Distance: 26km to jars, 66km towards Phou Khon
The morning air was brisk, and a light drizzle was falling. We put our jackets on for the early ride to the fields where hundreds of jars made of solid chunks of rock have lay scattered for thousands of years.
We weren’t sure where to go, but we asked at a hotel aptly named Plain of Jars Hotel and were pointed out of town, where we would then take a left. There was no sign to say it was the correct street, but we asked a passing tuk tuk driver who made the shape of a jar with his hands and nodded that we were going the right way. Eventually there were signs confirming it too.
We headed through a village and past rice fields, and followed the signs to the site. We paid 10000 kip each for the entry fee (just over $1) and walked up a dirt path to the top of a hill, where the jars lay.
There were jars of all different shapes and sizes, some in perfect condition and others broken or missing pieces. Some lay smashed at the bottom of the bomb craters left from the Vietnam War. We couldn’t believe that such a amazing place, thousands of years old, had been bombed. Further along we saw trench lines and realized that this location really played a big part of the action. Bomb craters were all around and it was amazing that so many jars were still in tact despite the Americans' relentless bombing of a remarkable iron age archaeological site.
Even though we don’t know why the jars were made, we enjoyed our time walking around them and decided our side trip had been worth it, despite the short time frame and Sam's travel sickness.
We checked out of our hotel, ate some more food, and began our journey through the mountains - this time on the bikes. The start was ok, not too steep, many flat sections, and it felt great to be back riding through the friendly villages.
We set ourselves a target to reach the place called Nom Chat that featured on the distance stones. It was 80km away, and would leave us about 60km for the second day. As we made our way through the afternoon we were confident we would make it, until the big hills began. They were steep. And long. And we had a lot of weight on our bikes still (despite all our culling efforts).
The light started to fade and we were still 20km from the town. We realized that we didn’t even know if there would be a guesthouse anyway. We decided to find somewhere to camp.
We came to a house perched on a slight rise above the road with a very large area of land, grass and jungle undergrowth and thought we'd ask to camp on their property. As we approached two men came out of the house and we indicated to them that the time was late, the sun was setting, could we set up our tent? They said no. Maybe they didn’t understand. We tried to explain again. Still no. They pointed up the road. We couldn’t believe it. They were refusing us? We desperately tried one final time. The road was dangerous – we didn’t want to be on it in the dark. But to no avail. They were sending us back to the road.
We were already partway up a big hill so we struggled away from their property and continued up the hill.
Another couple of kilometres and Sam spotted a flat section off to the side of the road (elevation approx 2000 metres) that was actually partially hidden from the road by some massive reeds. We pushed our bikes up a steep muddy incline and as the sun was setting we retaught ourselves how to put up the tent – it had been a while! At least we had the tent, and Sam could be happy in the knowledge that he hasn’t been carrying it around for nothing. It amazed us how easy it was to be caught short of our destination because the hills slowed us so much.
As it grew dark we sat in the tent, dirty and smelly, eating Indian leftovers we had bought with us and rice crackers we had in our bags still from Thailand.
Exhausted, we talked for a while before deciding we needed sleep. But we were in a tent in a remote part of the Lao jungle, and there were noises around us…
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia