By virtue of the Franco-Siamese treaty of 3 October 1893, signed in Bangkok and ratified by the French Parliament in January 1894, Laos became the fifth province of French Indochina. Laos was a protectorate like Tonkin (north Vietnam), Annam (central Vietnam) and Cambodia, but Cochin-china (south Vietnam) was the only province with the status of colony. Laos entered the Union of French Indochina from a position of disadvantage, with no defined status of its own but often thought of as an extension of Vietnam.
Located 400 Km northeast of Vientiane Capital, Xieng Khouang Province has a population of 249,000 spread over an approximate area of 15,000 sq. km. It is one of the 17 provinces of Lao PDR, located in the north-central area of the country, on the mountainous Tran-ninh plateau. Xieng Khouang includes eight districts: Paek, Phaxay, Phoukoot, Kham, Nong Hét, Khoun, Thathom and Mokmai.
It is set at an altitude of more than 1,000 metres above sea level and enjoys mild temperatures for most of the year, although winters can be surprisingly cold. Kham District is a low-laying basin set at around 600 m above sea level.
Xieng Khouang enjoys a remarkable geographical location, surrounded by mountain ranges, with Phou Bia (2.700 m) the highest peak in Lao PDR. The province sits at the crossroads of traffic from central Vietnam and northeast Thailand. Historically, these two powerful neighbours-Siam and Vietnam have vied for control of its soil.
The province shares borders with Houaphanh, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Bolikhamxay provinces, as well as an international border with Vietnam's Nghe An Province. Xieng Khouang has a long and rich history and is home to numerous ethnic groups, including Thai Phuan, Hmong, Khmu and Tai Dam.
Xieng Khouang is home to the Plain of Jars, the prehistoric stone megaliths which attract thousands of tourists to the province each year. The Lao government is currently finalising an application for the World Heritage Committee to consider listing the Plain of Jars as a World Heritage Monument. The area is of significant archaeological importance on account also of the standing stones in nearby Houaphanh Province.
Until briefly after World War II, the French used Xieng Khouang Town, present-day Muang Khoun town, as their provincial capital. A few ruinous colonial public buildings remain to this day, such as the governor's residence, church and French school.
A total of 63 tourist sites were recorded in Xieng Khouang in 2010, consisting of 32 natural sites, 18 cultural sites and 13 historical sites (2010 Statistical Report on Tourism in Laos, published by the LNTA, the Lao National Tourism Administration). The same publication reports that visitors to the province increased from 5,062 in 2003 to 21,631 in 2010 and that the total number of hotels, guesthouses, resorts, restaurants and entertainment establishments in the province grew from 98 in 2009 to 140 in 2010.
Phonsavanh, the new provincial capital, is located in Paek District and caters to increasing numbers of national and international tourists, eager to experience Xieng Khouang's natural, historical and archaeological attractions. The new airport in Phonsavanh is served by regular flights from Vientiane Capital by Lao Airlines.
Xieng Khouang and the enigmatic Plain of Jars make up one of the most important sites for studying the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia. While the ancient civilization that constructed the jars was flourishing, advances in agricultural production, the manufacturing of metals, and the organization of long-distance overland trade between India and China were also rapidly transforming local society and setting the stage for urbanization across the region. Mortuary practices associated with the jars consisting of both cremation and secondary burial suggest a highly-evolved local tradition of ritual, symbolism and metaphysics which persisted through to the kingdoms of the Angkor Period, long after the arrival of Hindu and Buddhist philosophies into Southeast Asia.
Prehistoric material found at the Plain of Jars is still under study, and apparently spans a considerable period of time, with some dating from as early as 2000 BC. The bulk of the archaeological material, however, as well as the jars themselves appeared much later, dating to the early Iron Age between 500 BC and 500-800 AD. The closet archaeological parallels to the finds at the Plain of Jars appear to be Bronze and Iron Age materials from Dong Son in Viet Nam, Samrong Sen in Cambodia, and the Khorat Plateau in northeast Thailand. There are also similarities with the present-day city of Danang, as well as with sites in the North Cachar Hills of northeastern India where megalithic jar North exist. All of these similar sites date to approximately the same period-roughly 500 BC - 500 AD. Together they form a mosaic picture of a large area of upland Southeast Asia criss-crossed by traders, with the Xieng Khouang Plateau at its centre.
Although little is known about the people that constructed the megalithic stone jars, an account of the area's history as it relates to the Tai Puan and the lands they settled in Xieng Khouang is recorded in the Pongsawadan Meuang Puan or the Muang Puan Chronicles. The Tai Puan are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated from what is today southern China and by the 13th century had formed an independent principality at the Plain of Jars that prospered from the overland trade in metals and forest products. In the mid-14th century, Muang Puan was incorporated into the Lane Xang Kingdom under Fa Ngum, though the Phuan were able to retain a high degree of autonomy. After Siam (Thailand) extended control to Lao territories east of the Mekong in the 1770's, Muang Puan became a Siamese vassal state and also maintained tributary relations with Dai Viet (Viet Nam). To exert greater control of the lands and people of Muang Phuan, the Siamese launched three separate campaigns (1777-1779, 1834-1836, 1875-1876) to resettle large parts of the Phuan population to the south to regions under firm Siamese control.
Subsequent invasions by Chinese marauders called "Haw" plundered Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang, and the Franco-Siamese treaties of the 1890's placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until briefly after World War II.
During the Second Indochina War that raged in Laos during the 1960's and early 1970's Xieng Khouang suffered heavy aerial bombardment and intense ground battles due to its strategic importance. This conflict has left a deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) which is still being cleared today. Since Laos gained full independence in 1975, Xiengkhouang and the Plain of Jars are enjoying peace and tranquility after centuries of conflict.
The original capital city, Muong Khoun, was almost totally obliterated by US bombing and consequently, the capital was moved to nearby Phonsavanh. Of several Muong Khoun Buddhist temples built between the 16th and 19th century, only ruins remain. Vat Pia Vat, however, survived the bombing and can be visited.
The Original Ban Phakeo Trek: Embark on a two day trek to a remote Hmong village and one of the country's most serene jar sites, experience the locals' mountain life, and inspect war-time architecture.
Make Spoons Not War Trek from Namkha to Naphia: See how the distant Hmong Namkha Village solves its energy needs watch Naphia residents turn war scrap into spoons on this easy one-day trek.
Tham Piu Cave stands as a solemn monument to hundreds of innocent villager killed in a 1968 us missile attack. Today, the statue of a man, straining to hold his anger as the carries a lifeless child, call for an "annual Day of Remembrance". First, go to the visitor centre and contemplate the display of photographs and history behind the bombings. You'll read about the single shell that his the core of Piu Cave and claimed the lives of a reported 374 locals seeking shelter inside.
Then, climb the upper staircase, which passes a golden Buddha, grave markers, and bomb craters, until your reach Tham Piu, a sad hillside hole with the rubble floor. Inside, locals light incense to play tribute to the dead. Back outside, the stairs descent to small restaurants, which after a respite for refection.
Tham Xang Cave
Limestone peaks covered with forest s from the beautiful landscapes around the Tham Xang Cave areas. Hidden in these rocks is a network of tree caves which was used by the PATHET LAO movement as shelter during the second Indochina War. Inside the cave complex they set up the hospital, an arsenal and drug depot. Evidence can still be seen. Beside its war history the residential cave is worth visiting to see its gorgeous cave features.
Different dripstone features, called speleothems, can be seen inside. The most familiar formations are stalactites-handing downwards. And stalagmite-growing upwards. Sometime the drip water will flow down the walls and over the cave floor creating flowstone or rim stone deposits the from around fool of water like rice terrace. In some areas damage caused by humans, such as broken speleothems, which cannot by put back together, and graffiti at the walls, can be seen. (the Hmong community of Ban Ta take care of the caves and offers a local tour guide service).
Tham Pha & Nong Tang Lake
Place Nong Tang on your must-see list, as the town, about 48km west of Phonsavanh on Route 7. And its immediate environs present the Tham Pha Cave complex housing hundreds of Buddha images, and peaceful Nong Tang Lake backed by soaring limestone karsts.
First visit the 15th century ruins of Wat Mixay. Wat Ban Ang, and Ban Mong Stupa in town before heading to nearby Nong Tang Lake, where you turn left at the "Buddha Cave" sign and follow a 3km paved road to Tham Pha's (Buddha) underground maze.
A large sitting Buddha, alleged to be 1.200 years old, greets visitors inside the entrance, before the amply-lit cave expands into a limestone labyrinth. Follow the web of rocky walkaways that lead to chambers holding stashes of Buddha figurines still hiding from 19th century Haw Bandits. Then head back to Nong Tang Lake and a waterside noodle soup for a bite to eat and a nice cold drink.
Tai Dam Culture Hall
Culture vultures can taste the Tai Dam lifestyle at Ban Xieng Kio- government-designated cultural villages locate about 48 km north of Phonsavanh near Kham town on Lao route 7. The two-storey Tai Dam Culture Hall greets visitors to the village, and the traditional Tai Dam bedroom leads off the tour: a row of thin mattresses with patterned cotton sheets, square pillows, and decorated blankets on rattan mats with back mosquito nets knotted overhead.
The Hall also exhibits wooden farming tools, gadgets used for transforming raw silk and cotton in to loom-ready dyed threads, and a collection odf basketry employed for variety of reason from cooking sticky rice to trapping fish. You can also purchase the wares-finely decorated sine (traditional skirts), wall hangings, table clothes, and back head scarves, alongside baskets and shoulder bags-before wandering around the village to watch women weave.
Hmong Khaen From Ban Souamone
The mouth organ, which called qeei in Hmong language, is used for contract with spirits. It is played in the house only during funeral rite. The qeei is made up of six bamboo pieces of different lengths and diameters, passing through a wind chest made of reddish hardwood. The instrument has along neck which tappers up from the wind chest to the brass mouthpiece.
That foun (Foun Stupa)
Located in downtown Muang Khoun, That Foun was built in 1576 the aame time as the original That Luang stupa in Vientiane. The stupa was erected to cover ashes of Lord Buddha that were brought from India. During a time when Buddhism was proliferating Laos. That Foun was destroyed by air craft in 1966 during the war.
Built in the same period as That Foun and located near by, The Chomphet was created to evoke Buddhist values, inspiring truth and clarity. At the core of Buddhism is the belief the only merit-making (i.e. doing good deeds, maintaining morality and respect) will bring happiness, progress and prosperity. That Chomphet was almost completely destroyed in 1966 during the war.
Natures in Xieng Khouang, Laos
Nam Ngum River
A short, wild river through deep gorges that challenges the most skilled hardshell kayakers. Located just north of Vientiane at the site of the country's first dam, it is advisable only for whitewater experts although several short raft-based trips are offered.
Kha Waterfall: Nestled in spectacular limestone karts this impressive waterfall run down in cascading step for more than 100 meters, alternating with sleep falls, and with abundant water flowing all year round.
Tad Lang Waterfall: Tad Lang is located near Jar site 3 just 700 meters off the road to Ban Nakang cascading down approximately 800 meters. To enjoy its whole beauty follow the trail down to the bottom of the valley. It's a good picnic spot, but because you must cross a river to reach it, access is difficult in the rainy season.
Other Natural Sites
It can be visited in the vicinity of Muang Kham off Rte 7. The big hot spring Baw Nyai, 67 km from Phonsavanh, has been developed as a resort with bungalows and indoor bathing facilities. You can walk through the forest to the spring source, but swimming in the pool is not possible. The Jar Site of Ban Nam Hom is just a 2 km walk away. A little hot springs is located in Xang village, 3 km east of Muang Kham. It feeds into a stream just a few hundred meters off Route 7. Note the limestone jar near the ticket office. In the village Tai Dam women sell their woven textiles; cross the river on a small bamboo bridge to visit the Phuan village and observe the women create the beautiful textiles. There is another hot spring nearby Nathong Village. Pass the village and follow the river for about 800 meters.
Nong Tang Lake
Place Nong Tang on your must see list, as the town, about 48 km west of the phonesavanh on Route 7, and its immediate environs present the Tam Pha cave complex housing hundreds of Buddha images, and peaceful Nong Tang Lake backed by soaring limestone karsts. First visit the 15th century ruins of Wat Mixay, Wat Ban-Ang, and Ban Mong stupa in town before heading to nearby Nong Tang Lake, where you turn lift at the Buddha cave sign the follow a 3 km paved road to the Tam Pha's (Buddha cave) underground maze.
A large visiting Buddha, alleged to be 1,200 year old, greets visitors inside the entrance, before the amply-lit cave expand into a limestone labyrinth. Follow the web of rocky walkways that lead to chambers holding stashes of Buddha figurines still hiding from 19th-century Haw bandits. Then head back to Nong Tang Lake and a water site noodle shop for a bite to eat and a nice cold drink.
Paper Umberllas "Khan Nyu" From Ban Mixay Village. An old tradition is being revived in the phuan village of Ban Mixay. The umbrellas were originally made by monk or novices at Buddhist temples. Men who were ordained into the monkhood often entered temples in villages others than those they has grown up. The umbrellas served as gift to those who come to visit. Sale of umbrellas can increase income and therefore reduce the need to carry out unsustainable farming practices or cutting down trees-practices that are destructive to the environment. Many materials used come from the forest conservation.
You'll climb 1,000 stairs to a secret wartime hilltop tunnel, explore centuries-old religious sites around the ancient Phuan Kingdom capital of Muang Khoun, investigate the famous Plain of Jars, visit a village that makes spoons from scraps of crashed warplanes, and uncover the efforts of the Mines Action Group (MAG) in clearing the province's live unexploded ordinance (UXOs), some more than 45 years old.
Sneak through a Secret Tunnel
Scale more than 1,000 steps to reach a secret passageway slicing through the summit of the Phou Kheng Jar Quarry Site that played a strategic role for Pathet Lao forces during the Indochina War (1964-1973). The hardly climb passes an odd mix of bomb craters and unfinished or broken jars destined for Jar Site 1. The steps get steeper, but the reward is a magnificent view of the valley around Phonsavanh and the hidden entrance to a narrow 70 metre long, 1.6 metre high tunnel chiseled through rock that winds past reinforced concrete bunkers and sleeping quarters before exiting to a panorama of the Phoukoud Valley.
Drive Back in Time
Explore ruins dating to the 14th century that crown the hills around the ancient Phuan Kingdom capital, Muang Khoun, which was leveled during the Indochina War. A 30km drive southeast of Phonsavanh passes a stone wall with brick archways, leftovers of France's colonial presence. The giant Buddha at Wat Piawat, first built in 1564, still sits erect overlooking Muang Khoun, though only the temple's pillars and short wall section remain. Once buried in the forest, the 450 year old That Foun Stupa stands tall next to a road outside town, and though bombing raids mostly destroyed Wat Si Phom, enough remains to envision its glory when constructed in 1390.
Jars, Jars, Jars
No one goes to Xieng Khouang without inspecting the mysterious Plain of Jars. But, with thousands of massive ancient urns scattered over dozens of sites, and other attractions to see in the province, your most efficient bet is a short trip from Phonsavanh to Jar Site 1. A new visitor centre greets you with local handicrafts refreshments, and information panels. A marked trail, well away from the UXOs still littering the 25-hectare grounds, leads to the 334 jars spread across a field.
The Jar Site 1
Jar site 1 or Tong Hai Hin is the most popular site, located 8 km southwest of Phonsavanh and by easily reached by tuk tuk or bike. Follow Rt 10 southwest, turn right the sight Ban Na-O and dive for another 2 kilometer; alternatively book a package tour at any of the local tour companies Yhe site counts 331 jars, including the largest single jar-side to have been the victory cup of the King Khoun Chueang.
According to local legend the Lao King Khoun Chueang (AD 6th century) fought a long battle against his enemy and liberated the local people from the oppressive ruler. The Jars were carved to brew and store huge amounts of Lao Lao which were drunk in the 7 month lasting celebration held in honor of victory.
Jars site 1 was of military strategic important during the second Indochina War. Trenches and foxholes, anti-air-craft positions and tank scrape can be found on the two raised areas and on top of the cave. Several bomb craters and damaged or displaced jar are a testimony to heavy fighting in this area.
A part from a plain of jars, visitor also can visit the sophisticated "War Museum" which was recently built.
The Jar Site 2
Jar site 2 or Hai Hin Phu Salato is locate about 20 km southwest of Phonsavanh. The site contains 93 jars spread across two adjacent hills.
From the parking area, walk up the stairs on your left to the first group. A small plundered stupa can be visited future east on the hill. On the hill to the west a stone disc with an animal relief, possibly a frog can be found. Bomb craters surround the site and several of the stone jars show the impact of ground battles.
The Jar site 3
Jar Site 3 or Hai Hin Lat Khai is made up of 8 groups and is located around the village of Ban Xieng Di, around 10 km further south of site 02 The main group with some 150 jars situated on top of a scenic hill which offers great views of the surrounding plain and rice paddies. To get to the main groups cross the bridge after paying the entrance fee of continue along the rice field dykes to the lower foothill of the mountain, where a marked path picks up the trail to the site. The village has a small Buddhist Temple near the entrance booth where visions are welcome. The small restaurant near the ticket booth serves drinks and noodle soup and is run by a local family. A portion of the restaurant profit goes to the Village Fund which the benefits the entire community. The travel agencies in town offer to Jar site 2 3 often combined with a visit of Khoun Dist.
Side Road to Spoons
Setting your sights to see spoon production may sound eccentric, but Ban Napia, an ethnic Phuan village just south of Phonsavanh, mounds this tableware from war scrap. One day in the 1980s, eight families brainstormed over what to do with all the aluminum bits from downed aircraft. One person noted a lack spoons in the market and noodle shops, so they made wooden mounds, coated them in ash, and poured in the melted junk. And according to the ladle lady, they have an unending supply of debris. You can bookend your spoon tour with stops at nearby Lang Waterfall and Jar Site 3.
MAGnificent Mine Busters
The UK-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has embarked on the almost impossible mission of clearing hundreds of thousands of unexploded ordinances (UXOs) from Xieng Khouang. The MAG Visitor Information Centre in Phonsavanh provides in-depth history into the intense bombing campaign, the legacy it left behind as the most densely bombed area per capita on earth, facts on the injuries and deaths UXOs continue to cause, diagrams of how cluster bombs work, and even a few diffused shells, the highlight, a one-hour unbiased documentary detailing the bombing's background, appeals to an audience ranging from people born before the war, those who grew up during the era, and veterans who fought.
Main event Schedule
|January - February||
Kud Chin & Ted Viet (Chinese & Vietnamese New Year)
Chinese and Vietnamese Lunar New Year is celebrated with parties, fireworks and merit making at temples. Chinese and Vietnamese businesses usually close for three days.
Pi Mai Lao (Lao's New Year)
During the week of 13-15 April the whole country celebrates. Buddha images are cleansed with sacred water and in the vats offerings of fruit and flowers are made. People take to the streets splashing water on one another and having parties everywhere. In Xieng Khouang some years boat races take place at the Supanouvong Lake. Be advised that during Pi Mai Lao most businesses and government offices are closed.
Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)
Boun Bang Fai is a rainmaking and fertility festival that takes place just before the rainy season. Villagers make rockets from bamboo and homemade gunpowder and parade their colorful rockets noisily around the village before they are shot into the sky to ‘fertilize' the clouds and bring rain which in turn feeds the rivers and fields.
Boun Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent)
This festival, held on the full moon, marks the beginning of Buddhist lent, a three month period where monks are required to stay within their temple to pray and meditate. Lao men are traditionally ordained as monks during this time.
Boun Khao Padabdin
Special offerings are made to the deceased on the new moon of the 9th lunar month.
Boun Ok Phansa (End of Buddhist Lent)
Held on the full moon this festival celebrates the end of Buddhist lent. In the evening small banana-leaf boats called heua fai are launched at Nam Ngum and Supanouvong Lake filled with colorful incense, flowers, candles and a small amount of money to bring luck and prosperity.
Hmong New Year
Xieng Khouang's most colorful festival attracts crowds of people from around the province as well as Hmong from overseas.The festival is celebrated either in 2010.6 to 14. December, starting from the 15th day of the ascending moonto give thanks to ancestors and spirits at the end of the annual agricultural cycle. Traditionally it lasts ten days bringing people together from many villages, and it is here that young people typically find a husband or a wife. The special celebrations involve colorful displays of traditional costumes made from green, red and white silk and ornate silver jewelry. People enjoy the music of traditional Hmong instruments such as the teun-flute, Hmong khaen and leaf blowing. Other festivities include the Makkhon(cotton ball) throwing ceremony as part of a charming courting ritual, crossbow competitions and traditional games such as bull fighting and top spinning.
Khmu New Year
Celebrated within the Khmu communities in late December following the annual rice harvest.
The Baci Ceremony
Spiritual and ritualistic practices are important to most Lao people. The Baci is an ancient pre-Buddhist ritual traditionally conducted by Tai speakers. The Baci is the most popular Lao traditional ceremony celebrated at special events, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, or even to help cure sickness. It involves the ritualistic tying of cotton threads to ensure blessings of the spirits on specific persons, activities, or places. It is an important gesture of reconciliation and is believed to restore the natural order of things.
The nearest airport is in Phonsavan. Lao Airlines offers six flights a week in peak season and four flights in low season to Vientiane. Flights between Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang are available once a week.
If you are travelling from Vientiane you can either take VIP buses or local buses. The buses leave from the northern bus terminal and take about 10-12 hours. Note: The roads are paved but there are plenty of serpentines. The bus trip from Vang Vieng takes 7-8 hours. Buses run daily from Luang Prabang via Route 13 and 7 and take 8 hours. You could also hire a minivan in either Luang Prabang or Vientiane. If you want to travel from Pakbeng/Nong Khiaw you take the bus to Xam Neua via Route 1, get off at Nam Ngeun and take the bus to Phonsavanh. Coming from Vinh or Hanoi in Vietnam visas are available on arrival at the Nam Ka border, which is open daily from 6:00 â€“ 18:00. The bus from Vinh leaves four days a week and takes 12 hours, form Hanoi there is one bus per week.
Transport within Xieng Khouang
This is an inexpensive the cheapest option and allows one the opportunity to het to know Lao people better. However, bear in mind, that most local public transport does not leave or arrive according to the set time table. Public vehicles typically leave once they are full and stop to pick up and drop off passengers along the way. It is also important to understand that leg-room and space on public vehicles is very limited. Prices for public vehicles outside Phonsavanh are pre-determined, so bargaining is only necessary for the jumbos in Phonsavanh town
To get to other towns in the province you can take local buses or pick-up trucks. Inside Phonsavan there are plenty of Tuk-Tuks, which might not be available without prior booking very early in the morning or late at night. A normal tour inside the town should cost 3000 to 10000 LAK. There are 9 travel agents in Phonsavan that arrange bike, motorbike and car rentals. A bike costs depending on quality from 20.000 Kip per day. You can rent mostly scooters for about 100.000 KIP. To rent a minivan costs about 50-80 USD, a 4WD costs over 100 USD. This includes or excludes gasoline, depending on the company. All prices vary hugely depending on season and availability.
Public transportation is available from 3 different bus terminals. Service locations for each bus station are as follows:
- Provincial Bus Terminal: This is the terminal were VIP buses depart/arrive from Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and local buses depart/arrive regulrly to/from Vang Vieng, Xam Neua, Paksan, Vinh and Hanoi in Viet Nam. The terminal is located on Route 7 about 3km west of town.
- Nam-Ngum Market Terminal: Song taews serving the southern districts Khoun, Phaxay and Mokmai leave from the market. The terminal is located on Route 13 going south, next to the Tourist Information Centre.
- Phonsavanh Market Terminal: From this terminal Song taews and local buses go to Phou Koud District Paek, Muang Khoun, and Nong Het District.
- Nong Hét