PhonsavanCentral Laos. It is known primarily as the gateway to the Plain of Jars.
The best-known tourist attraction is the nearby UNESCO world heritage site Plain of Jars. The main economic activities in Phonsavan are governmental administration, mining companies from China and Australia, tourism and the work of NGOs clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Phonsavan is home to various ethnic groups, such as the Phuan, whose ancestors once founded the kingdom of the same name; the Hmong, whose New Year's celebrations in Xieng Khouang are famous throughout Laos; the Khmu, and the Tai Dam. There is also a minority of Laotian Chinese and Vietnamese, as well as some international workers and missionaries from Korea and Western countries. Typical local products are natural dyes and textiles, each with an individual pattern depending on the ethnic group, basketry, mulberry paper umbrellas, spoons made from war scrap or embroidery.
For general information visit the Provincial Tourism Department near the market, Thalat Nam Ngum, on the road to the airport. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Xiang Khouang AirportHas 4 flights per week to Vientiane. 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 6AM-6PM. The bus from Vinh leaves four days a week and takes 12 hours, from Hanoi there is one bus per week.
By busIf you are travelling from Vientiane you can either take VIP buses or local buses. The buses leave from the northern bus terminal and take 10-12 hours. The roads are paved but there are plenty of bends. The bus trip from Vang Vieng takes 7-8 hours. Buses run daily from Luang Prabang via Route 13 and Route 7 and take 8 hours. Shared minivan options to the most popular destinations, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, are now offered by travel agencies.
There were two buses running daily from Vinh in Vietnam, going from the main bus station at 6AM (no reservations necessary) (2011). Vinh can be reached easily by train from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
Tuk-tuks are not allowed to take tourists to the jar sites. You can visit the site with a certified guide or on your own.
A shared tuk tuk from the bus station to the town centre costs around 10,000 kip per person.
BattlefieldsDuring the Second Indochina War, Xieng Khouang was the scene of extensive ground battles and intense aerial bombardment due to its perceived strategic importance. The provinces of Houaphan and Xieng Khouang 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 area worldwide. In addition to bombs, massive quantities of defoliants and herbicides were dropped.
Evidence of the intense fighting can be seen in the cratered landscape and in war relics such as unexploded bomb casings, tanks, and defensive positions. The resourceful locals refashion war scrap into items for everyday use, e.g., spoons in Ban Napia village, planters, fences, tools, pumps and barbecues.
Baan KhaiThe extent of the bombardment is in particular evident at Baan Khai. 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.
Baan TajokAlthough not littered with structures built from UXO, with a bit of browsing you will find some scattered about (such as corn and grain storage with the occasional planter) the village.
Pho Kod War Memorial
War MemorialsConstructed 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.
Caves of refugeDuring 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 CaveOne of the tragedies of the so-called secret war, on 24 Nov 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.
Tham Xang CavesIn 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 medical 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 of the caves and offers a local tour service.
NatureXieng Khouang is widely known for the Plain of Jars, but beyond its jars is the natural beauty of the province. Xieng Khouang’s scenery is characterised 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, punctuated with yellow sunflowers and poinsettia in full bloom. Nam Ngum, the largest river in the province, originates in the highlands of Paek District and is one of the major tributaries of the Mekong. 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 blossoming in Feb.
Hot SpringsThe big hot spring, Baw Nyai, 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. This jar site offers an insight into how the jars were made as part of the site is a quarry. Taking a guide to visit the site is recommended.
Nong Tang LakeNong Tang is a large picturesque natural lake flanked by high limestone cliffs. Locals use it for fishing and it is a popular picnic site. Enjoy the peaceful setting in the local restaurant. Overnight stay is available in a guesthouse along the shore.
Old Cemetery and Lake Jao SupanouvongIt's unique in that Tai Dam animist tombs are mixed with Catholic tombstones, Chinese graves, and Lao Buddhist reliquary. The hilltop offers sweeping views and is an ideal spot for watching the sunset over the green hills. The lake, 3 km north of town, is named for Prince Supanouvong, the first president of the Lao PDR. Once the site of the provincial jail, it is now a place of repose.
Tad Ka Waterfall (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 m. It flows all year round. To get to the falls a guide is recommended.
Tad Ka Waterfall (Tajok)The water flows down several tiers. A spectacular jungle trail winds its way up the waterfall crossing it several times. A popular picnic spot for locals, especially during the Lao New Year holidays. Local tour companies offer day tours including a picnic lunch and a hike up the waterfall.
Tad Lang WaterfallTad Lang cascades down about 800 m. To enjoy its 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.
ThathomTravelling to Thathom 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 tourist services are scarce. Songthaews 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.
Help Teach EnglishParticipate in English classes at Phonsavan School (English Centre, Phonsavan School). English speaking tourists are welcome to participate in English evening classes in the local primary/junior high school. It is a rewarding experience, and you don't have to be a teacher.
SOS OrphanageFounded in 1998 to take care of the many children who lost their parents in UXO accidents. 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. Check in at the administration building first.
UXO Visitor Information CentreThe Mines Advisory Group deals with UXO (unexploded ordnance). 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 ordnance. Their village assisted clearance approach allows communities to participate in the process. The UXO survivors Information Centre was opened by the World Education organisation. The centre has a gift shop with products made by UXO survivors.
Fresh Food MarketAn excellent place to sample the variety of unique foods that Xieng Khouang has to offer. The cool climate and high altitude of the province produces many food items and forest products that are unavailable in other parts of Laos, e.g., mushrooms, peaches, plums and passion fruit. Some people also sell exotic meats, such as live bamboo rats or pheasants. A special drink is matsutake whisky made from Hed Wai, a highly valued mushroom from the pine forests of Xieng Khouang.
Hmong Crafts CentreIn the city centre offering products made by Hmong. In the same shop is also a Thai massage parlour run by a group of 4 experienced Thais. The boss trains locals in the art of massage.
The Mulberry Silk FarmLao 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 silk production. Villagers are trained in sericulture, the process of raising silkworms, processing and improved weaving techniques, and natural dying. Leaves, bark, vines, berries, and seeds create colours to appeal to virtually any taste. A free guided tour leads you through the production process. The purchase of souvenirs helps the local communities and enabling them to rise out of poverty.
Navang Craft CentreFamous for woodcarving. This family business produces crafts made from scented long leng wood (Fujian cypress), a rare wood. You can watch the carvers work and buy souvenirs.
CratersCaters to Western tastes with a menu of pizza, burgers (only so-so) and other favourites. It does have a nice interior design compared to the other places in town.
Maly HotelThe best Lao food you can get in town, including a very special interior design with lots of bombs and other knick-knacks.
NirvanaBamboo-style bar and restaurant that offers both Lao and Western food.
NishaRestaurant serving Indian and Lao food, for vegetarians and meat eaters. The interior is very unassuming but the food is recommended. Service can be very slow when busy (1-2 hours from ordering to table).
Plain of Jars CoffeeReportedly the first, and only, coffee shop in the town
Sangha RestaurantA long-time favourite with Lao and NGO workers. This restaurant serves simple, but good food at very reasonable prices. Food is mainly Lao but serves steaks or chicken and chips. Service can be indifferent.
SimmalyA Vietnamese restaurant that is a favourite with visitors. Portions are huge with friendly service.
Sindard PhompidIf you are with a group, have some Lao-style hotpot, called "sindard". Good place to eat.
Vasana HotelA good restaurant with a pleasant view.
Chittavanh Hotel DiscothèquePopular with the locals, catering to local tastes.
The OneOn a small lake. They serve Tiger beer and have a good menu with fresh fish.
phone: +856 20 551 6365No Internet/Wi-Fi, Plains of Jar tours between 130,000-150,000 kip. Restaurant closed in rainy season.
Nice Guesthousephone: +856 61 312454The name says it all. Popular with backpackers. English-speaking staff. Rooms have fan-only option, no air-con. Wi-Fi.
Sabaidee Guesthousephone: +856 20 5067990Double or twin rooms with bath. Breakfast and tourist services available.
Samphan Douang Paekob Guesthousephone: +856 61 212338
Say Pha Souk Guesthousephone: +856 20 5875284
Sengdavan Guesthousephone: +856 61 211131
Vanraloun GuesthouseBasic rooms with decent bed, 50,000-60,000 kip for a single, bath en suite. No Wi-Fi. Eager-to-please staff, though his English is not the best. Free bottle of water given daily. No windows in the room, the sound of motorbikes will serenade you until after 24:00. The fan (loud) helps.
Banna Plain of Jars Housephone: +856 61 212484Typical Xieng Khouang war decor.
Maly Hotelphone: +856 61 312031Very good restaurant. The better rooms are much nicer than the basement rooms. Idiosyncratic UXO and local ethnic-themed decor. The owners are very knowledgeable about recent history.
White Orchid Guesthousephone: +856 61 213403Popular place. Organises tours. Decent rooms.
Xieng Khuang May Hotelphone: +856 61 312049Used to be the best in town, but is still popular for weddings. Decent rooms.
phone: +856 61 312308Bright, clean and ample-sized rooms. Breakfast included. Only hotel in the province with a lift.
phone: +856 61 213777, +856 61 312038Bright, medium and large sized rooms. Fast Wi-Fi in room. The nightclub in the backyard is popular with students and young people in town.
Duangkeomany Hotelphone: +856 61 312104Modern hotel with clean rooms and Internet.
The Hillside Residencephone: +856 61 312070, +856 20 547 381 7Nice colonial-style wooden villa offers charming rooms with a relaxed atmosphere. Enjoy the balconies if you rent a room upstairs and the upper sitting terrace.
Phouphadeng Hotel with Auberge de la Plaine de Jarres Restaurant /phone: +856 30 5170282Wonderful view. Professionally managed. Excellent French restaurant with Alsatian-influenced cuisine which is in its own league. Highly recommended, but not cheap.
Phouxang Hotelphone: +856 61 312097Hilltop hotel.
phone: +856 61 213170Professionally-managed hotel with sister hotels in Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Modern, clean and spacious rooms.
Xieng Khuang Hotelphone: +856 61 213567Free Wi-Fi. Big rooms. Functionalist, and somewhat austere, Vietnamese architecture.
Happy Motorcycles are reported to offer some level of insurance.
Warning - Phonsavan is one of the most heavily bombed places in history. There is unexploded ordnance (UXO) everywhere. On average, 60 persons die each year due to UXOs. Use caution when wandering, and always stay on paths.
- Luang Prabang. Bus at 07:30, 90,000 kip, air-con
- Plain of Jars
- Vang Vieng. Bus at 07:30, 95,000 kip, air-con
- Vieng Xai
- Vientiane. Bus 95,000-130,000 kip at 07:00, 8:00, 10:30, 16:30, 18:40, 20:00. hours can be changed, most notably the 07:00 and 08:00 can be merged into one 09:00 bus. 20:00 is the VIP bus. All have air-con. Two different bus stations, the trip from the southern bus station passing Pakxan takes 8 hours, from the northern bus station passing Vang Vieng takes 10 hours.
- Vinh. 06:30, 150,000 kip, air-con