Asia,  Destinations,  Laos,  Travel Diary

Visiting the Plain of Jars, Phonsavan, Laos

I went to Phonsavan (via minibus) specifically to see the Plain of Jars, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fascinating bit of ancient history. I visited on October 14, 2023.

Megaliths in Laos

These massive stone jars, totally about 2,000 around the province, were created between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. The stone was taken from a nearby quarry and brought up to hills overlooking ancient cities. They’re still somewhat mysterious as archaeologists haven’t determined their original purpose yet.

It’s thought they were used in burial practices, though exactly how is still up for debate. Perhaps bodies were placed inside to decompose, and then removed for burial.

Or maybe they have to do with food storage instead: storing extra grains or collecting rainwater for travelers and locals rather than hosting dead bodies. Check out the Wikipedia page for more theories and discussion on the research into these jars– which has really only been happening for about 100 years now.

Guided tour of the Plain of Jars

I went on a private tour, booked via my hotel (which also is a tour agency) for $70 USD (plus tip). My tour guide spoke very good English, and took me to Sites 1, 2 and 3 as well as the Xieng Khouang Provincial Museum. Besides the ancient history info, I got lots of info about modern local life in Laos!

Normally I’d rather go on small group tours, as I enjoy meeting other travelers, but this was the only option available— and it meant I could take my time at each site. It was nice not to feel rushed and be able to take as many photos as I wanted. I really enjoyed this day among the megaliths, and I’m glad I forked over the extra cash to take a private tour.

Visiting the Plain of Jars sites

It’s a bit of a slog to get to Phonsavan, but there’s a small airport with domestic incoming and outgoing flights to Luang Prabang and Vientiane. I took the minibus into town, but I flew out to Vientiane as the bus there was even longer and on rougher roads than the one I had just come on.

You don’t need to have a tour guide, necessarily, as most of the info is available at the museum. If you need to save money, you can always DIY your own visit. In fact, if you want to visit the other sites, you may have to DIY it.

The entrance ticket is 15,000 kip to each Site (I think; mine was included in my tour price) though only Site 1 seemed to have a proper ticket booth.

Not all sites are open to the public, as there is still quite a bit of unexploded ordinance in the country. Be sure to double-check which ones you can go to with a local beforehand.

If you’re short on time, you can definitely just go to Site 1 and see the jars there. It’s about 10 minutes from town and easy to get to.

The other two sites are great (and much less busy), but the jars are basically the same. Site 3 goes through a rice field, so if it’s rice harvesting season you can see some good stuff on the way to the jars– though the way there is a little trickier than the other sites, as you have to balance on some logs to cross a small stream, that sort of thing.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Plain of Jars. Highly recommend visiting here if you have any interest in ancient history.

Plain of Jars Photo Gallery

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If you’re planning on traveling around Southeast Asia, you might be interested in these other posts:

Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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