and baked.
Only one jar has a decoration….the same decoration as two stone discs in Xiang Khouang and another in Assam (India). The jars of Laos are not the only ones of this kind found…similar sites are recorded in Indonesia and North East India.
We met up with Aad and Mike, who were waiting to resolve a traffic situation, but that’s a whole other story! So all 4 of us set off together for site 2…..yet another hill climb but into a forest this time….very picturesque and tranquil. MAG cleared 17,390 sqm and cleared 26 items, with 11,770 scrap pieces found.
We went back to Phonsavan for lunch…..at a local cafe……with the exception of Vince, none of us thought much of our food…..bland, tasteless and not what we ordered!
Mike and Aad went off to do some food shopping whilst Vince and I went to the UXO Survivor Information Centre….we were going to see the MAG Centre but it was closed until 1.1.2016. Whilst we were there we met Chansemone, who is the Administrator for the Quality of Life Association (QLA). The Not for Profit organisation was established in 2011 and provides support to UXO Victims, their families and UXO affected communities, it operates only in Xieng Khouang province in northern Laos. We watched a video titled “Surviving Cluster Bombs in Laos”. It was very moving, and I have to say a bit distressing for me to watch. Vince and I decided we wanted to offer support in the form of making a purchase of a handcrafted item (they provided training in embroidery and weaving silk) of which 30% goes to the victim or their family. We chose a beautiful woven silk tablecloth. We also decided to make a donation which helps in any of the following ways: Annual education supplies for primary school, Grant for primary school including uniform, backpack and bike, Grant for secondary school, Annual cost to attend university in Vientiane, Costs to study weaving at the Laos Disabled Women’s Development Centre, Costs for medical care, Costs for children’s discussion group (psychosocial support), Livestock (chickens, pigs, goats etc) and Vaccines for Livestock (training is given).
In addition we purchased a copy of the DVD, which I want to share with the Perth Motorbike and Sidecar Meetup Group….in the hope to raise some funds for the association when I get back home. More people need to be made aware of how UXO are affecting innocent people’s lives, especially children (40% of all casualties in the past decade are children).
Back at our hotel we ran into an Irishman called Mick (44yrs), who gave us good “Crack” on the courting procedures in Laos (apparently that is what the traditional dress and ball throwing we have seen is all about) as well as his recent engagement to a girl from Laos (a whirlwind romance of just 2 months), she can’t speak English and is only 20 years old….best of luck to them.
Aad and Mike joined us for dinner at Nisha’s (Indian), where Vince had eaten on his previous trip and could highly recommend it, and then we went to the ATM…. as we had spent most of our money today and need to sort out our accommodation bill in the morning before we move on….