The Plain of Jars is located in the province of Xieng Khouang in Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia. Laos has the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world.
As part of its efforts during the Vietnam War, the United States began a nine-year bombing campaign in Laos in 1964 that ultimately dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos – mainly in Xieng Khouang. That is more than 2.5 million tons of munitions – greater than what the US dropped in World War II on Germany and Japan combined. When the bombs hit the ground, many did not blow up as designed but remained hidden.
Of the 75 million bombs that failed to detonate, less than 1 per cent has been cleared. At least 25,000 people have been killed or injured by these bombs in the almost four decades following the bombing campaign. Today, an average of 300 of Lao people are injured or killed every year by the hidden bombs.
The Laotian Government is in the process of applying for status as a UNESCO World Heritage site for the Plain of Jars. However, clearing of the bombs is one of the requirements before the sites can be studied and developed for tourism. Clearing is taking place – but slowly due to the hazardous nature of the operation and the lack of funding and resources.
So what is the Plain of Jars?
The Plain of Jars is an archeological landscape on which are scattered thousands of megalithic jars in clusters in 90 sites. To-date, seven sites have been cleared of unexploded bombs, with the largest having about 400 jars. The jars are huge – enough to accommodate one or more human bodies. They vary in height and diameter between 1 and 2 meters. All are all hewn out of rocks. Local legend says this is a place where giants used to roam. Studies by archeologists indicate the Plain of Jars with the giant jars as an Iron Age burial site dating back to the second millennium B.C.
I visited three sites in the Plain of Jars and found it a spiritual experience. The journey by car is long as the Plain is located in the central plain of the country and the roads are poor. But it was worth it.