Hmong Village Phakeo Day 2

Today in the morning after a chilly night we enjoyed the sunrise in Phakeo. We got some local breakfast, but actually I wasn’t hungry, as I woke up with some stomach ache, the same for Jojo, but I needed some energy for our walk back. Then we started our hike on some small paths. It was a steadily up and down…probably more down than up. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it much more than the walk the day before. We also need to cross several creeks, some were easy, but at one we needed to wate through without our shoes, in order to stay dry. The cold water was a good refreshment, as we sweat a lot. Once the sun was out, it got immediately very warm today. After about 3 hours hiking and crossing numerous creeks we finally arrived at a waterfall. This small one was not very impressive at all, but has had a decent deep pool for some swimming. Unfortunately after this refreshment we needed to walk up again for one hour to get back to the main street. And again this was at a newly built road. So not very lovely. In the Hmong village at the street we saw some traditional houses with spirital paper and braided grass threads both from the Shaman in order to keep away the bad spirits. Only a few shells from the cluster bombs remained in the village and are still used for different purposes today. After waiting just a few minutes we grabbed a songthaew back to Phonsavan, luckily we could seat inside and not on the dusty back.

This year I might not get much Christmas gifts, but it’s fine because quality is more important than quantity. I received the best gift of the year already 8 months…my journey. I’m very grateful to the person who made this possible to me, even if I might have been sometimes a creep. Without that person I wouldn’t be here today. Merry Christmas.

Sunrise in Phakeo
The landscape is characterised by lots of green mountains
Hiking through the jungle
Crossing rivers on rotted branches
Abandoned rice paddies
This creek we needed to ford
In the background the location of the waterfall is finally visible
Cattle on the harvested rice paddies
Small waterfall but large pool for a refreshment swim
The shells of the cluster bombs are used as stilts by the local people
Cacti and blooming Christmas flowers
On the way back in the songthaew
Thanks to Jojo we finally have now also a short movie (© Jojo)
GPX track

Hmong Village Phakeo Day 1

Yesterday morning Jojo and me met our guide at the office in Phonsavan. After depositing all surplus luggage we won’t need, we took a songthaew to the starting point of our hike. Unfortunately, the government built a new road to the Phakeo village of the Hmong tribe. Hence, the landscape around us with all the green hills was nice, but the road was boring to hike and we were exposed to the sun for the whole time. Shortly before we arrived the newly built lower part of the village, our guide told us, that there is an old way coming up from the right. I guess that one would be nicer than the road, even if it would have taken longer. In the middle of the track we stopped at a Kmu village. Jojo and me did a small walk into and we were already invited to drink some Lao Lao whisky. But as I don’t like the hard stuff I gratefully declined and we continued our walk uphill to the Hmong village. In the village is a basic hut for the overnight stay for the foreigners. I got some shirtless refreshment at the well in the middle of the village, after the local women finished their shower. After the chief visited us for some smalltalk, but needed to be translated by our guide, as nobody speaks English in the village, we walked up to jar site 52 for about 30 minutes again. In the afternoon sun the appearance of the site was quit nice. But after all, as nobody knows anything precisely about the jars, and everybody can tell you another story. There’s not much to see than 2,000 year old carved stones…a lot of them. After returning to the village three small girls, about 6-7 years old, where quit interested at us, but also shy in the beginning. As we didn’t understood each other, we tried to play with them…Scissor, Paper, Rock. And after all, as we didn’t knew their names, we called them accordingly.

In the Kmu village…
…we were directly invited, probably by the chief, for some drinks
New construction works on the road to the village
Our guide met his cousin with his wife and son going to town by scooter
Nice view to the green hills around…
…and the new road we walked just a short time before
A traditional Hmong house is not based on stilts, but has a muddy floor and a roof made from grass
Relaxing in the afternoon sun
Due to the soil, the rice paddies were only used up to 2 years, and then abandoned for at least 10 years, before they return and chop the forest again
Jar site 52…
…has also a lid with a monkey, but no longer with a head
A quite and peaceful appearance in the afternoon sun…you’ll only hear the sound of the birds
One of the large rooster in the village
Rock, Scissor, Paper…the girls who wanted to play
Another game from the Hmong children…in the end I don’t know, if I was winner or looser, as I was the last leftover 😅

Plain of Jars

Saturday morning after having a relaxed breakfast we finally decided to rent a scooter and visiting the Plain of Jars. There are almost 100 sites around Phonsavan which date back at least 2,000 years. But only 18 sites are open to the public as the rest is still not yet cleared from UXO. As the tribes which are living nowadays here are not the same as the one’s 2,000 years ago it’s pretty unclear what are all these jars made for. The most accepted version is that the were made for a funeral. It’s believed that the ashes were stored in the small jars whereas the things for worship the ancestors are on display in the larger ones. Another popular explanation is that for the celebration of a large victory from a Laos king, which takes usually several months or even years during this time, Lao Lao whisky was stored in the jars…for me the most comprehensively explanation as I always believed in Whisky in the Jar 😉. And the third explanation is that during rainy season water was stored in the jars, for using it during dry season. Even the distance to the quarry is very far, and the locations of the Plain of Jars sites very remote, it was not an issue, as there were many elephants living here, which did the job.

As there is Hmong New Year, more or less at the shortest day of the year, a lot of tribe people wearing traditional suits
Plain of Jars site 1 with about 400 jars…
…is still marked with lots of bombing craters
But from the right perspective a lovely place
At site 2 the holes in the jars are more rectangular than round…
…and even some lids are laying around
Beautiful landscape to the nearby mountains…
…from a nearby lookout
On the road (yes an ordinary road in Laos looks like this in dry season…you can imagine rainy season by your own) to site 3
Site 3 is located beneath some trees
Even if it said that Laos is a poor country, there are a lot of newly looking pick up trucks, mainly from Asian manufacturers, in rural areas on the roads. Even as they cost more than 30k US$
Inspecting the entrance to an…
…old Russian tank, where only the shell is remaining. I guess they can’t dissemble it with their tools, otherwise they would have already sold the metal.

UXO Information Centre

Yesterday morning Isa took care that I for sure wake up early, so we could have a last breakfast together. We also checked at the bus station if there is a minivan to Nong Khiaw for her, but unfortunately this was cancelled due to low demand. Hence she booked one to Luang Prabang and is likely to cancel her sailing on the Nam Ou river. In the last ten days it was a real pleasure to travel with her, we enjoyed our time together and had plenty of fun and conversations in German.

After I did some planning for my next days, I changed the guesthouse and went to the UXO Information Centre from the MAG NGO in the afternoon. On some displays the still explosive remainings from the hidden war are explained. Even more than 45 years after the ending of the secret war in Laos, people are still suffering heavily from these bombs, maybe even more as in Vietnam itself. As the rural population rely on farming their own land, this is still pretty dangerous nowadays, and they can’t crop enough rice for a whole year. That means they need to buy additional food, and therefore they collect the old metal and bombs from their fields. In the end almost as much accidents happend after the war than during the war. In essence that’s not surprising as more bombs were dropped in Laos than during the complete WWII in total by all parties. In two documentary movies the work of clearing the bombs (large and small) was explained very well. And one could get an impression on how long it will take until Laos get rid of all these remainings. In the end I donated some money and got a T-shirt for free. This was pretty nice, as I needed anyway a new one.

In the evening Jojo arrived from Vientiane. She has now Christmas holidays and as she didn’t got a visa for her travels in India, she finally decided to join me for the next time. But as her bus was also delayed…well actually she missed the early bus by 5 minutes…she arrived pretty late.

The area around Phonsavan is still suffering heavily from the bombing campaigns


Thursday morning Isa and me tried to get the bus from Lak Sao to Phonsavan. The local people said it should stop at about 9 am in Viengthong. So we headed already at 8:30 to the main street, as the bus was supposed to stop not at the normal bus station. After looking for a good place where to stay we waited and realised that there was not much traffic at all in this town. We flagged down some minivans, as we didn’t knew precisely how the bus was looking, but for sure none of them made its way to Phonsavan. At 9:20 the minibus approached and stopped without any problem. Our luggage was stored on the top with the stuff from the other passengers. Then we thought all right let’s go…well but that wasn’t the case. After a few hundred metres the bus stopped again for several minutes and one we drove…it made immediately an uturn and we were a bit unsure where we end up. After collecting a spare wheel, not for the bus, just another piece the bus was supposed to deliver, we finally started at 10…already about one hour later than expected.

For the next two hours we passed only small villages, but still people where getting on and off the bus. Some of them even with a lot of luggage. At noon, just driving up another hill, the bus stopped suddenly. Somehow everyone got out of the bus and after a few minutes it was clear that this bus can’t go further today. I’m not sure what the exactly problem was, either the cooling, as there was a lot of smoke or the turbocharger was broken, as one of the tubes was no longer attached. In the end it doesn’t matter, we waited in total 3 hours until another spare bus came by and everything was reloaded to that one and we continued our drive. Just 30 kilometres further in Thasi we stopped again, now for very late lunch. But this was OK, as we still had 4 hours to go to Phonsavan. The rest of the drive we just enjoyed the mountains and the landscape around us in the evening sun, and after sunset we just hoped to arrive soon in Phonsavan. Eventually at 20 o’clock we made it to the southern bus station. From here into the town centre it’s again 6 kilometres. Hence, we ordered a Tuk Tuk, as it was already late for Laos. And after a chilly ride we finally arrived at our guest house 12 hours after the start of our drive. We both were tired, but as this was our last evening, we decided to go for a last beer.

At one of the intermediate stops, it seemed like we stopped at a Maniok plantation
Isa in the full bus
The landscape was nice
The bus from Lao Sak to Phonsavan
The rear tires are only slicks, and the steel mesh is already visible, so luckily we’re not here in the rainy season
Nevertheless a nice view for three hours in the afternoon
All the way we passed by green mountains
Cloud formation on top of the hills…but (luckily?) no rain since more than one week