Laos’ Enigmatic Plain of Jars

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Plain of Jars

Verdant green valleys and mountains were the first thing I noticed on our first morning in Xieng Khuang Province.  The numerous bomb craters dotting the land were a close second. Traveling through this northern province of Laos, it was easy to see how it was utterly devastated by the Vietnam War. Between 1964 and 1973, almost every village and town in the province was decimated, including the original capital city of of Xieng Khuang.

Jar Boys

The capital was moved to the town of Ponsavon after 1975, but the bare, dusty roads of this town hardly seem fit for a capital city and seem more appropriate in a Wild West movie.  There’s nothing in town that holds any interest. There are a few markets, a bank and several hotels and guesthouses.  Its biggest drawcard is the enigmatic Plain of Jars.

The rolling green meadows lying just outside of town are home to hundreds of giant stone jars of various shapes and sizes, apparently carved from solid boulders.  There are three sites. Site 1 is the biggest and it boasts 250 jars weighing between 600kg and a tonne each. The largest jar weighs over six tonnes.  Sites 2 and 3 are also quite picturesque. There is a even a large cave in the area which was used by the locals as a bomb shelter during the war. Local families would hide out in the cave and wait for the planes to stop flying over their heads.

Plain of Jars and Johns

There are several stories surrounding the origins of these magnificent artifacts of history.  One legend tells of a race of giants who inhabited the area 1500 to 2000 years ago, and were ruled by a king by the name of Khun Cheung. Supposedly, the king had the jars created to brew wine. Archaelogists also speculate that the jars could have been used for food storage or sarcophagi. It has also been suggested that the jars were used to collect water during monsoon season for caravan travelers passing through the area. There is still no firm explanation as to what purpose these jars served.

This amazing archaelogical site has remained one of the most dangerous in the world because it is studded with unexploded bombs. Further studies have been slow to progress because of this. The peaceful hills of these fields don’t speak of the dangers laying beneath the soil.  Efforts are being made to rid the area of these bombs and walking trails are clearly marked by white stone bricks.  These meter-wide pathways have been cleared of bombs by bomb-removal squads.  The element of danger that surrounds these myseterious sites lends an unexpected thrill. One can’t help but ponder over how these jars have withstood the test of time and the ravages of war.

Plain of Jars

Giant Stone Jar

Plain of Jars

Stone Jars of Ponsavon

Plain of Jars


Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at

18 thoughts on “Laos’ Enigmatic Plain of Jars

    michelle G

    (November 6, 2008 - 8:48 pm)

    I never heard of these jugs before, now its another must see on my list


    (November 7, 2008 - 2:58 am)

    Great pictures Carrie

    Fighting Windmills

    (November 7, 2008 - 4:10 am)

    How surreal! Were you just there this week?


    (November 7, 2008 - 4:52 am)

    Very nice pics of the Jars — esp. the second last one.


    (November 7, 2008 - 12:43 pm)

    Beautiful pictures! (did you edit these or are they the original ones? If edited maybe you could do a tutorial once 😉 I’m have zero knowledge on that subject)
    I’m looking into travel options for next year and one of the trips that has made my shortlist also features an excursion to the Plain of Jars. So I might see it for real next year 🙂


    (November 7, 2008 - 2:31 pm)

    Hey Michelle,
    When you’re back over in this part of the world, be sure to look me up. Our door is always open for you!


    (November 7, 2008 - 2:32 pm)

    Thanks Craig. We had great weather the entire time we were there. The clouds were unbelievable. It was all very surreal. Have you been to Laos yet?


    (November 7, 2008 - 2:34 pm)

    We were there last year. I’ve been extremely lazy with my photo-processing. It’s amazing how time just slips away. I still haven’t posted everything yet, and I’ve barely hit the tip of the iceberg with my photos from Japan.


    (November 7, 2008 - 2:35 pm)

    Thank you Stuart. Might I add, I’ve heard good things about Travelfish. I stopped by again today and had a look around. It’s really a nice-looking site and it’s very informative. Thanks for stopping by!


    (November 7, 2008 - 2:38 pm)

    Hi Kim,

    These were taken with my Canon point and shoot and yep, they’ve been processed and tweaked just a little. I enjoy playing around with photos almost as much as I enjoy taking them. If you want to get started, there’s a site affiliated with Flickr called Picnik. It has some basic photo editing options for beginners or you can buy into the package and try that out before you get into a real software package. Picnik has some neat free features, including the frames and watermarks you see on my photos.

    I’m sure you’ll love Plain of Jars. What else made it onto your short list and how exactly short (er..long) is it? 🙂


    (November 8, 2008 - 2:17 am)

    Great shots, Carrie. I want to go to Laos more than ever after seeing these.


    (November 8, 2008 - 2:59 pm)

    Thanks Steve. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. When’s the next adventure?

    Nomadic Matt

    (November 10, 2008 - 4:21 pm)

    great post!!!!! stumbled, dugg, mixxed…. i love the photos!


    (November 13, 2008 - 11:00 am)

    Hi Carrie,

    Next year’s shortlist is still pretty short (at this moment :))
    – joining a guided tour of Vietnam-Cambodja-Laos-Thailand
    – joining a guided tour of China
    (I went to Japan with the same travel agency and the tour was really well thought out, so am considering joining one of their other trips)
    – New York

    And if the economy really is going to crash and burn and I suddenly need to watch my budget, I’ll need to stick to Europe. It may be Greece or Scandinavia then, I’ve never been there, or old favourite Barcelona.


    (November 13, 2008 - 12:45 pm)

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks! I wondered where all that extra traffic was coming from!


    (November 13, 2008 - 12:46 pm)

    Hi Kim,

    Sounds great. You should really consider a stop in Taiwan, too — you’ll have your own private tour guide! 😉


    (November 13, 2008 - 6:00 pm)

    I’ve never heard about these jars. It must be amazing place. Your photos are perfect. I like the first one the most. Sometimes I wonder how many secrets does the Asia have and what else will you show on ‘my several worlds’.

    Mark Sloneker

    (May 7, 2013 - 7:04 pm)

    It’s sad that our legacy in this region is creating the most heavily bombed people per capita in the world. There are still 3 people a day in Norther Laos who are hurt by our bombs. I have traveled up there to work with weaving villages and once they get to know you the stories begin. It can make you guilty, their wonderful hospitality and forgiveness. I guess that is the power of Buddhism. If you want to learn more there is a great organization working to create awareness of this issue. We as a country need to be more active in cleaning it up. Our government called it the “secret” war for their own devices, and it worked well for them to keep us ignorant.

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