[Written Wednesday, February The 22nd, Night]
Booked a tour of the Jars sites for tomorrow, which turns out to be only $20. Seems like a great deal.
After that, made the one-hour jaunt to the bus station, to purchase a ticket to Vang Vieng for Friday morning. Just turning around to leave, and the clerk exclaimed, “Hi!” Turned back around, and he offered, “Free gift for Friday,” handing me a bottle of water and a…
The latter, I gave to a fine gentleman waiting for a bus. Hey look, I’m not gonna say the gesture made his millennium, or anything like that; but he did seem to get a kick out of it.
Walking back into town, finally got a opportunity to for the first time listen to the new Joseph Arthur album. Holy crap, Joseph! I know it’s been only a couple of years. But this is too good; you’ve been away far too long! The record can be downloaded free of charge from his website. Run, don’t walk (as they say)!
Then had time to explore the town a bit. The town, it kinda looks like Luang Namtha smells: there are big trucks all over the place, either parked or hurtling down the main drag.
Every-other shop seems other to be selling some sort of oil, or offering auto-mechanical services. Construction going on everywhere. But it doesn’t smell bad at all, and the visibility’s pretty decent.
The area is fairly breezy as well. Dusty, breezy, big trucks, hot days/cool nights, mountains everywhere, off the beaten path – kinda reminds me of Montana in a way.
It’s not a very tourist-orientated town. But it’s got its charms all the same. Just watching people going about their workaday lives is to me so utterly fascinating. One good thing about traveling alone: one can spend an entire day indulging such fascinations without pissing anybody else the crap off. Even the more so when they’re as friendly as Laotians, as delighted to be talking to a Westerner. (Seems they don’t see so many in these parts, as I was drawing quite a bit of attention just walking around some of the residential side-streets.)
This lady bade me pet the baby cow (which she’d been doing when I arrived at the scene). Was somewhat surprised that it allowed me to do so.
Of course, signs are always good for some entertainment.
The town and many of its establishments are adorned with old materiel from the U.S. bombing. Don’t really know what to make of it, but…okay.
Chatted for a while with a nutty Slovak who was giving me tips about Cambodia. I asked if he’d got the seven-day pass for Angkor Wat, and he scoffed that nobody could ever need seven days to explore the temples there. Ha ha, little does he know!
He was telling me to make sure to not miss visiting the “big lake” (Tonle Sap), as the vegetation around there is so vivid that it’s almost as beautiful as the Windows XP desktop. Swear to Buddha, that’s what he said!
He then went on a big, long, entertaining rant about, if one takes ill, to never set foot inside a Cambodian hospital, as they’ll “finish you off every time”.
Speaking of temples, guidebook says this town’s are un-interesting. Well, the guidebook can fuckoff at a time of its choosing, because, while there aren’t many of them, the temples here kick ass!
For one thing, they’re the most festive-looking temples in all of Asia (at least that I’ve seen).
For another, their Naga are shaped unlike any other I’ve seen, with the huge bends in the middle; while also being far more multi-coloured than any I’ve seen.
For yet another, one’s got a stupa garden off to the side; and another’s completely ringed by stupae. Again, this is new to me.
And in how many other towns have I seen a novice riding a tiger. Uh, approximately in zero other towns. Pretty sure I’ve not even seen a big old tiger guarding a temple before to-day.
Finally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a temple’s shrine housed in its own separate, adjoining structure. As you can see, i’s even got a window, to view the shrine from outside.
Just goes to show: let Templemania, and not some ridiculous book, decide your viewing fate. Otherwise, you’ll miss some unique shit.
Later on, went and visited the Mines Advisory Group Information Centre. This is a great organisation working to clear all the unexploded ordnance, left over from the bombing campaign, which to this day kills and maims hundreds of people per year. Heroic work – but even at the current rate of progress, it’ll take several decades to completely decontaminate all of Laos.
Purchased a t-shirt from them – my very first souvenir of the tour. In the evenings, they screen three free documentaries dealing with the clearing work and similar issues. All covered more less the same ground, but all worth watching. One of them, Bombies, was even a PBS co-production. Might be able to find a DVD at your local library…
[Written Thursday, February The 23rd, Night]
Plain Of Jars tour, y’all! In the group were myself, a Belgian, an Irishman (living, for the last nine years, in China), a Japanesian, an Australian, a Swisswoman, and a Slovakienne; plus the guide, name of “Lian”, and the driver.
The first stop was Site 1 – the Site with the greatest number of Jars, as well as the greatest number of tourists. Also, very great rules and regulations. If you were thinking you might like to rear animals on the Plain Of Jars without permission…think again.
Have I photos of the Jars? Why, yes I have. They’ll be found in their own set at the Flickr page.
For some reason, I just love this kind of shit. The Jars are not quite so mysteriously fascinating as are the Hawaiian Petroglyphs. But they’re certainly in their own way the more impressive an accomplishment.
One legend says they were used as whiskey-drinking cups for giants; another says they were used as funeral urns. Whatever it was, they’re freaky as Hell.
I only saw one with a lid atop it; although there were also a few lids on the ground.
You’ve gotta stay on the marked paths, or chances are you’ll get blown sky-high.
About 40% of the Jars have sustained damage; of these, about 50% were damaged by the U.S. bombing. Yeah, there are all these stupid fucking bomb-craters pock-marking the sites.
While the group was having lunch, I took to reading the informational signs at the lunch area. While I was doing so, Lian chatted with me a while. Eventually he asked where I was from, and when I told him, he responded, “Ah! So you know that you are responsible for the bombing?”
I began to blush, of course, and to apologise profusely. He said that all was forgiven, that it was in the past. But god fucking dammit, what an awful feeling. (And of course, it’s not all in the past, as people are still to this day being blown up by the god damned mess we left behind.)
He asked if the American government had told the truth, to the American people, about the secret war upon Laos. I explained that, no, the American government always and only ever lies. Not only about Laos – but about everything.
On the way to Site 2, we stopped at a village and watched a lady making Whiskeylao. Apparently it’s about a seven-week process, with only two ingredients: rice and yeast.
She had some finished product to share around. As James had done back in Luang Prabang, Lian, to prove its mettle, poured some in an overturned lid and lit it on fire. As he was the guide, he explained, he was required to drink first. He poured the shot down, and then began to share.
The Japanesian – against Lian’s urging him to “bottoms-up” — put just a little bit in his palm, and lapped it up. His reaction tells a tale.
The Irishman and the Belgian, who both seemed to know their ways around a shot of whiskey, agreed that it was pretty good.
On to Site 2, which was completely devoid of tourists, excepting ourselves. The Jars at this site are far fewer in number, but also a little bit larger. Actually quite liked this Site, as there’s a lot of vegetation with which the Jars may interact; and the plentiful shade makes for more pleasurable Jar-viewing.
On the way to Site 3, we stopped to see a Russian tank the side of the road. To the Laotians, it’s about the coolest thing ever.
Site 3 is similar to Site 2, but also has a great mountain/valley backdrop. At this site, Lian (ever the joker) spoke to one of the Jars, “Jars, what are your mysteries? When will you tell us the secret?” Here he is, waiting for the Jar to answer.
Here’s a shot I particularly like.
I asked the Australian if he’d be so kind as to take my picture sitting inside this damaged Jar, which request he was happy to oblige.
But then, the Japanesian took my camera from him, and told me to stand up and have my picture taken. Fucking brilliant!
A nice shot of some Jars and the surrounding area. Site 3, I think, was my favourite of the three.
The road back was dusty and bumpy, just as it had been on the way out. But for some reason, it seemed to take much longer to get back to paved road than it’d taken to get up to the Sites. At long last, however, we did so, then got back into town – and there the Jars still are. Bombed and battered, but beautiful and mysterious yet these 3,000 years after their construction.
Back in town, there was some kind of volleyball tournament going on. If I understood correctly what one of the locals was telling me, the teams were comprised of fathers vs. sons. The PA announcer was pretty excitable at times.
The announcer and other officials were having a great, sitting in their little shack, drinking their Beerlao, and listening to their Lao Pop music.
In the evening, went to the screening of the feature-length documentary mentioned the other day, The Most Secret Place On Earth. Unlike the documentaries of yesterday, which dealt with the aftermath of the war, this one was concerning the war itself. Pretty engrossing and sobering picture, if you ever get a chance to see it.