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Visiting the Plain of Jars in Laos

I love travelling in Asia. I've visited Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. I hope you enjoy my articles.

What makes these jars a mystery is that no one knows exactly who created them or what they were used for.

What makes these jars a mystery is that no one knows exactly who created them or what they were used for.

If you’re looking for a site steeped in history and mystery, you’ll love the Plain of Jars in Laos. Despite its name, the Plain of Jars is actually a collection of over 90 sites spread out over hundreds of square kilometers in the Xiangkhoang Plateau. It is located Southeast of Luang Prabang and more or less North of Vientiane. So you can visit it when you go from one to the other like I did when going back from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

The sites contain clusters of cylindrical stone jars that date back to over 2,000 years ago. What makes these jars a mystery is that no one knows exactly who created the jars or what they were used for. The Laotian tour guides will happily speculate, and you may want to as well as you peer into the stone cylinders scattered around the beautiful landscape.

History of the Plain of Jars Laos

Archaeologists have dated the Plain of Jars to between 500 BC and 500 AD, during the Iron Age. The jars are shaped from stone and look as if they once had lids, although few lids now remain at the sites.

Archaeologists have found burial sites around many of the jars, which appear to be from the same time period as the jars. Therefore, most people believe that the jars were used for burial purposes, either to distill bodies before burying them or to store cremated remains. However, the evidence shows different kinds of burial practices surrounding the jars, making it difficult to determine exactly how they were used.

Local Myths

There are a number of myths surrounding the jars. One of the most popular is that in the sixth century, local Laotian people, led by the great hero Khun Jeuam, achieved a great victory and liberation from oppression.

To celebrate, Khun Jeuam ordered the jars made to brew and store an immense amount of rice wine. You can imagine just how much wine could have been stored in the giant jars if you tour the site.

World War II and the Secret War

Some of the Plain of Jars’ history is more recent. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. launched an attack that has come to be called the Secret War. In an effort to defeat the community Pathet Lao forces, the U.S. Air Force dropped over 250 million cluster bombs into Laos, most of which fell in the region of the Plain of Jars.

Over nine years, the U.S. bombings destroyed many towns, killed tens of thousands of people, and left a permanent mark on the Laotian landscape. If you tour the Plain of Jars today, you will see craters and smashed jars left from the bombings.

Visiting the Plain of Jars in Laos

Not all of the bombs the U.S. dropped exploded, so until all the remaining bombs are cleared, movement in the region is limited. You cannot hike on your own at will, but you can freely visit a number of cleared sites. Sites 1, 2, and 3 feature some of the most impressive clusters of jars and also serve as the base for a number of tours.

You can also visit the sites on your own, but make sure that you stay on the marked paths. Although the Plain of Jars is a popular tourist site, it is usually not crowded. You’ll be able to get great views of the jars at any time.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Sam Shepards