Having found somewhere nice and chilled out to stay in Phonsavan, we decide to decamp here for a few days. This gives us plenty of time to eat tasty Indian food at Nisha, tasty ‘Western’ food at Bamboozle and Craters, and of course to check out the mysterious ‘Jars’ and learn more about the so-called ‘Secret War’ and the terrible legacy of unexploded bombs (or ‘UXO’) it left.
Jars site one is an easy 18km round trip out of town by bike, and well worth doing. There displays about both the Jars and the area, which has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed and pain over the centuries, are informative and powerful. The Jars themselves, due to their size, proliferation and the myths that surround them, are fascinating and well worth a visit. It’s cool that there can be something like this that is still so shrouded in mystery and magic, and the Jars seem well worthy of their (hopefully) soon to be confirmed UNESCO ‘World Heritage’ status. Whether it’s worth visiting multiple sites though is your call – we felt that visiting Site 1 was enough, but then we are quite lazy.
To learn more about the Secret War and its devastating impact on the area, we visited the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) public office, and – just a couple of doors down – the Quality of Life Association, whose displays, books and films were very moving indeed. We learnt, via a blackboard with chalked names of recent accidents, that there have been four UXO injuries and one fatality in the area since the start of 2015 alone. Typically, it’s farmers or kids who are injured and killed.
Feeling like our direct support would make a tangible difference, we donated to both organisations and also bought a T-shirt from MAG and a scarf made by people affected by UXO injuries or bereavement. We’d urge you to visit and hopefully do the same.
After a further day in Phonsavan doing absolutely nothing, we get back on the bikes on Sat 24 Jan for the easy ride to Muang Kham. The road is good, it’s mostly either flat or downhill, and we do the 50km at an average of 19km/hr, our best yet. There’s not a whole lot of note on this stretch, but we’re just glad to relax and enjoy the ride.
Muang Kham is a small but seemingly happy little town, with at least three guesthouses. We select the one overlooking the market (+ bouncy castle/slide, + delighted kids), where 70,000 kip gets us slow but sure wifi, a lovely bright room, balcony with beautiful sunset views, and lashings of hot water. We like this place!
In fact, we end up staying three days, which is probably two more than most people will stay. But, we figure, it’s better placed for the hot springs than Phonsavan, and also close to the Tham Piu ‘massacre cave’ where more than 350 people lost their lives to a single US air strike. The cave makes a sad and sobering place to visit; it is filled with stone cairns to commemorate the dead, while the small museum displays some of the most horrific, graphic images of fatalities I’ve ever seen.
The small hot springs, about 5km out of town, make for a perfect day trip by bike. We spend hours here, bathing in the bath-warm water, dipping into the refreshingly cool river water that flows alongside, crossing the river on the rickety bamboo bridge, and people-watching as the locals come to scrub their clothes, have a hair-wash, or catch fish. The only other falangs we see all day are a middle-aged couple who don’t stay long. The visit is rounded off with a Beer Lao on the sun terrace with a very friendly local who insists on plying us with chicken wings and more beer.
Note that you could easily do the cave and the springs on the same day, but we quite enjoyed taking our time… 🙂