Jar jar mint

The reason we flew 150 miles in a propeller plane to the wild west (or east) town of Phonsovan was to see the incredible Plain of Jars. Hundreds of carved stone jars ranging from knee-high to over six feet tall, scattered across a bleak landscape. No one knows for sure what they were for, but theories range from burial urns to the discarded whisky cups of giant warriors.

There are actually around 50 separate sites scattered across north east Laos, only 7 of which have been cleared of unexploded ordnance so far.

We approached the site using the marked paths, as signs everywhere shouted at us not to stray. Paths are edged by occasional painted white stones. Considering the potential danger, this would seem excessively low key anywhere else, but given the ubiquity of the bombs it was unusually tourist-friendly.

We were the first visitors of the morning, so had the place to ourselves for about half an hour. It was silent, cold, still. The jars sat there, being mysterious, much like Stonehenge. It was unlike anywhere else we have been. The pictures speak for themselves. As Allan said “this place is mint”.

A deadly legacy

Laos was bombed a lot during what we mistakenly call the Vietnam War. And ‘a lot’ equates to over 2 million tonnes of bombs, a huge quanitity of which was directed at Xieng Khouang province in central Laos. It has affected every possible part of life here for the past 30 odd years.

Not just the obvious initial effect of the bombs. It is estimated that around a quarter of all bombs (specifically the cluster bombs) did not detonate and Laos is left with a horrible legacy of huge numbers of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO). The constant danger of UXO has prevented towns and farms being expanded, infrastructure being built, kids being able to play away from known safe areas, spectacular possible tourist sites being accessible; as well as the constant danger of simply standing on the wrong part of the ground or picking up the tennis ball coloured/sized (see previous post) cluster bombs. Just horrible. And the USA still refuses to release the design of the bombs used.

Fortunately, some amazing work is being done. MAG (www.maginternational.org) are coordinating efforts in the area and with success. Education programmes, local employment and clearances are happening and there was news today that USA have donated some additional money, but even with this effort it is estimated that it will take over 100 years to fully clear this area of Laos.

Happy New Hmong Year

Our second happy new year of the holiday, having missed one in Indonesia. Only another two to go before March.

After another short hop sponsored by Laos Airlines and Imodium (for Chloe), we arrived in the plains of central Laos in a place called Phonsavan. We then discovered that it was the Hmong people’s new year. Now, Allan instantly felt an affinity with the Hmong people as there are three different ethnic groups; White Hmong, Black Hmong and Striped Hmong. And they like to drink Whisky.

New Year for the Hmong people seems to involve 3 days of courting for the singletons. Brightly dressed lassies and motor-cycling lads standing in rows throwing tennis balls for each other to catch whilst chatting each other up. Our 1/2 day tour  of the plain of Jars (see one of the next posts) was briefly interupted whilst our driver tried his luck with one of the local beauties – unfortunately unsuccessfully we believe.

Sporting champions spotted

Whilst walking down the street, we spotted the new ASEAN (Asia/Pacific) Pétanque – French Bowls – champions getting in their luxury transport and the iPhone was available to capture this glorious moment. It was only spoilt by the valid question from Chloe of “Why are France allowed to play in the Asia/Pacific championship?”

Answers  to the usual address please.

Laos en France

Lao Airlines then did short 40 minute hop from Luang Prabang to the capital Vientiane. Seems like quite a busy city, although for our R&R we decided for a bit of a treat ($70 per night, wow) to book a place called Ban Sufa, which is around 30 minutes drive outside the capital.

Our arrival here was nothing short of a shock to all senses. The place itself is in the middle of the countryside, has huge grounds but with only 6 rooms, seperate, detached bugalows that are bigger than our flat in Vauxhall, is run by a French couple who decided to move to Laos a few years ago. Oh, and also, the owner is a gourmet French chef.

Nothing to do here apart from play with their dog (friendly coissant-eater) read (depends on the book), go to the swimming pool (freezing), sit in the sun (warming), look at the sunsets (amazing) and eat French food (mon dieu, magnifique!). Exactly what we needed.

We must leave here after our allotted 5 days otherwise they will find us still here in March about 10 stone heavier in a catatonic state of relaxation. It took all our effort to type this update for our dear readers, and dinner is in but three hours…

Ban Sufa – http://bansufagarden.com/

Goodbye Luang Prabang

After 9 days in the world heritage city of Luang Prabang, we’re just about recovered from our respective illnesses. We did manage on our second last day to climb up the hill (about 400 steps) with the intention of seeing sunset. In the end, this wiped us out and the idea of spending another hour up top of the hill with an ever growing number of people didn’t appeal.

We did drag ourselves to the market. A day bag for Chloe and some magnificently coloured trousers for Allan that surely would be banned by the fashion police anywhere but SE Asia.

Last night two DJs saved our lives

We have had a LOT of time doing nothing this week, other than lying around feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. We would have gone slightly mad if it were not for the marvellous gift from E*** (whose name we are protecting, though A&J seem to inveterate content pirates themselves!) that we tucked into our bag before we left – over a hundred Adam and Joe podcasts on a weeny MP3 player. In the last four days we’ve listened to around 25 episodes.

Yes, we got as far as Dr Sexy, which is truly a work of genius, but would have voted for Sexy Robots (Allan’s love of Kraftwerk came into play here). Laughed ’til we cried at STEPHEN! and were amazed to find out that Ant and Dec’s insistence on always being photographed in the same order is actually a TRUE FACT (Google Image it if you don’t believe us). Thank you, E***, Dr Buckles and Dr Sexy. Now they’ve saved 6 Music we are just keeping our fingers crossed they’re still on air when we get home…

Luang Prabang…UNESCO world heritage city

A world-famous collection of alms by the saffron-robed monks at sunrise. Freshly baked croissants and great local coffee for breakfast. Discover the historic and spectacular temples before lunch. More freshly baked bagette for lunch. Cycle around the flat small town before siesta. Go to the street market and buy cheap and quality textiles. Take a boat ride to see a spectacular sunset on the Mekong. Eating gourmet French food in the evening at McDonalds prices.

Now, that’s what it could have been. Instead think coughing, spluttering, sniffing, needing to be within 100m of a loo. Yes, we both, at different times fortunately, have been ill here. And the best we could manage is one day seeing a famous Wat and the national museum.

Hope everyone in the UK/Europe are coping with the cold and snow. Here’s a picture of something hot to warm you all up. We’ll be off to the capital on Tuesday to pamper ourselves in 4* luxury for a few days instead of taking a slow trip in the other direction up the Mekong. We’re not gloating, no really, we’re not.