On the road to Xieng Khouang, Laos

April, 2013

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We went to the People Democratic Republic of Laos; our destination was Xieng Khouang, then Houaphan, the northeastern province bordering Vietnam.

We took route 13 from Vientiane heading north toward Bolikhamxai, stopping to buy fresh water fish on roadside stalls for diner at a friend’s house in Phonsavan, the capital of Xieng Khouang in the evening.

After Bolikhamxai the road winds and climbs upward toward Muang Khoune, the former capital of Xieng Khouang. We were a bit worried to see fire wiping out acres of land on the mountain slopes along the way. It is human work to clear land for cultivation of commercial crops such as rubber trees.

We saw new settlements along the highway; each community stretches out parallel to the road. We had to slow down at many spots as road repairs were in progress. Road surface was damaged during the rainy season from both water and soil erosion.

Although Laos still has abundant forest resources, but unmanaged cultivation expansion might bring more harm than  good in the long run.

Several hills comprising Muang Khoune altogether make a lovely landscape with commanding view from one hill top where once the palace of the most respected ruler of Xieng Khouang stood. It was replaced by a French administrative office during the French colonial rule. Now that building also is in a dilapidated state.

We visited the central temple to see only the remains of once an old temple.  It was the American bombs that reduced the temple into ruins.

The next day, our visit to the Plain of Jars also reinforced in our mind the devastating effect of American bombs to the lives all around.  The plain was almost barren, some jars broken, although most of them still remain in good shape. It took years for a country with meager income to clear the unexploded bombs on the site; even now some sites are still not quite save.

Huge jars that scatter all over the spread of a plain still keep people guessing as to their use; but tourists that wander the plain do not leave much to guess.  Laos tourists are cladded in traditional and lovely tube skirt.  Thai tourists are mostly in long legged pants and blouses to show that they are traveling. Western tourists are in summer outfits.  These are the colorful addition to the otherwise sombre plain.

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