The gateway to The Plain of Jars
15.03.2017 - 15.03.2017 26 °C
Arriving in Phonsavanh town, the capital of Xiengkhouang province of Laos, it was already past 5 in the evening. The journey in a minivan from Paksan in Bolikhamsai province bordering Thailand north east province of Bueng Kan,the journey took about 5 and a half hours. This Paksan-Phonsavanh reminded me of the journey back in 2012 when I travelled from Pleiku in Vietnam to Attapeu andonwards to Pakse in Laos.It was not a smooth journey as the road cuts through some of the most heavily mountainous landscape between Laos and Vietnam. Perhaps I thought, the Phonsavanh journey from Paksan was even more challenging as the vehicle travelled through a mixture of poor to moderate road condition, going up about 2,700 metres above sea level negotiating some very dangerous sharp bends and curves along the way. But all these adventures added up one of a kind travel experience in particular for backpackers like me. The number of passengers occupying the minivan and air-con that worked only 20% of its normal capacity caused even more notoriety to the whole journey. It could have been worst than what I had gone through but such were the situation that created whole lots of spice into road travel backpackers style. Thank God that all of us safely reached the intended destination. Just as in the Pleiku-Pakse journey, the driver also played important role in ensuring the safety of the passengers and surely, they must have done a good job in safeguarding life of the passengers. There were huge electricity dam projects undertaken by Chinese consortium within the Bolikhamsai and Xiengkhouang mountainous geopraphy. This was also noted when I went on a bicycle adventure in Thakhek. Obviously, the many signboards in Chinese characters were erected along the road of which the area where projects were on-going proof that the dam constructions were awarded to Chinese companies. I read about news that once completed, Laos will be able to sell electricity to its regional neighbours within Mekong or Indochina and even beyond the Indochina area. The dam projects nevertheless has its consequences towards the natural environment and landscapes within the provinces of which projects were taking place. What can be seen was, there were already serious pollution not only to the quality of air but the river as well because it was noted that the water has been tainted and turned reddish. Mountains and hills with thick jungles and trees were cut down which caused increment in temperature and danger of landslides during rainy season. All the damages done could not be reversed and could worsened the global warming issue which has already been at an alarming stage in certain parts of the world. Hopefully, something could be done by the Lao authority so that all the problems arise due to the projects could be managed and put under better control.
ARRIVING AT XIENGKHOUANG NEW BUS STATION FROM PAKSAN & SAMLOR TO PHONSAVANH TOWN
Phonsavanh is the capital of Xiengkhouang province and it is not a complex town as in any other capital in other parts of the globe. Because there were very low level of modernisation and infrastructure developments, Phonasavanh maintained much of the serenity of the old world. It is peaceful without much traffics and there were no huge and tall buildings surrounded the town. Just outside the town, there were old traditional houses as well as Hmong tribes homes built on edges of rice fields and the flat terrains of low hills within the province. Getting to Phonsavanh town centre from the new bus station, the sun began to set down and the weather turned chilly. The costs of samlor from the bus station costs 20,000 kip and as the samlor reached nearer to the centre, new road with modern street lighting were seen just completed not long ago. What made Phonsavanh interesting was not only it was still very much untouched, the road leading to the town was a long winding road with shops dotted both sides of the road. I was not aware that the samlor has reached the centre of Phonsavanh town until the driver told me that it was already at the end of the town.
There were not many things to do in Phonsavanh and as in other major towns I had been to in Laos such as Pakse and Savannakhet, there was a big market (Xiengkhouang Shopping Centre) that deals mainly in consumer goods such as sundry goods, textiles, food items, kitchenwares, footwear, fashion items and many other mixture of daily necessity items available. There was also an annexed wet market (Phoukham Garden Agriculture Wet Market) to the consumer market and caters to locals within Phonsavanh as well as food operators that need to get fresh items in preparing their food for the day. A stroll along these markets just to have a look on what it has to offer could offer some insights into the culture of Lao people. Lao PDR may not be a developed country and from what was observed, the life here can be said to be dated back to 30 years or so of the place that I lived since I was a young boy but does that matter? With so much of developments taken place around the world and so many advancement in technologies and contemporary lifestyle that came with the developments, did all such advanced life made human much better off than we were 30 years ago? I was so much in admiration of being able to cycle freely in Phonsavanh, the almost free traffic without road congestion, the cool and pleasant weather, the quietness and peacefulness of the town. It was just awesome.
XIENGKHOUNG SHOPPING CENTRE & WET MARKET
There are 2 main activities that can be done in Phonsavanh town after being done with the Plain of Jars tour. There are to visit the MAG's (Mines Advisory Group) UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) Visitor Information Centre and the UXO Survivor Information Centre. Both the centres were located with the same row of shops and separated by one shop in between them. The MAG's UXO Visitor Information Centre was set up by the non-profitable NGO,which is a voluntary group engaging the Lao PDR government assistance over the years in providing training and education to the locals in identifying areas with UXO and landmines, deployment of volunteers to clear UXO and landmines, management and destruction of recovered UXO and emergency response assistance during time in need. Xiengkhouang province,Laos was said to be the most severely affected by the USAF's assault in waging its battle with Viet Minh guerillas during the Vietnam War. Tonnes of rockets & missiles and other major destructive bombs landed here in Xiengkhouang unexploded when USAF bombarded the province in their effort to destroy the HCM trails, used by Viet Minh and Phathet Lao guerillas to travel down south from northern Vietnam to southern Vietnam, joining compatriot, Viet Cong in the battle against the US armed forces. These UXO had caused so much of pains and sufferings to the Laotians in Xiengkhouang where many have died due to the unexpected explosions, while many others lost their limbs and arms as well as eyesight or even hearing. As I wrote here, there are still massive number of UXO planted just about anywhere beneath the land of Xiengkhouang province. People here are still dangerously and highly exposed to the risks of UXO each day. Fact is, UXO not only found in Laos but also parts of Vietnam. I wonder if those responsible parties that caused such a massive sorrow and speechless agony and torments have ever done anything to help to mend their wrongdoings. There are several information put up in display for visitors to understand better the background of UXO, how it happened and how it affected the people in Xiengkhouang province, the functions and responsibilities of MAG and exhibits of some old ammunition and booklets on types of ammunition that formed various UXO as well as souvenirs. Wars still continue elsewhere with whole lots of funds being used in supporting the operations against what was deemed as terrorists. But people of Xiengkhouang continue to live dangerously everyday.
MAG INFORMATION CENTRE
From MAG Visitor Information Centre, a walk few metres away was the UXO Survivor Information Centre. While MAG Centre provide information on the background of UXO and its role and functions in Xiengkhouang, UXO Survivor Centre is not just a plain information outlet but is a noble group that support the people affected by UXO in Xiengkhouang. There are range of items available for sale in which proceeds made from such sales were channel to assist those who were incapacitated due to UXO effects and their family members. There were also booklet and a corner dedicated for words of support and encouragement to UXO survivors and a small reading room. To those who survived UXO in Xiengkhouang, your courage to live on put you at the top most level among the others and salutations to all of you due to your high determination and never give up attitude.
UXO SURVIVOR INFORMATION CENTRE