Phonsavan is the capital of the province of Xieng Khouang in Laos. It has a population of roughly 40,000 and the name Phonsavan roughly translates as ‘hills of paradise’. Built during the 1970s, Phonsavan has picturesque countryside full of green hillsides and forests of pine trees. It replaced Muang Khoun, which used to be known as Xieng Khoung and was ravaged during the Second War of Indochina. The colourful houses in the villages here are made from wood. Cattle raising provides a livelihood for the locals in this region. One can often see Hmong cowboys dressed in violet-and-brown attire complete with hats. Believe it or not, New Year’s Day here is celebrated with bullfighting
Plain of Jars
UNESCO has nominated the mysterious Plain of Jars in Phonsavan as a heritage site. It is a popular tourist attraction, receiving a many visitors every year.
The Indochinese war sites such as the Plain of Jars became the Plain of Scars during the Indochinese war since it was directly in the way of the conflict. This site experienced extensive bombing and was also used as the drop-off point for unused artillery after the war. Xieng Khoung and Houaphan became the most heavily bombed places in the world on per capita basis. The condition was worsened by the intense amounts of herbicides and defoliants dropped here.
All these violent events have left their indelible scars on the area in the form of craters, empty shells and tanks. Locals have managed to recycle and reuse some of the war shrapnel into products of daily use such as vegetable planting tools, spoons, fencing material, barbeques and pumps.
Tham Piu Cave
Many locals used the caves in the surrounding areas as shelter to live during the war days. Some of them were even made into care facilities that looked after war victims and injured soldiers. Even others were used to store weapons as well as medicine.
Tham Piu Cave is one of the caves that allow visitors to look around and inspect the remains of the war days. It is one of the witnesses to unfortunate events that occurred during the ‘Secret War’, as it was called. Around 374 people died due to a rocket that landed at this spot in November 1969. These victims were refugees in this cave. Sadly, their bones still remain inside the cave. As the second of the two caves which are now open for tourists, the Tham Xang Caves still houses remains of the arsenal, medicines and traces of refugees that lived here during the war. Other than that, this cave is also worth a visit because of its sheer beauty. Ban Ta’s Hmong community maintains the cave and offers guided tours to visitors.
Products that are primarily catered towards tourists include those made by local artisans and textile workers. These items are made from indigenous wood and silk obtained from mulberry worms, using natural colours and local designs. Baskets and paper umbrellas made from mulberry silk can be found at Ban Mixay. Ban Napia has a lot of embroidered work of Hmong origin.
Mastake whiskey is a locally brewed alcohol derived from hed wai, which is a wild mushroom found in the Xieng Khouang pine forests. It is quite popular among locals and many tourists try it.
The Chinese Market is located to the west of the main strip of Phonsavan. It is popular for the souvenirs and plastic tacks found here along with silver and gold items as well.