Phonsavan

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Coordinates: 19°28′N 103°11′E / 19.46°N 103.18°E / 19.46; 103.18

Phonsavan
ໂພນສະຫວັນ
City
Hills around Phonsavan
Hills around Phonsavan
Phonsavan is located in Laos
Phonsavan
Phonsavan
Location in Laos
Coordinates: 19°25′N 103°10′E / 19.417°N 103.167°E / 19.417; 103.167
Country  Laos
Admin. division Xiangkhoang Province
Elevation 3,600 ft (1,100 m)
Population
 • Total 37,507 (2,009)
 • Religions Buddhism
Area code(s) 061

Phonsavan (Lao: ໂພນສະຫວັນ) (population 37,507)[1] is the new capital of Xieng Khouang Province, Laos. The name stands for "hills of paradise".

Phonsavan is the provincial capital of Xieng Khouang province. The countryside is soon dominated by green hills and pine forests. Villages consist of colourful wooden houses. Cattle raising is one of the main agricultural activities and Hmong cowboys with brown and violet cowboy hats are a common sight. During Hmong New Year there are even bullfights in the city. Phonsavan was built in the late 1970s and replaced the old Xieng Khoung (today: Muang Khoun) which had been destroyed during the Second Indochina War. Phonsavan's most famous attraction is the nearby Plain of Jars, which has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.[2] The main economic activity in Phonsavan is based on government administration, mining companies from China and Australia, tourism and the work of NGOs related to UXO clearance.

Nature and scenery[edit]

Xieng Khouang is widely known for the Plain of Jars, but beyond its jars the natural beauty of the province is waiting to be discovered. The province has a pleasant climate all year around with warm or hot days and cold nights. Xieng Khuang’s scenery is characterized by the highest mountains in the country (Mount Phou Bia), its pine forests, deciduous woodlands, rolling hills and grasslands. In the cold season the green hills of the Plain of Jars turn reddish brown giving it a touch of the 'Wild West' with yellow sunflowers and Pointsetta in full bloom. Nam Ngum, the largest river in the province originates from the mountains in Paek District and is one of the major tributaries of the [Muangkhoun]. Nong Het and Phaxay District in particular offer stunning karst scenery with plenty of caves, cliffs, underground rivers and waterfalls. The area is particularly beautiful during peach and orchid tree blossom in February.in December on the hill are full by sun flower is yellow mountains in Xiengkhoung province it Hmong New year you will see traditional culture of them. Xiengkhoung province has more things to visit more than your thinking, the most popular site is the plain of jars more than 58 sites, so now there are 7 sites have been open. The things you can visit today are waterfall. Piew cave the one people hided 374 people, but all died from an American bombing.

Climate[edit]

Phonsavan has humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cwa) mildened by its high altitude (1100 m). The city has long, warm and wet summers and short, dry winters. Average June temperature is 23.6 °C, average December (the coldest month) temperature is 14.8 °C.

Climate data for Phonsavan
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 23.3
(73.9)
25.7
(78.3)
28.1
(82.6)
28.7
(83.7)
27.1
(80.8)
27.2
(81)
26.7
(80.1)
26.5
(79.7)
26.6
(79.9)
28.4
(83.1)
23.8
(74.8)
21.7
(71.1)
26.15
(79.08)
Average low °C (°F) 8.8
(47.8)
10.7
(51.3)
14.0
(57.2)
16.6
(61.9)
19.0
(66.2)
20.0
(68)
19.7
(67.5)
19.4
(66.9)
17.8
(64)
15.4
(59.7)
11.6
(52.9)
7.8
(46)
15.07
(59.12)
Precipitation mm (inches) 8.7
(0.343)
15.8
(0.622)
56.9
(2.24)
145.2
(5.717)
193.6
(7.622)
193
(7.6)
276.8
(10.898)
300.9
(11.846)
158.2
(6.228)
63.6
(2.504)
23.1
(0.909)
8.4
(0.331)
1,444.2
(56.86)
Avg. rainy days 2 3 5 13 18 20 22 22 16 9 4 2 136
Source: World Meteorological Organization[3]

History[edit]

Iron Age- The Plain of Jars[edit]

The Plain of Jars is the main reason to come to Phonsavan. Refer to this article for the archeological evidence of the Plain of Jars.

The enigmatic Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang makes up one of the most important sites for studying the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia, although little is known about the people that constructed the megalith stone jars about 2,500 years ago.

A visitors centre has been opened in 13 August 2013. It is at the bottom of the hill 200m prior to the Plain of Jars Site 1. It contains good quality English language information panels on the history of the Plain of Jars culture, as well as its modern history during the 1964–1975 conflict.[4][5]

Today UNESCO, Helvetas, DED, the local government and villagers are working together to develop and protect the jar sites, while aiming to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status.

Modern history – The Phuan Kingdom and Siamese Invasions[edit]

While the origin of the Plain of Jars` people is unknown, the recorded history of Xieng Khouang is interlinked with the Tai Phuan. The Tai Phuan or Phuan people are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated to Laos from southern China and by the 13th century had formed the independent principality Muang Phuan at the Plain of Jars with Xieng Khouang (the contemporary Muang Khoun) as the capital. They prospered from the overland trade in metals and forest products. In the mid-14th century, Muang Phuan was incorporated into the Lane Xang Kingdom under King Fa Ngum.

The Phuan population were able to retain a high degree of autonomy although they had to pay tax and tribute to Lane Xang. During the 16th century expressive Buddhist art and architecture flourished. The capital was dotted with temples in a distinct Xieng Khouang style, i.e. simple low roofs with a characteristic ‘waist’ at the foundation. In 1930 Le Boulanger described it as ‘a large and beautiful city protected by wide moats and forts occupying the surrounding hills and the opulence of the sixty-two pagodas and their stupas, of which the flanks concealed treasures, obtained the capital a fame that spread fear wide and far.”

After the Kingdom of Siam, contemporary Thailand, extended control to Lao territories east of the Mekong in the 1770s, Muang Phuan became a Siamese vassal state and also maintained tributary relations with Dai Viet (Vietnam). To exert greater control of the lands and people of Muang Phuan, the Siamese launched three separate campaigns (1777–79, 1834–36 and 1875/76) to resettle large parts of the Phuan population to the south in regions under firm Siamese control. Subsequent invasions by Haw marauders, splinter groups of ex-Taiping Revolution rebels from Southern China plundered Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang in the 1870s, and desecrated and destroyed the temples of the Phuan region.

The Franco-Siamese treaties of the 1890s placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until briefly after World War II. The French used Xieng Khouang today called Muang Khoun as their provincial capital. A few ruinous colonial public buildings remain such as the governor’s residence, church and the French school.[6][7]

Contemporary history – The Indochina Wars[edit]

Refer to Xiangkhouang Province for more details.

During the Second Indochina War Xiangkhoang was the scene of extensive ground battles and intense aerial bombardment due to its strategic importance. The provinces of Houaphan and Xiangkhoang had been the stronghold of Pathet Lao forces and their Vietnamese allies. The heavy aerial carpet bombardments to neutralize those forces or to drop off unused ordnance after returning from missions in Vietnam turned the Plain of Jars quite literally into the Plain of Scars and the most heavily bombarded areas per capita worldwide. In addition to bombs, massive quantities of defoliants and herbicides were dropped.

Ethnic groups[edit]

Xieng Khouang is home to five different ethnic groups. The Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, Phuan, Khmu and Hmong have settled in the province. Their traditional houses, dresses, beliefs and rituals are part of the cultural heritage of Laos. There is also a minority of Laotian Chinese and Vietnamese as well as some international workers from Korea, Japan, Europe, and North America.

Tai Dam[edit]

Tai Dam,Tai Daeng and Tai Phuan belong to the Tai language family, by far the most significant family in Laos, comprising 60% of the national population. The Tai Dam migrated from northern Vietnam to Laos 80–300 years ago. They are not Buddhists, instead they practice a form of ancestor and spirit worship. Tai Dam are well known producers of fine quality silk and cotton textiles and many women export directly to markets in Japan and the USA. Old Tai Dam women still wear the traditional blue indigo cotton shirt, skirt and a black turban woven with colored patterns. They produce rice alcohol, called ‘lao lao’, that is consumed socially and used for ritual purposes.

Tai Dam settle in upland valleys near streams and irrigable and accessible plains scattered among Lao and Phuan villages. They built rectangular symmetric houses on piling, foot pounder and rice granary are under the house. The villages are composed of 15¬60 houses and are not fenced. The people mainly live on wet rice, vegetables, poultry, weaving, sewing and hunting.

The ancestors of the Tai Phuan once founded the kingdom of the same name.[8]

Khmu[edit]

Being part of the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic lingusitic family, the Khmu present one of the largest ethnic groups in Laos. They settled in the area several thousand years ago. The Khmu did a rapid acculturation and there is now little in their clothing that distinguishes them from the surrounding Lao, although they speak a completely different language.

Khmu houses are built on stilts; each village has a communal house where men gather for political discussions, or work together on basket making and other crafts. Like many ethnic groups in Lao the Khmu practice their own form of animism. The Khmu are well known for their skill at making baskets, fish traps, and other objects from bamboo. Their material culture, their tools, utensils, baskets and netbags reflect their continued reliance on the forest. Growing rice, hunting, gathering forest products and producing handicrafts provide some cash income. Take a taste of their famous brew ‘lao hai’(jar alcohol) while visiting one of the many Khmu villages.

Hmong[edit]

Hmong people originate from the high steppes of Mongolia and Tibet. They migrated from China to Laos between 1810 and 1900. Having a strong desire for independence they rebelled against the Chinese attempts to control and settle them and they fled in successive waves southwards. During the Lao Civil war in the 1960s and 1970s Hmong were recruited by the CIAs ‘secret army’, commanded by Hmong General Vang Pao. Hmong villages were relocated in free-fire zones and many died during these evacuations or due to fighting. When the communists came to power in 1975 tens of thousands of Hmong fled to Thailand or emigrated to USA. Today the diaspora is a major economic factor in the province by sending high amounts of remittances fuelling a significant of construction activity.[9]

The Hmong present 6-10% of the total population of Laos and remain most numerous and concentrated in the east of Xieng Khouang. In the province the White Hmong, the Striped Hmong and the Green Hmong can be distinguished. The easiest way to differentiate these groups is by looking at the women’s dress.

Hmong live in forested mountains between 800 to 1,500 meters of altitude and in Laos they are categorized as Lao Soung -the highland people, although today there are a more and more villages located in the low lands.

Hmong live in villages ranging in size from 15 to over 60 houses. They are not fenced and organized by clan. The rectangular houses are beaten on soil, have one room without windows. The walls are made of vertical wood planks and bamboo and a thatch roof. Hmong are known for their knowledge of the forest, herbal medicines and expertise in raising animals. Their agricultural system is based on rain fed slope cultivation with slash and burn techniques. They live on ordinary rice, corn and vegetable production, swine and poultry, gathering, hunting, embroidery and basket work.

Their religion is a form of shamanistic animism with a cult of ancestors and spirits, and a belief in three souls. Certain spirits protect the people within the village boundaries while others maintain their influence over the plant and animal kingdom outside the village.

Hmong women are renowned for their embroidery and weaving. Traditionally clothes are made from hemp and cotton. Batik, used only by Green Hmong for their distinctive skirts is a very long process. Before dying the cloth the pattern is marked with wax. The wax is then removed to reveal the pattern. The wax is applied with a batik pen and the design is completed square by square. Many geometrical patterns exist and they are passed on from mother to daughter. The material is pleated by running a sharp edged stone along the pleat lines on alternate sides of the cloth, and sewing the poles into place at the waistband. The skirts with many other items of Hmong clothing are also embroided. Embroidery and applique is a social activity, a time for women to sit together and exchange views and news.

The Hmong New Year celebrations in December, starting from the 15th day of the ascending moon, are accompanied by numerous activities including top-spinning competitions, dances, songs and bull fights. It is one of the main occasions used for finding a wife or a husband. The young men and women toss the makkono, a small fabric ball as part of a charming courting ritual. The throwing of the ball can go on for hours. During the festivities the Hmong women wear their traditional dresses which are adorned with intricate embroidery and silver jewelry.

Local food[edit]

With a cool climate and relatively high altitude, Xiengkhouang produces many food items and forest products that are either not available or in scarce supply in other parts of the country. Specialty fruits of the province (seasonally available dependant on species) are Chinese pear (mak jong), passion fruit (mak nawt), peach (mak kai), and plum (mak mun). While at the market look for the many different varieties of mushrooms found here, such as hed deep, a yellow, flower-like mushroom common to the area. You’ll be lucky, however, to find the medicinal, and some say aphrodisiac-like, mushroom hed wai specific to the region, as this species is exported at high value (30-40USD/kg) to connoisseurs throughout the world. Another notable medicinal forest product unique to the province is ya hua, a root used to give strength and good appetite and for treating ailments experienced by women after giving birth. Xieng Khouang’s local chili pastes are the jaeow bong, a sour version of the famous chili paste from Luang Prabang, and jaeow pa khem, a paste made from salted fish. One of the unusual foods that Xiengkhouang is famous for, available only here, is sour swallow (nok ann toong). Every year, beginning in August/September, migratory swallows, traveling from Russia and other northern areas, visit Xiengkhouang to bathe on dust platforms located on hill tops. The swallows are caught and placed in a container to ferment. Later they are prepared by either frying or cooking in a stew. The birds are best eaten whole—without the feathers of course.

Activities in Phonsavan[edit]

Scenery and landscape[edit]

Sunset Views. Climb up some of the UXO cleared hills around Phonsavan, such as the Old Cemetery or the War Memorials, Phou Padeng Resort (excellent French food and wine) or Phou Chan and enjoy sweeping views and splendid colors of the sunset.

There are several War Memorials in Phonsavan that were constructed to commemorate the thousands of Pathet Lao soldiers who lost their lives during the Indochina Wars and to honour the Vietnamese soldiers who fought alongside them. Climb up the small hills and you will be rewarded with great views of the town and surrounding areas.

Old Cemetery and Lake Jao Supanouvong. This large cemetery is located on a hill 1 km north of Phonsavan. 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 an ideal spot for watching the sun set of the green hills. 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.

Handicraft and shopping[edit]

Typical local products from Phonsavan and the surrounding area include natural dyes and textiles decorated with patterns unique to each ethnic group, mulberry paper umbrellas, spoons made from war scrap and Hmong embroidery.In the villages the basket making is still of great importance. Basket work is traditionally performed by men. The typical Hmong shoulder baskets, which are used to carry food and goods are made from bamboo, another material used is rattan. A special drink is Mastake Whisky made from Hed Wai, a highly valued mushroom from the pine forests of Xieng Khouang.

The local fresh food 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 in other parts of Laos, e.g. mushrooms, peaches, plums and passion fruit. Some people also sell exotic meats, such as bamboo rats or pheasants.

The Navang Craft Centre is famous for woodcarving. This family business produces wood crafts made from scented Long Leng Wood (Fujian Cypress), a rare wood. You can watch the carvers work and buy souvenirs daily from 7:30–20:00.

In the town centre there is a Hmong Craft Centre offering Hmong handicraft. The shop is also home to a massage parlor run by a group of experienced Thais.

The Mulberry Silk Farm' of 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 raising silkworms, processing and improved weaving techniques and natural dyeing. Leaves, bark, vines, berries and seeds create colour 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 centre. Any purchase of souvenirs will help the local communities and enabling them to rise out of poverty. It is located in Ban Li (just west of Phonsavan on Route 7) and is open Mon–Sat 8:00–16:00.[10]

Social activities[edit]

At the UXO-Visitor Information Centre in the centre of Phonsavan (opposite Craters restaurant) the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) informs about the UXO problematic in the province. MAG began its Lao programme 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 training to clear away the brush, to use a metal detector and recognize ordance. Their village assisted clearance approach allows communities to participate in the process. Open Mon–Fri 08:00–20:00 and Sat–Sun 16:00–20:00 [11][12]

Next door is the UXO Survivor Information Centre run by the Xiengkhouang Quality of Life Association, a Lao non-profit-association (NGO) that is supported by various [13] international foundations and donations from visitors. There is a comic exhibition about how people deal with a life with "bombs". The QLA helps people to recreate their livelihood after they have been injured by a bomb accident. The centre's staff are UXO survivors themselves and can be approached to explain about the life of UXO victims. Donations and shopping in the gift shop are highly welcome. The centre is associated with the ministry of health and rehabilitation.

The SOS orphanage in Xieng Khouang was founded 1998 to take care of the many children who lost their parents in accidents related to UXO. Today 145 children live in 12 family houses. The associated kindergarten and primary school are open to local children. You are welcome to visit the centre during office hours Mon–Fri from 08:00–16:00, Check in at the administration building first.[14]

Weddings, a central part of local life in Xieng Khouang start in November, with the peak season being January and March, ending around June (they are never held during the inauspicious months of July – October, which is Buddhist lent, and February, the month of the dog). For those interested in joining a wedding reception, one can enquire at the Mueang Phouan Hotel and the Xieng Khouang Mai Hotel, which hold receptions quite often during the wedding season. It is advised, however, that you bring a healthy appetite for family-style Lao food and a willingness to dance, sing and be merry. A small monetary gift to the newlyweds, placed in a white envelope, is also appreciated. Remember to dress politely: long trousers/skirt and a clean shirt that covers both shoulders and chest.

Badminton.For those in need of exercise or simply interested in taking part in one of Lao people’s favourite modern sports, the Xieng Khouang Mai Hotel also has badminton courts open to the public. Rackets are available for rent on the premises. Players are required to bring their own sporting attire.

Activities around Phonsavan[edit]

Scenery and landscape[edit]

Nong Tang Lake

Nong Tang is a large picturesque natural lake flanked by high limestone cliffs. Locals use it for fishing and it is a favorite picnic site. Enjoy the peaceful setting in the local restaurant. Around Nong Tang there are several temple ruins of Wat Pong, Wat Xiengna and Mang Stupa. All date from the Phuan Kingdom. The Tham Pa Buddha cave is also located nearby. Overnight stay is available in a guesthouse along the shore. Nongtang is located 48 km from Phonsavan on Route 7 going to Phou Khoun.

Hot Springs

Hot Springs can be visited in the vicinity of Muang Kham off Route 7. The big hot spring Baw Nyai is 67 km from Phonsavan, has been developed as a (simple) resort with bungalows and indoor bathing facilities. The hot springs themselves are very hot and not suitable for swimming. For swimming you would have to go to the resort or walk down to the river. There is also a scenic jar site just 2 km away overlooking the valley.

Tad Ka Waterfall in Nong Het

This impressive waterfall is surrounded by spectacular limestone karst. The water runs down in cascading steps alternating with steep areas for more than 100 meters and flows all year round. To get to the falls follow Route 7 to Nong Het, at Khang Phaniane Village turn left into a graveled road (100 km from Phonsavan) and drive for about 3 km; take the trail to the left and walk about 30 minutes to get to the waterfall. Taking a guide is recommended. Best ask at the local tourist information, or if that is closed at the Nong Het guest house.

Tad Ka Waterfall in Tajok

The waterfall is located near Tajok village, 32 km north of Phonsavan. 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 locals, 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 ca. 800 meters. To enjoy its whole beauty follow the trail down to the bottom of the valley. It is a good picnic spot, but because you must cross a river to reach it, access is difficult in the rainy season.

Thathom

Traveling to Thathom, located 130 km south of Phonsavan, is still an adventure. Driving mainly on dirt roads you pass thick deciduous forests, stands of bamboo, remote villages and cross rivers several times. Thathom offers a gorgeous karst landscape with plenty of rivers, caves and historical sites, but so far, tourist services are scarce. Song thaews (pick-up trucks) leave Phonsavan daily, but there are no regular trips in the rainy season. Boat services are available once you reach the Nam Xan River going to Paksan in Bolikhamxay province.

History[edit]

Muang Khoun is the old capital of the Phuan Kingdom and was the provincial capital during French colonialism. This rural centre of faded glory was heavily bombed at the end of the 1960s and bears testimony to centuries of aggression. Once the town rivaled Luang Prabang in glory but today only few ruins remain, such as Wat Piawat. The Phuan village of Ban Nasi is nearby and a good opportunity to cross a suspension bridge with a splendid view of lush fields and creeks. The villagers do basketry and weaving.

The Tham Pha Buddha Cave is located nearby Lake Nong Tang, about 3 km away from the highway. In its large network of caverns hundreds of Buddha statues were stashed away to protect them from Chinese Haw invaders in the second half of the 19th century (compare Taiping Rebellion). In the main entrance a large Buddha that is said to be over 1200 years old can be admired. During the last war the upper cave had been used by the Vietnamese army as a hospital. The cave has basic infrastructure, such as lights, toilets and steps and very knowledgeable Lao guide. Within walking distance are "Water Cave" and "Stupa Cave", which contains the ruins of an old stupa.

Muang Si (contemporary Ban Nuang Tang) was once known for its vast Buddhist temples and quaint provincial architecture, but the destruction during the last war had been total. Muang Si was the headquarters of the Neutralist faction in the 1960s and served as a base for US war planes. After 1975 it briefly was the revolutionary capital of the Pathet Lao.

Ban Tajok village is a Hmong village along Route 7. It is an excellent example of how war remains are integrated into daily lives. Take a walk to the village and discover bomb fences and herbs growing in bomb casings. Every Sunday morning from 4 am to about 9 am (sic!) there is a popular "Hmong morning market" worth a visit.

Indochina War sites[edit]

Evidence of the intense fighting can be seen in the cratered landscape in war relics such as bomb shells, tanks and military positions. The resourceful locals refashion war scrap into items for everyday use, e.g. spoons in Ban Napia village, vegetable planters, fences, tools, pumps and barbecue fireplaces.

The extent of the bombardment is in particular evident at Ban Khai, 36 km northeast of Phonsavan and Plain of Jars sites 1 and 3; here the landscape is pockmarked with craters. Driving north along Route 7 plenty of creatively modified war scrap used in local architecture catches your eye. In Tajok, a Hmong village along Route 7 (30 km northeast of Phonsavan), you can discover lots of bomb casings reused as barn pillars, fences and for other uses.

Craters at Ban Khai The landscape around Khai village is pockmarked with craters and shows the impact of the immense aerial bombardment during the Second Indochina War.

The wreck of a Russian Tank can be found off Route 7 on the way to Ban Mixay- The mulberry umbrella village.

Caves – Refuges for thousands of people

During the war thousands of local residents took shelter in caves and set up hospitals and schools; the army used the caves as well to store weapons and medical supplies. Two major caves are open to the public:

Tham Piu Cave is located 6 km north of Muang Kham. It is one of the tragedies of the so-called Secret War. In 1969 a single rocket fired from an aircraft caused the death of an estimated 374 people who had taken refuge in the cave. Their bones are still buried in the rubble. Directions: Take Route 5 towards Nam Nguen and turn left 3 km from Muang Kham; the paved road ends at the cave.

The Tham Xang Caves are located in a scenic karst area, the caves were used by the revolutionary fighters. Inside the cave complex they set up a hospital, an arsenal and a medicine depot. Evidence can still be seen. Besides its war history the illuminated residential cave is worth visiting to see its natural beauty. The Hmong community of Ban Ta takes care off the caves and offers a local tour guide service. Directions: The caves are 36 km northwest of Phonsavan. Take Route 7, pass Nong Pet, then in Nam Ka village turn left into a dirt road; follow the signs to Tham Xang until you reach Ban Ta.

Handicrafts[edit]

An old tradition in Ban Mixay village, Phoukoud district, is the making of mulberry paper umbrellas, but only a few people still know how to make the ‘Khan nyu’. The umbrellas were originally made by monks or novices at Buddhist temples and served as gifts to those who came to visit them. Nowadays they are sold in many colors and sizes at the local markets. The spokes of the umbrella frame are made from ‘mai hok’ and the struts from ‘mai pong’ or ‘mai louang’ bamboo, For the center piece, which is of particular importance, ‘mai sombao’ is used. The paper is made from the mulberry tree, but not the type used for silk production. The outer pulp of the tree is pounded and mixed with water. Then the paste is poured into the frame and the fibers are separated until they are evenly distributed. The frame is set out to dry in the sun. The dried paper is cut and glued to the spokes. The glue is made from the fruit of the wild persimmon tree. The paper is dyed with natural dyes; sesame oil e.g. produces a white color and the roots of the ‘mak bao’ plant are used for red umbrellas.

Ban Napia village. Since the late 1980s the people of this cultural village produce spoons made of aluminum scrap of the Indochina Wars. Visiting the village you can learn about the spoon making process and also gain insights into Phuan culture. The village also produces hand-woven textiles and a good 'lao-lao' schnapps. Overnight stays with excellent food is available. You can book treks from Ban Napia to Ban Nam Kha at travel agents in Phonsavan. This is a project run by Helvetas of Switzerland to help improving the livelihoods of the villagers.

Ban Xieng Khio village Tai Dam villages can be found in the upland valley of Kham. The Tai Dam Cultural Centre showcases the cultural tradition and customs of this minority group. The centre is locally run; if the door is locked ask the villagers to open and visit the centre. Tai Dam are well known producers of fine quality silk and cotton fabrics which can be purchased directly by the manufacturers in the village or at Kham Handicraft Group Centre.

Xang village is located near a small hot spring. An ideal spot for a small break. Across the river Phuan women demonstrate their weaving.

Ban Phakeo Trekking is becoming more and more popular (most travel agents in Phonsavan are offering tours now). Phakeo village is a remote Hmong village located on the upper slopes of the mountains and can only be reached by walking with a guide. The small farming community with 20 households has retained a high degree of traditional customs and living. The Provincial Tourism Department assisted the villagers with offering a community based overnight stay.

Transportation[edit]

Lao Airlines offers six flights a week in peak season and four flights in low season. Coming from Vinh or Hanoi in Vietnam visas are available on arrival at the Nam Ka border, which is open daily from 6:00 – 18:00. The bus from Vinh leaves four days a week and takes 12 hours, form Hanoi there is one bus per week. If you are travelling from Vientiane you can either take VIP buses or local buses. The buses leave from the northern bus terminal and take about 10–12 hours. Note: The roads are paved but there are plenty of serpentines. The bus trip from Vang Vieng takes 7–8 hours. Buses run daily from Luang Prabang via Route 13 and 7 and take 8 hours. Driving your own car (approx. 260 km) will take 5 hours with stops along the way. There is no gas till you are 45 km from Phonsavan, You could also hire a minivan in either Luang Prabang or Vientiane.

References[edit]

For more information visit the Lao National Tourism Organisation homepage http://www.tourismlaos.org/ or the Asian Development homepage about ecotourism in Laos http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/

  1. ^ Paek District Office, Statistics Department. Paek District has a population of 70,215. Xiengkhouang Province has ca. 250,000 people. The borders from town to district are not very clear, and Phonsavan administratively is a collection of villages.
  2. ^ "Laos' Plain of Jars: It's a mystery, plain and simple". The Age. 2 August 2009. 
  3. ^ "World Weather Information Service - Xiengkhuang". World Meteorological Organization. Retrieved 10-6-2012. 
  4. ^ The Governor-General of New Zealand opens visitors centre https://en-gb.facebook.com/GovernorGeneralNewZealand/posts/507443095996408
  5. ^ See Laos news agency August 14, 2013 Page 5 for opening ceremony photo http://www.kpl.net.la/english/E-newspaper/2013/August/14.pdf
  6. ^ Provincial Tourism Department Xieng Khouang, A Guide to Xieng Khouang
  7. ^ Martin Stuart-Fox The Lao Kingdom of Lao Xang: Rise and Decline, White Lotus Press, 1998
  8. ^ http://www.infomekong.com/laophuan.htm
  9. ^ personal communication with people in Phonsavan. The high density of Western Union and Moneygram outlets even in small villages is another indicator
  10. ^ http://www.mulberries.org
  11. ^ http://www.maginternational.org
  12. ^ Gray, Sadie. The Times http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article7036794.ece |url= missing title (help). 
  13. ^ http://maic.jmu.edu/journal/13.1/feature/Bruinooge/bruinooge.htm
  14. ^ A Guide to Xieng Khouang Mountain Province in Northern Laos, Provincial Tourism Department
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