Thing To DO
· Northern Heritage Trail
Northern Heritage: Nature, Culture, & War
Route 7 north of Phonsavanh turns into a string of tourism pearls as it approaches the Kham District center. Historic wartime caves and craters, hot springs, a jar site, Tai Dam weaving communities, a waterfall, and war scrap architecture are all inside a 25km radius of Kham Town and within 70 km of Phonsavanh.
- Catastophic Coffin Cave
The Tham Piu (Piu Cave) area is like a movie that evokes a wide range of feelings: sadness, curiosity, introspection, resignation, and hope. Though accounts of the fateful day when a missile from an American jet found its target—Tham Piu—differ, one fact goes undisputed: the explosion killed hundreds of innocent villagers. Today, a statue of a man, straining to hold his anger as he carries the body of a lifeless child, presents a solemn monument to those who died, and calls for an “Annual Day of Remembrance” for the 24 November 1968 massacre. Before the ascent, go to the visitor centre and contemplate the display showing the history behind the bombings.
· Western Secrets
A Hodgepodge of Hidden Gems
On Route 7 between Phonsavanh and Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang’s western leg of “The Northern Heritage Route” opens the door to a secret wartime tunnel, jars, and ancient Buddhist sites Nong Tang Town on a quiet lake and near caves.
Sneak into the Secret Tunnel
Scale more than 1,000 steps up the Phu Keng Jar Quarry Site to a hidden mountain passageway drilled through it’s rocky summit that played a strategic role for Lao revolutionary forces during the Vietnam-American War.
Songhak’s Sacred Jars
Treat yourself to a 42km drive northwest of Phonsavanh to Ban Songhak Village on the Nam Ngum River and a recently opened jar site surrounded by the remnants of war. After crossing the river, stop at the Jar Site 25 information kiosk to get your bearings before strolling to the jars and the Pathet Lao trenches dug near the main group. Location: From Phonsavanh, travel west on Route 7 for about 23km to Phou Koud Town. Turn right at the main intersection and travel north for about 12 km, where a sign points left to Ban Songhak and the jar site.
Activities around Phonsavanh
Scenery and landscapes Phonsavanh Built in the late 1970s Phonsavanh replaces Old Xieng Khouang which was destroyed during the Second Indochina War, as provincial capital. It is located in the center of the Plain of Jars Plateau and has a pleasant climate all year round. Fresh Food Market The local market is an excellent place to sample the variety of unique food that Xieng Khouang has to offer. The cool climate and high altitude of the province produces many food items and forest products that are not available or are scarce in other parts of the country. Look for the many varieties of mushrooms or seasonal fruits such as peaches, plums and passion fruit. Wood carving Navang Craft Center is a family business where wooden crafts are made from scented Long Leng Wood (Fujian cypress), a rare wood in Xieng Khouang. Visit the shop to watch the local carpenters at work carving sculptures and souvenir items. It is open daily from 7:30 am to 8 pm. Address: Phonmixai Village, Paek District, Xieng Khouang Province. And one more place at the plain of jars site 1. Mobile: +856-20 5564 6877. War Memorials The memorials were constructed to commemorate the thousands of Pathet Lao soldiers who lost their lives during the Indochina War and to honor the Vietnamese soldiers who volunteered to fight alongside with the Lao soldiers. Climb up the small hills – you will be rewarded with great views of the town and surrounding area. SOS Children’s Village The SOS orphanage in Xieng Khouang was founded in 1998 to take care of the many children who lost their parents in accidents related to UXO (unexploded ordinance), a deadly legacy of past wars. Today 145 children live in 12 family houses. The associated kindergarten and primary school are open to children from the local neighborhoods. You are welcome to visit the center during office hours Monday to Friday from 8:00-16:00. Check in first at the administration building. Mulberries Silk Farm Lao Sericulture Co, a fair trade company, is dedicated to enabling Lao village silk producers in the Northern provinces to revive the art of high quality local silk production. Villagers are trained in sericulture, the process of rising silkworms, processing and improved weaving techniques and natural dying. Leaves, bark, vines, berries and seeds create color choices to match virtually any taste. To learn about the whole process you are welcome to visit the farm. A self-guided tour will lead you through the center. Purchase some of their intricate high quality textiles which will benefit the local communities enabling them to rise out of poverty. It is located in Ban Li and open Monday to Saturday from 8:00-4:00 (www.mulberries.org) UXO-Visitor Information Center The center is run by MAG, the non-governmental Mines Advisory Group. It provides information about the Unexploded Ordnance in Laos – remnants from the Indochina War. MAG began its Lao program in 1994 and started the first internationally supported UXO clearance operation in Xieng Khouang. MAG works to help people to rebuild their lives and alleviates suffering by responding to the needs of conflict affected communities. Local staff has been trained to clear away the brush, to use a metal detector and recognize ordnance. Their village assisted clearance approach allows communities to participate in the process. To learn more about the bomb (UXO) issue in Laos and get detailed information on MAG’s work visit the center. It is open Monday to Friday from 08:00-20:00, or weekends from 4:00-8:00 (www.maginternational.org). Old Cemetery and Lake Jao Supanouvong This large cemetery is located on a hill 1 km north of town. What makes it unique is that Tai Dam animist tombs are mixed together with Catholic tombstones, Chinese graves and Lao Buddhist reliquary. The hill top offers sweeping views and is a pleasurable place to watch sunsets. The lake, 3 km north of town, is named in honor of Prince Supanouvong, the first president of the Lao PDR. Once the site of the provincial jail, it is now a place for a quick retreat. Walk around and enjoy the tranquil beauty of Xieng Khouang.
Cultural Site of interesting
The Jar Site 1
Jar site 1 or Tong Hai Hin is the most popular site, located 8 km southwest of Phonsavanh and by easily reached by tuk tuk or bike. Follow Rt 1D southwest, turn right the sight Ban Na-O and dive for another 2 kilometer; alternatively book a package tour at any of the local tour companies. The site counts 334 jars, including the largest single jar-side to have been the victory cup of the King Khoun Chueang. According to local legend the Lao King Khoun Chueang (AD 6th century) fought a long battle against his enemy and liberated the local people from the oppressive ruler. The Jars were carved to brew and store huge amounts of Lao Lao which were drunk in the 7 month lasting celebration held in honor of victory. Jars site 1 was of military strategic important during the second Indochina War. Trenches and foxholes, anti-air-craft positions and tank scrape can be found on the two raised areas and on top of the cave. Several bomb craters and damaged or displaced jar are a testimony to heavy fighting in this area. A part from a plain of jars, visitor also can visit the sophisticated “War Museum”which was recently built. Jar Site 2, or Ban Na Kho, is located in Phaxay district, 20 km southwest of Phonsavan. The site contains 93 jars spread across two adjacent hills. Some of the urns at Site 2 are carved with an inner rim just below the lip of the jar. From the parking area and ticket office, walk up the stairs on your left to the first group. A small plundered stupa can be visited further east on the hill. The date of the stupa is unknown. The road which bisects the adjacent hills was constructed by the French in the colonial period and was already documented by Madeleine Colani in the early 1930s. On the hill to the west a stone disc has been carved with a human figure and concentric circles. Bomb craters surround the site and several of the stone jars show the impact of ground battles. During French colonial times, Site 2 was a popular pic-nic spot. It is possible to walk from Site 2 to Site 3 by following a narrow path that has been cleared of UXO. As you approach Site 3, you will come across a group of jars, believed to be jars in transit from Huay Luang, the quarry that provided the sandstone for the jars at Sites 2 and 3. Jar Site 3, or Ban Xieng Di (also known as Hai Hin Lat Khai), is made up of seven groups and is located around the village of Ban Xieng Di, 5 km further south of Site 2, in Phaxay district. As for Site 2, some of the urns at Site 3 are carved with an inner rim just below the lip of the jar. The main group, with some 150 jars, is situated on top of a scenic hill which offers great views of the surrounding plain and rice paddies. To get to the main group, cross the bridge after paying the entrance fee and continue along the rice fields to the lower foothill of the mountain, where a marked path picks up the trail to the site. The village has a small Buddhist temple near the entrance booth, where visitors are welcome. The small restaurant near the ticket booth serves drinks and noodle soup and is run by a local family. A portion of the restaurant profit goes to the village fund, which benefits the entire community. The travel agencies in Phonsavan offer tours to Jar Sites 2 and 3, often combined with a visit to the former provincial capital, present-day Muang Khoun town. Jar Site 16, or Ban Phai, is located in Khoun District. It is easily accessible, just 6 km past Muang Khoun town. This is a relatively small site, with 35 granite jars and one sandstone jar. An old path still in use by villagers traverses the site; these paths have been linked to old trade routes connecting Luang Prabang or Vientiane with the north or east. The information kiosk is located 500 metres from the site. Phu Kheng, at the crossroads of history, archaeology and legend One recently-inaugurated jar site combines legend, archaeology and recent history, an interesting mix guaranteed to impress visitors also on account of the stunning views from the surrounding countryside. Site 21, or Phu Kheng Quarry Site, is located in Paek district, 16 km northwest of Phonsavan. The quarry site is well sign-posted on the westbound section of Route 7. The site has been cleared of UXO and was officially opened to tourist visits in January 2012 following improvements in the infrastructure. This important quarry site covers an area of 20 hectares and was the source of sandstone for the jars at Site 1. Visitors can admire finished and partially-completed jars at every stage of the carving process. According to legend, in 1351 BCE, King Khun Jeuang ruled Mouang Phuan and started to spread his power base. Whenever a battle was won, the king would order his subordinates to make containers for celebratory rice whisky. It is said that the abundant rocks convinced King Khun Jeuang’s men to come to Phu Kheng to carve monolithic jars with simple metal tools. The legend also states that the jars were filled with water and abandoned at the site if they were found to be leaking, because they would not have been able to hold rice whisky for the victorious celebrations. Though local legends are embedded in recorded history, they cannot be confirmed through material evidence. The Khun Jeuang legend is no exception, for, though it is reported that he lived in the 6th century CE, the material evidence indicates that the jars were present as early as 1000 years before his victory. A recently completed brick staircase at Site 21 leads visitors to a wartime bunker, built during the Second Indochina war. Bedrooms and storage rooms for weapons were built inside the 100-metre long tunnel. An observation tower was also built, to monitor and guard the place. A visit to Phu Kheng offers a rare mix of natural beauty and archaeology, and a chance to experience the ancient and recent history of Xieng Khouang province. Jar Site 23, or Ban Nam Hom, is located in the vicinity of the Big Hot Springs in Kham district. The site consists of four groups distributed on two spurs. The jars were manufactured of conglomerate and breccia. The source of stone for the jars was discovered alongside Group 1. At this small quarry site, huge stone blocks hewn out of bedrock at various stages of the jar carving process can be seen. Pottery fragments recovered from the surface of this site indicate contact with Han Chinese and/or the Sa Huyhn culture in Vietnam. Jar Site 25, or Ban Songhak, in Phoukoot district is, according to the local villagers, a sacred site. The villagers refrain from cutting wood or causing disturbance at this jar site because they are afraid to awaken the spirits. A fence has been built around the spirit house erected at the site. It is advisable to visit the information kiosk before wandering around the site. At the height of the Second Indochina conflict, the village was evacuated and some of the villagers have vivid recollections of this traumatic episode in the recent history of Xieng Khouang province. Phoukoot District experienced much fighting during the Second Indochina Wars and war remains are abundant. Pathet Lao trenches can be seen near the main jar group. Take a stroll or drive through the village to the ancient stupa situated on an adjacent hill, to the southwest. Note also the jars along the road. When some monks took a jar to the local temple for water storage, people in the village started to get sick and their health was restored only when the jar was returned to its original location. Another jar is believed to have healing qualities and villagers will bathe a sick child in its water to dispel the illness
Individual Activities around xiengkhouang.
Nong Tang Nong Tang (Lake Tang) is a karst landform along Route 7, approx. 48km northwest of Phonsavan. The lake overlooks Phoukoot district and its scenic beauty is admired equally by people travelling to the Plain of Jars or by others heading towards Vientiane or the former royal capital of Luang Prabang. Nong Tang has a historic connection with the Plain of Jars, when James McCarthy, a British surveyor employed by the King of Siam, passed the lake on his way to Xieng Khouang province. Escorted by two hundred soldiers, on 16 January 1884 McCarthy left Bangkok, reaching the northeast frontier of Siam’s dependencies several weeks later. The province was still reeling from the devastation inflicted by bandits from southern China, who inflicted untold damage on Xieng Khouang with their mindless destruction. In Nong Tang, McCarthy found no sign of human life, only partridges and peafowl. Continuing on his journey, with his men he crossed the Nam Tang River and some rice fields. On ascending the river bank, they noticed some objects in the distance, which they mistook first for tents, then for cattle and finally for stones rising from the ground. When they reached the Plain of Jars, they realised that those objects were: “gigantic stone jars. Some of them stood erect, some were lying on their sides, some were in fragments, and all round there was evidence that the ground had been excavated” (James F. McCarthy. Surveying and exploring in Siam: with descriptions of Lao dependencies and of battles against the Chinese Haws, 1900). Impressed by the stone jars of Xieng Khouang, McCarthy believed that their massive size precluded transportation from quarry to field, suggesting that they “must have been made in situ”. Big Hot Springs The Big Hot Springs, or Nam Hom, are located 69 km east of Phonsavan and 19 km from Muang Kham town. This hot spring is a natural creation, where the water temperature is about 40 degrees Celsius. Large trees surround the site and local people believe that the jungle is sacred. The resort is now equipped with a number of tourist amenities, including restaurants, a guesthouse, a ferry wheel, a small swimming pool and nature trails among pine-lined walks. A visit to the Big Hot Springs can be combined with an excursion to the Plain of Jars Site 23, a quarry with finished and partially carved jars sculpted from conglomerate rock. Site 23 is located 2 km from the resort, on a moderate hike up the mountain. Tad Kha Waterfall Approximately 99 km from Phonsavan and 4 km from Route 7 is located Tad Kha, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by spectacular limestone karst. All year round, the water runs down in cascading steps, alternating with steep areas for more than 100 meters. Visitors describe Tad Kha as one of the most scenic spots in Xieng Khouang, well worth the effort either as a special excursion or on the way to Vietnam. Tad Ka Waterfall near Tajok The waterfall is located near Tajok village, 32 kilometers north of Phonsavanh. The water flows over several tiers. A spectacular jungle trail winds its way up the waterfall crossing it several times. Tad Kha is a popular picnic spot for local people especially during the Lao New Year holidays. To get there turn right at the end of Tajok village; follow the road until you see a building to the right. Walk along the ridge and take the right trail down. Local tour companies offer day tours including a picnic lunch and a hike up the waterfall. Tad Lang Waterfall Tad Lang is located near Jar site 3 just 700 meters off the road to Ban Nakang cascading down approximately 800 meters. To enjoy its whole beauty follow the trail down to the bottom of the valley. It’s a good picnic spot, but because you must cross a river to reach it, access is difficult in the rainy season. Community Based tourism XiengKhouang is one of Laos’ tourism destinations utilizing community-based tourism initiatives for sustainable economic development throughout the region.
- Natural Trekking
Ban Phakeo Trek: Embark on a two day trek to a remote Hmong village and one of the country’s most serene jar sites, experience the locals’ mountain life, and inspect war-time architecture. Make Spoons Not War Trek from Namkha to Naphia: See how the distant Hmong Namkha Village solves its energy needs watch Naphia residents turn war scrap into spoons on this easy one-day trek. Link: http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/
Piew Cave ThamPiew Cave stands as a solemn monument to hundreds of innocent villager killed in a 1968 us missile attack. Today, the statue of a man, straining to hold his anger as the carries a lifeless child, call for an “annual Day of Remembrance”. First, go to the visitor centre and contemplate the display of photographs and history behind the bombings. You’ll read about the single shell that his the core of Piu Cave and claimed the lives of a reported 374 locals seeking shelter inside. Then, climb the upper staircase, which passes a golden Buddha, grave markers, and bomb craters, until your reach ThamPiu, a sad hillside hole with the rubble floor. Inside, locals light incense to play tribute to the dead. Back outside, the stairs descent to small restaurants, which after a respite for reflection. Location: Take Route 6 north from Kham town for 2 km to Ban Bouam, turn left (west), and follow to the road the end. Thamxang Cave Limestone peaks covered with forest s from the beautiful landscapes around the ThamXang Cave areas. Hidden in these rocks is a network of tree caves which was used by the PATHET LAO movement as shelter during the second Indochina War. Inside the cave complex they set up the hospital, an arsenal and drug depot. Evidence can st3ill be seen. Beside its war history the residential cave is worth visiting to see its gorgeous cave features. Different dripstone features, called speleothems, can be seen inside. The most familiar formations are stalactites-handing downwards. And stalagmite-growing upwards. Sometime the drip water will flow down the walls and over the cave floor creating flowstone or rim stone deposits the from around pool of water like rice terrace. In some areas damage caused by humans, such as broken speleothems, which cannot be put back together, and graffiti at the walls, can be seen. (The Hmong community of Ban Ta take care of the caves and offers a local tour guide service).
Nam Ngum A short, wild river through deep gorges that challenges the most skilled hardshell kayakers. Located just north of Vientiane at the site of the country’s first dam, it is advisable only for whitewater experts although several short raft-based trips are offered.
Kha Waterfall Nestled in spectacular limestone karts this impressive waterfall run down in cascading step for more than 100 meters, alternating with sleep falls, and with abundant water flowing all year round. Location: Take Route 7 from Kham to Nong Het. Turn right at KhangPhanieng Village. Follow dirt road for 3 km, then take the trail to the lift. Walk another 30 minutes to reach the top of the fall. Tad Lang Waterfall Tad Lang is located near Jar site 3 just 700 meters off the road to Ban Nakang cascading down approximately 800 meters. To enjoy its whole beauty follow the trail down to the bottom of the valley. It’s a good picnic spot, but because you must cross a river to reach it, access is difficult in the rainy season.
· Hot springs
Baw Nyai Hot springs can be visited in the vicinity of Muang Kham off Rte 7. The big hot spring Baw Nyai, 67 km from Phonsavanh, has been developed as a resort with bungalows and indoor bathing facilities. You can walk through the forest to the spring source, but swimming in the pool is not possible. The Jar Site of Ban Nam Hom is just a 2 km walk away. Ban Xang A little hot springs is located in Xang village, 3 km east of Muang Kham. It feeds into a stream just a few hundred meters off Route 7. Note the limestone jar near the ticket office. In the village Tai Dam women sell their woven textiles; cross the river on a small bamboo bridge to visit the Phuan village and observe the women create the beautiful textiles. There is another hot spring nearby Nathong Village. Pass the village and follow the river for about 800 meters.
Tai Dam Cultural Hall Culture vultures can taste the Tai Dam lifestyle at Ban Xieng Kio- government-designated cultural villages locate about 48 km north of Phonsavanh near Kham town on Lao route 7. The two-storey Tai Dam Culture Hall greets visitors to the village, and the traditional Tai Dam bedroom leads off the tour: a row of thin mattresses with patterned cotton sheets, square pillows, and decorated blankets on rattan mats with back mosquito nets knotted overhead. The Hall also exhibits wooden farming tools, gadgets used for transforming raw silk and cotton in to loom-ready dyed threads, and a collection odf basketry employed for variety of reason from cooking sticky rice to trapping fish. You can also purchase the wares-finely decorated sine (traditional skirts), wall hangings, table clothes, and back head scarves, alongside baskets and shoulder bags-before wandering around the village to watch women weave. Paper Umbrellas from Ban Mixay Paper Umberllas “Khan Nyu” From Ban Mixay Village. An old tradition is being revived in the phuan village of Ban Mixay. Monks or novices in Buddhist temples originally made the umbrellas. Men who were ordained into the monkhood often entered temples in villages others than those they has grown up. The umbrellas served as gift to those who come to visit. Sale of umbrellas can increase income and therefore reduce the need to carry out unsustainable farming practices or cutting down trees-practices that are destructive to the environment. Many materials used come from the forest conservation. War Scrap Spoons from Ban Napia Setting your sights to see spoon production may sound eccentric, but Ban Napia, an ethnic Phuan village just south of Phonsavanh, mounds this tableware from war scrap. One day in the 1980s, eight families brainstormed over what to do with all the aluminum bits from downed aircraft. One person noted a lack spoons in the market and noodle shops, so they made wooden mounds, coated them in ash, and poured in the melted junk. And according to the ladle lady, they have an unending supply of debris. You can bookend your spoon tour with stops at nearby Lang Waterfall and Jar Site 3.
The Secret War (American-Vietnam War)
Sneak through a Secret Tunnel: Scale more than 1.000 steps to reach a secret passageway slicing through the summit of the PhouKheng Jar Quarry Site that played a strategic role for Pathet Lao forces during the Indochina War (1964-1973). The hardly climb passes an odd mix of bomb craters and unfinished or broken jars destined for Jar Site 1. The steps get steeper, but the reward is a magnificent view of the valley around Phonsavanh and the hidden entrance to a narrow 70 metre long, 1.6 metre high tunnel chiseled through rock that wind past reinforced concrete bunkers and sleeping quarters before exiting to a panorama of the Phoukoud Valley. MAG indicant Mine Busters: The UK-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has embarked on the almost impossible mission of clearing hundreds of thousands of unexploded ordinances (UXOs) from XiengKhouang. The MAG Visitor Information Centre in Phonsavanh provides in-depth history into the intense bombing campaign, the legacy it left behind as the most densely bombed area per capita on earth, facts on the injuries and deaths UXOs continue to cause, diagrams of how cluster bombs work, and even a few diffused shells, the highlight, a one-hour unbiased documentary detailing the bombing’s background, appeals to an audience ranging from people born before the war, those who grew up during the era, and veterans who fought.
· Ancient Ruins of the Phuan Kingdom
Drive Back in Time Explore ruins dating to the 14th century that crown the hills around the ancient Phuan Kingdom capital, MuangKhoun, which was leveled during the Indochina War. A 30km drive southeast of Phonsavanh passes a stone wall with brick archways, leftovers of France’s colonial presence. The giant Buddha at WatPiawat, first built in 1564, still sits erect overlooking MuangKhoun, though only the temple’s pillars and short wall section remain. Once buried in the forest, the 450 year old That FounStupa stands tall next to a road outside town, and though bombing raids mostly destroyed Wat Si Phom, enough remains to envision its glory when constructed in 1390. Khoun: The Old Phuan Kingdom Witness the ancient Tai Phuan Kingdom at Khoun Town, just 36 km southeast of Phonsavanh on Lao Route 1 D. “MuangPhouan” prosperesd as a trade centre, but in the 14 century, the LanXang Kingdom moved in. Over the centuries, MuangPhuan become the centre for opulent Buddhist art and the architecture. Then the French arrived, adding a colonial touch. Though bandits and bombs destroyed plenty, you can bike or walk to see leftover structures around Khoun Town. Check out a French colonial wall just off Route 1D, and near town an easy trail leads to Vat Phiawat’s sitting Buddha, built in 1564. Khoun Town’s most sacred temple, Vat Si Phoum, was leveled, though locals rebuilt it ad close by, examine a one-majestic French colonial hospital. Just north town, That Poun stand atop a knoll, and is said to over Buddha’s ashes. Nearby, the base of the 500-plus-year-old That Chompeth holds its ground on a shrubby hill.