Located: Xieng Khouang is Located 435 kilometers northeast of the Vientiane capital. Most of its landscape consist of mountains and hills. Xieng Khouang Province offers the awesome beauty of high green mountains and rugged karst formations. Northeastern Laos.
Total area: 15,880 square kilometers.
07 Districts: Pek, Kham, Nonghed, Khoune, Morkmay, Phoukood and Phaxay.
History : Xieng Khouang and the enigmatic Plain of Jars make up one of the most important sites for studying the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia. While the ancient civilization that constructed the jars was flourishing, advances in agricultural production, the manufacturing of metals, and the organization of long-distance overland trade between India and China were also rapidly transforming local society and setting the stage for urbanization across the region. Mortuary practices associated with the jars consisting of both cremation and secondary burial suggest a highly-evolved local tradition of ritual, symbolism and metaphysics which persisted through to the kingdoms of the Angkor Period, long after the arrival of Hindu and Buddhist philosophies into Southeast Asia.
Prehistoric material found at the Plain of Jars is still under study, and apparently spans a considerable period of time, with some dating from as early as 2000 BC. The bulk of the archaeological material, however, as well as the jars themselves appeared much later, dating to the early Iron Age between 500 BC and 500-800 AD. The closet archaeological parallels to the finds at the Plain of Jars appear to be Bronze and Iron Age materials from Dong Son in Viet Nam, Samrong Sen in Cambodia, and the Khorat Plateau in northeast Thailand. There are also similarities with the present-day city of Danang, as well as with sites in the North Cachar Hills of northeastern India where megalithic jar North exist. All of these similar sites date to approximately the same period-roughly 500 BC - 500 AD. Together they form a mosaic picture of a large area of upland Southeast Asia criss-crossed by traders, with the Xieng Khouang Plateau at its centre.
Although little is known about the people that constructed the megalithic stone jars, an account of the area's history as it relates to the Tai Puan and the lands they settled in Xieng Khouang is recorded in the Pongsawadan Meuang Puan or the Muang Puan Chronicles. The Tai Puan are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated from what is today southern China and by the 13th century had formed an independent principality at the Plain of Jars that prospered from the overland trade in metals and forest products. In the mid-14th century, Muang Puan was incorporated into the Lane Xang Kingdom under Fa Ngum, though the Phuan were able to retain a high degree of autonomy. After Siam (Thailand) extended control to Lao territories east of the Mekong in the 1770's, Muang Puan became a Siamese vassal state and also maintained tributary relations with Dai Viet (Viet Nam). To exert greater control of the lands and people of Muang Phuan, the Siamese launched three separate campaigns (1777-1779, 1834-1836, 1875-1876) to resettle large parts of the Phuan population to the south to regions under firm Siamese control.
Subsequent invasions by Chinese marauders called "Haw" plundered Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang, and the Franco-Siamese treaties of the 1890's placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until briefly after World War II.
During the Second Indochina War that raged in Laos during the 1960's and early 1970's Xieng Khouang suffered heavy aerial bombardment and intense ground battles due to its strategic importance. This conflict has left a deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) which is still being cleared today. Since Laos gained full independence in 1975, Xiengkhouang and the Plain of Jars are enjoying peace and tranquility after centuries of conflict.
The original capital city, Muong Khoun, was almost totally obliterated by US bombing and consequently, the capital was moved to nearby Phonsavanh. Of several Muong Khoun Buddhist temples built between the 16th and 19th century, only ruins remain. Vat Pia Vat, however, survived the bombing and can be visited.
How do I get there
* By air
Lao Airlines flies between Vientiane and Xieng Khouang several times a week.
* By bus
Buses leave Phonsavanh for Vientiane via Vangvieng (9 hours), Luang Prabang (8 hours), Houaphanh (8 hours) and Vinh, across the border in Vietnam (3 hours).
Jumbos (small tuk-tuks) are the main form of public transport in town. Cars and guides can be hired through travel agencies.
Accommodation in Xieng Khouang
There are many guesthouses and hotels in Xieng Khouang.
On nearby hillsides you will notice odd bottled-shaped excavations : villagers use these as bird traps, to catch the famed local swifts known in Lao as "noak aen". During certain times of the year you will see them in restaurants small birds grilled whole.
Another jar site is located 25 km south of Phonsavanh. The site is known locally as Hai Hin Phu Salato "table hill" as the French in the 1930's regularly used the hill for picnics. Here about 100 jars are spread across two adjacent hillsides. The view from the top is worth the short climb.
The most attractive site is a further 10 km south Hai Hin Lat Khai or Site Three. The main group of some 150 jars is located on top of a small hill from which one can enjoy great views not only of the surrounding plains, but also of the prosperous farming community of Ban Xieng Dee, in the valley below. This Lao village, located at the entrance to the jar site, has a small Buddhist temple where visitors are welcome.
Xieng Khouang attraction site:
* Baw Noi (little spring) : Feeds into a stream just a few hundred meters off Route 7, a couple of kilometers before Baw Nyai on the way from Meuang Kham. At the entrance to the stream where locals peddle their weaving and other locally made handicrafts, a few heavily eroded stone jars can be visited.
* Tham Piu Cave : Tham Piu is another Indochina Wawr related site, where in 1969 a single rocket fired from a Royalist aircraft caused the death of hundreds of people who had taken refuge in the cave. Apart from its historical significance it is still worth making the trip to Tham Piu to see the beautiful scenery and traditional villages in the vicinity. Not so far from the main cave lies another jar site. This jar site can be reached from the village of Ban Ngam Hom after a 45 minute hike into the beautiful forest; local guides can bring you to the site for a fee.
* Old Xiengkhouang (Muang Khoun) : Muang Khoun is located 30 km southeast of Phonsavan. This town was once the royal capital, the centre of the Phuan Kingdom. Though the town was heavily bombed during the war, a few French colonial buildings remain in the town centre alongside Wat Si Phum with its large sitting Buddha. On the outskirts the ancient stupas tower over the city and the vistas surrounding the structures are well worth the hike. A few kilometres beyond the old capital, near the village of Ban Phai, lies a jar site; the jars are located just off an old dirt road and unlike the jars at the three main sites are manufactured out of granite.
* That Foun : Located in downtown Muang Khoun, That Foun was built in 1576- the same time as the original That Luang in Vientiane. The stupa was erected to cover ashes of Lord Buddha that were brought from India, during a time when Buddhism was proliferating in Laos.
* That Chomphet : Built in the same period as That Foun and located nearby, That Chomphet was created to evoke Buddhist values, inspiring truth and clarity. At the core of Buddhism is the belief that only merit-making (i.e. doing good deeds, maintaining morality and respect) will bring happiness, progress and prosperity. That Chomphet was almost completely destroyed in 1966 during the war.
* Vat Phiawat : Was built in 1564, but the "sim" (holy building) additions were made in 1582. In 1966, the vat was destroyed by T28 aircraft gunfire, and now, only the pillars of the building and stately Buddha remain.
* Muang Sui : Once a city of antique Buddhist temples and quaint provincial architecture, Muang Sui became the headquarters of the Neutralist faction in the 1960's and "Lima site 108" (a landing site used by US aircraft).
The district is now called Muang Phu Kut experienced some intense fighting during the Secret War and testimonies to this can be seen in the crateral landscape and in the numerous war memorabilia, such as bomb shell, tanks and military positions.
Like Xiengkhouang, the town is now undergoing reconstruction and is part of new district called Muang Phu Kut. On government maps the town may be called Ban Nong Tang.
* Other Attractions in Muang Sui : It is worthwhile to travel around this district and town; ruins of several older temples can be seen; Wat Ban Phong, which still has resident monks, once contained a beautiful bronze Xieng Khoang style Buddha called Pha Ong, said to have been made in the 14th century.
Towards the eastern end of the district, a large picturesque natural lake called Nong Tang, flanked by high limestone cliffs, is a favourite local site for picnics. Directions to the fine caves in the cliffs to the north-east of the lake have been signposted, or you may be able to hire a local guide from one of the noodle stalls near the lake . Also near the lake is a semi-ruined 15th century Xieng Khouang style stupa called That Banmang.
Further afield are two more limestone caves well worth visiting. Tham Pha is a large network of caverns in which hundreds of small Buddha figures were stashed away to protect them from Haw invasions a couple of centuries ago. In the main entry cavern stands a very large sitting Buddha. The cave continues deep into the hillside, with ample passageways linking one cavern with another, making it one of the most impressive caves in Laos. Electric lights have been set up so that visitors can easily tour most of the accessible caverns, and the caretaker will turn them on for a small donation. Near Tham Pha is a second large cave, Tham That, which contains an old ruined stupa.
* Hot springs : Two hot mineral springs can be visited near Meuang Kham on the way to Houaphanh, Baw Nyai is the larger of the two and lie 18 km from Meuang Kham, 52 km from Phonsavanh. it has been developed as a resort with bungalows and bathing facilities. The spring source is in a heavily wooded area where several bamboo pipes have been set up so that you can bathe nearby.
* The Plain of Jars : The Xieng Khouang Plateau is home to the Plain of Jars. This enigmatic archaeological site consist of clusters of stone jars, varying in height and diameter from one to over three meters dotted in the Xieng Khouang landscape. Over fifty sites have been recorded within the province ranging from a single jar to groups cotaining 400 jars. One local legend states that the jars were originally constructed for an ancient king, whilst archaeological evidence suggests that the jars are funerary urns, carved by Iron Age poeple around 2,500 years ago. Three major sites are easily accessible from Xieng Khouang, and have been cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO), although it's always best to stay on the main paths. Site One (Thong Hai Hin) is located 15 km southwest of Phonsavanh. This site has the biggest collection of jars over 250 and also the largest single jar, which according to local lore is the victory cup of the Lao king Khun Jeuang, who liberated the local people from an oppressive ruler.