Oct 16

Huge Jars scatter this plateau in LaosMaybe you noticed already, that I’m a fan of Laos. This has a number of reasons, one being, that Laos is today, what Thailand was 20 years ago. It’s a laid-back secluded country, with lot’s of mysteries, unique activities and quirky originalities.

Can you imagine a place on earth, where huge stone jars are scattered on a giant plain; like the Gods just stood up from their meal and left all their pots and containers lie around? This is how it looks in a secret place in Laos –

welcome to the ‘Plain of Jars’:

The Plain of Jars is an historic cultural site in Laos, containing thousands of enormous stone or clay jars, which lie scattered throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Laotian Highlands at the northern end of the Annamese Cordillera, the principal mountain range of Indochina.

Lao stories and legends claim that there was a race of giants who once inhabited the area. Local legend tells of an ancient king called Khun Cheung, who fought a long, victorious battle against his enemy. He supposedly created the jars to brew and store huge amounts of lao lao rice wine to celebrate his victory.

Laos, the Plain of JarsAlthough there is no scientific explanation as to how these jars found their way onto the plain, nor what purpose they served, Archaeologists have come up with the wildest theories, among them a claim declaring them brewery cauldrons.

Other say, the jars are enormous urns, around 2,000 years old. There is speculation again, that the plain was at the connection point of old Caravan Routes coming from India and the jars were simply unloaded here, but forgotten in time.

Anyway, still today, Archaeologists and Historians are still baffled regarding their origin. Local Girls climbing a Jar in LaosNo one knows for sure their precise age, who built them, or why and why they are all left at this plateau and nowhere else. They are swathed in mystery. Surrounded by mountains, the plateau is surely a magnificent place to spend eternity.

The containers are gathered in several clusters, some upright, others fallen over. They reveal scant details of their origins. Most jars are huge, up to nine feet tall, the largest weighing 14 tons. Some are carved of sandstone, others of granite, conglomerate, or calcified coral.

While some are round, others are angular, and a few have disks that appear to be lids. Tools and human remains found inside and around the jars suggest their use and manufacture spanned centuries. The bulk of material dates from 500 B.C. to A.D. 800, and additional carbon dates are currently obtained by Archaeologists.

Laos, the Plain of Jars plateauThe Jars lie in about 400 sites, of which only 3 sites are currently accessible by tourists; as there is lots of unexploded ordnance in the area; the results of massive US bombardment during the Secret Lao War in the 1960s.

Site 1 has already more than 250 jars alone, so you can imagine, how many thousands it might be all in all.

Archaeologists are certain, that the Plain of Jars is one of Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites today – just still one with more questions than answers. The Laotian caretakers of the Plain of Jars are currently applying for status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

What you can do, before these sites are discovered by Mass Tourism -> visit them now!

I would say, that within 5-10 years, the ‘Plain of Jars’ will be more famous than Angkor Wat or any temple in Thailand, unfortunately with all the effects of Mass Tourism as well. Why not see them now, to capture the unique atmosphere and the flair of the place, before the arrival of Coca Cola and 5-Star Accomodation?

Just travel to Vientiane or Luang Prabang and check out your options! Currently it usually involves a few hours mini-bus ride through the countryside. Or you can fly into Phonsovan, the small town nearest to the Plain Of Jars. A good idea is to hire a local guide, who can tell you some old War Stories and Fairy Tales about the Jars. There are even a few now, who can speak some English.

Be warned though – some people say, they weren’t so much impressed or inspired than others. I tend to agree more with Chris Mitchell of Travelhappy.info; if you don’t expect a ‘Patpong‘ and read about the site beforehand – it is certainly impressive. As he put it:

“The Plain of Jars, like Stonehenge and any other ancient historical site, benefits from reading up a little about it first – the blurb in the guidebook is good enough – so as to get a sense of what you’re about to see. There isn’t much to see per se at the Plain of Jars, unless you’re prepared to let it trigger your imagination as to what these strange relics might mean.”

Another reward of course, will be a warm afternoon in the shadow of one of the Giant Jars, sipping a ‘Beer Lao’ and watching the time passing as you wonder about the Mysteries of our Planet and a deep satisfaction inside you, which connects most of the Explorers of our World.


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written by Chris

15 Responses to “The Ancient Mystery of the ‘Plain Of Jars’”

  1. Chris MitchellNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Great article – thanks for the linkback as well! I really like the photo of the Laotians standing on one of the jars. I still think my day there as one of the best of my travels.

    I am in Bali right now actually, up in Pemeturan, doing some diving. Maybe I’ll be following you here from Thailand one day…


  2. MikeNo Gravatar CHINA Says:

    I thought they were pretty impressive, but the bus ride to Phonsavan (?) was pretty harsh. I didn’t know about the secret war and to be honest I found the bomb craters and other war related stuff more interesting. It is sad that few people know about what happened there. There was an American guy in our tour group and he was pretty quiet throughout the tour.

  3. Wednesday Rojak #8 | SEAArch - The Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog SINGAPORE Says:

    […] Chris visits a lesser-known archaeological mystery in Laos, the Plain of Jars. […]

  4. mercuryNo Gravatar MALAYSIA Says:

    As I see the pictures above, looks like LAOS – the place very dry. Plain of Jars should be one of the historical place right

  5. BunkNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Just wanted to give you admiration for choosing the nomad life over the ITC firm life. Kudos !

  6. Self Improvement BlogNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Looks like you’ve had some pretty amazing adventures. I really need to get around the world sooner rather than later. It’s really a great idea to blog about it, makes it so easy to share with your friends and family.


  7. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Pretty interesting…
    Must another wonder in this world…

  8. mlmNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Laos looks like it would be an interesting place to go for vacation. It is considered a safe place to take kids and for US visitors?

  9. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    It surely is an interesting place for holidays – even with family. But don’t expect too much, as you can find only a handful of 3-4 star accommodation. Mainly it’s still all very basic, hotels as well as traveling and you’ll need lots of time. Still it’s nice to do and usually an unforgettable experience! ;-)

  10. digitalnomadNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Just stopped by to help you pay some bills, if you know what I mean.

  11. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Hija Digitalnomad, thank you for the support; although it’s really only necessary, if you see something that interests you. No force to click the Ads – but 1001 Thanks anyway! ;-)

  12. BenchakhanhNo Gravatar CANADA Says:

    I wish all the bad tourist would f off from my homeland, why let me tell u. First its going to turn like Thailand where it has become a haven for pedophiles and old men who can’t get pussy in there own country. Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind parents taking their kids on vacation or people who travel to get culture but for the travel sex industry they can f off. My country has lots to offer besides the plain of jars but I couldn’t imagine what we had if the loser Americans wouldn’t have destroyed it with land mines. Tell me what they’re doing to eliminate this problem. If u luv history especially the Vietnam war you’d know that Laos had land mines dropped on it. It would take a century 100 years to clear it maybe. ! ton every 10min for 7 years during the war. Cambodia too. If I see Americans, pedophiles, old men with young girls and anything that shouldn’t be in my country who knows what I’ll do only me and my conscience.

  13. nancyhangNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    ;;) =D> :) i want to know more about the jars history.. there has to be some one out there who know about the jars… not much information but i still like the article…

    ;;) ;-) =D> :) :D

  14. Nancy XiongNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Hi there!
    I see that your really intrested in the plain of jars. Well, I’m Hmong like the girls in your 3rd picture you have posted up, thats how us Hmong people dress like. Well, I don’t really know if the story that I’m going to tell you is true.., but I just want to share it you anyways. But for who ever’s reading and gets affended by my story I’m sorry to have piss you off but thats what my mother has told me. And, I’m trying my best to look for information about the history of the ..PLJ’s. :) But okay here i go…,
    My mom told me that a long time ago there was this snake man and a beautiful girl. The snake heard that she was the beautifulist woman in the world. So they fell in love. But, others have heard about her, jealous and wanted to marry her too. But the girl loved the snake man (oh yeah by the way he’s importal, and he can change into a human and snake). So, in love and wanting to run away and start a family, they ran to stayed that the place where the plain of jars were, (well at that time there wasn’t any jars just alot of mountains) so the couple stopped there, but there were just mountains so they turn the mountains into flat land and made those jars so they could put food and water in them. (i don’t know why they made so many…. but yeah) they lived there for a while and had a baby. Since theres 3 sites theres one site that has a cave and many say that they lived in the cave. and one day their enemies came and try to hunt them down but they ran and went into this emortal cave and went to the emortal world. and… thats it!
    soo.., thats what my mom told me and thats what many others say.. so…. I’M NOT SURE SO DON’T GET MAD! i just wanted to share that w/ you :) and thanks for posting your article up :) Bye. :)

  15. JenNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I thought the article was really interesting. After reading it, I feel very small, very contemplative. I am reminded of how big, and how old the world is. So much has come before me, and in the short time I have, I have seen so little.
    To the person who posted the story passed on from her mother – I don’t think this is something that could make anyone mad. We are lucky for the opportunity to hear such an interesting story from your families culture. I just mentioned how the world is so big, and I have seen so little, but in this one moment, I was able to learn, first-hand, one of the legends of the Hmong people – not from some dry, boring reference book – but from someone who is directly connected to the story. In that way, we are closer, and the world is a little smaller. Amazing. Thanks for sharing.

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