#XiengKhoang #Laos: Plain of Jars… and Bomb Craters

Temple at old Xieng Khoang (Meuang Khoun), Laos

Temple at old Xieng Khoang (Meuang Khoun), Laos

Phonsavan is something like the Laotian wild west, born from the ashes of the Vietnam (American) War, the Indochinese (French) War and (Chinese and Japanese) WWII, long before the wars of WWW (dot.com). This town is brand new, replacing the ‘real’ (old) Xieng Khoang, down the road a bit, forty klicks and forty years away, bombed to Hell and back by Americans with more bombs than brains, sons of guns and possessed of riches, dogs of war and sons of… capitalists…

Stone 'jar' at Plain of Jars, Laos

Stone ‘jar’ at Plain of Jars, Laos

This is the crossroads of north central Laos, in time and space, history and geography, first major stop south of Dien Bien Phu/Meuang Thanh in Vietnam, likely the original homeland of people now called Thai (Tai) and Laos, here to form the first of five chiengs/xiengs/jiangs/kyaings scattered through four Mekong countries, now mostly reduced to minority status and rubble—ruins for tourist tieows in Thailand, construction gravel in China, dust and neglect in Burma, and total destruction here in Laos…

The original city is barely even a ghost of its original self, a stupa or two, a temple or three, and new immigrants without a clue, new Phonsavan now the crossroads of northern Indochine, equidistant between Vientiane and Hanoi, Luang Prabang and Pakxan, with roads leading south from there, a modern country carving itself out of wilderness and will, red clay and cunning, dust and detritus, bombs and bullsh*t…

Battlefield creativity in Phonsavan, Laos

Battlefield creativity in Phonsavan, Laos

But the Plain of Jars (more like ‘field of stone vessels’ in Laotian) is the main attraction for most tourists, body-size urns constructed 2000 years ago for unknown purposes, and sometimes found with bones inside, scattered along the tops of hills and prominent promontories, where streams don’t flow, but many flowers bloom, and arranged like cemeteries, only God knows why…

The town itself even manages a few attractions of its own, though splayed out in grilled chicken fashion for kilometers on end, quarter-sawn by dull blades and roasted to perfection, left to dry under imperfect sunshine and uncertain winds, eaten without the benefit of gourmet sauces or even store-bought ketchup, just fire-hardened hot sauce and sticky rice to tame it, fresh greens for roughage and flavor, and cold beer to wash it down…

Market in Phonsavan, Laos

Market in Phonsavan, Laos

If it’s raw humanity you’re looking for in Laos, then this is a good place to start, no pretenses or pretensions, just a healthy handful of guest houses and hotels, ditto for tourist agencies and eateries, fried rice and pho, maybe even a roasted dog or two for Vietnamese flavor, a karaoke parlor or two for small pleasures if you’re a traveling Chinese biznizman, and a crowded market for when you want to just get human with the homies, and benevolent with your belly…

If Laos is a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which to write, then this is where you can re-sharpen your pencil, refill your stylo, reheat the wax and dip your sharp pointy thing in one more time, like Christian forgiveness or Buddhist transcendence, ready to write with cloudy brush strokes on a clear blue sky, ready to add color to a canvas free of pollution or war-weary baggage; you’re on your own now, footloose and fancy-free, fully clothed and unafraid, highly recommended, next stop is Sam Neua just up the road, so please stay tuned…

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