The North of Laos


by Sarah Rasmussen, USA

Global Mark : 12.61

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


2 4 4 4 2 3 2 1 3 11.11

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
9 89%(8) 56% (5) 89%(8) 5 to 17 14.11

Description :
Phonsavan is home to the strange and beautiful Plain of Jars, ancient stone jars scattered around the area in three main sites. 

Comments : The town itself is nothing to write home about - though it does have a certain dusty, frontier-type feel to it - but the jars are interesting, the surrounding area is beautiful and the trip there is adventurous.  

What to do ?  Hire a minivan to take you to the three Jar Sites (should be $30 for the van) and possibly explore some of the villages in the area / Recover from the trip there and plan the trip back / At night, play badminton in the streets with the locals or hang out with the 6 or 7 other travelers in town / Learn about the U.S.' "secret war" in Laos and admire the creative ways bomb casings are used as decoration 

What you may not like ?  Paying too much for poor accomodation / There's no museum or anything for the Plain of Jars / Having to backtrack or take Lao Aviation to get back to Luang Prabang or Vientiane.

How long ? A few days to justify the trip

Where to stay ? All of the guesthouses are on the main road, west of the market. All are pretty basic, costing about 15000K. Avoid the Phonsavan Hotel (30000K), unless you're looking for good stories to tell your friends back home.

Where to eat ? Several little restaurants with equally decent food near the guesthouses. Good food at the market.

What to visit ? Plain of Jars is pretty much the only attraction, though the area around town is really beautiful, with rolling green meadows and terraced rice fields.

Backpacker's Tips : Chung Seow Lim, Singapore (Feb 03)
Route 7 between Phu Khun and Phonsavan and onward to Nong Haet is currently been paved by the Chinese...80% completion when I was there last month. And it is now possible to travel from Vientiane or Luang 
Phabang to Xieng Khuang province directly via road link. I boarded the Vientiane bus at Vang Vieng at around 
10:30am and reached Phonsavan at around 7pm. It should take a much shorter time to travel once it's full paved. The scenery is fantastic, it could be one of the most memorable road journey in the country, provided you don't fall asleep on the bus.

Backpacker's Tips : Peter Christiaen, Belgium (March 02)
Boring town (border town feeling) :  the market is of some interest, but this is the only thing. The scenery of the environment is OK, but the Plain of Jars itself was disappointing for me (and is actually the single one reason to get there). According to my opinion, it does not deserve the long way to get there or to spend the money to fly there.
Guesthouse : Kong Keo Guesthouse. Probably the nicest guesthouse in Laos. Big room with private bathroom, hot shower, western toilet. 50.000 Kip. Very nice people. Serve some decent food in their own small, nice restaurant (basically some tables and chairs around the fire that they have in and old bomb).
Plain of Jars : you have to take a car if you want to see the 3 sites (apparently some kind of rule). I ended up paying 20 USD for the car, but normally they charge even more. Entrance : 3 times 4000 Kip.

Transport to & from ?  

Getting there is difficult, but the trip is beautiful, and it's fun to pass dozens of villages which rarely see foreigners. It was actually my favorite part of my trip ! You could do this as a variation on the Luang Prabang - Nong Khiaw - Muang Ngoi circuit. Leave Nong Khiaw as early as possible.

Getting there and away is the biggest part of a trip to Phonsavan. The only bus you can count on is the bus that leaves every morning for points west, via routes 7, 6 and 13. This means you have to be a little intrepid getting there. 

There is a night bus that goes from Udomxai to Nam Nouen (from there you can take a truck). If you want to get this bus in Nong Khiaw, you will have to camp out at the bus station all day because nobody will be able to tell you when it's coming. Alternatively, you can just take a tuk-tuk to the next town (Vieng Kham 15000k pp), then wait for a truck heading for Phonsavan (70,000k pp). The guy who runs the "bus station" in Vieng Kham will offer to take you to the next town for 50,000k. This is obviously a rip-off, as you will just have to wait for another truck when you get there. Bring a good book and wait a while.

Supposedly, foreigners are now allowed to take the infamous route 7, but this road is still insecure and tortuously bad. I did not talk to anyone who was able to take a bus on this road. It doesn't seem worth it unless you're bent on taking the worst road in Laos! The other option is to fly, which is cheap and quick, but nerve-wracking on lao aviation!

The bus to Vientiane via Nong Khiaw and Luang Prabang cost K60,000 - 100,000 (depending on how far you're going). It is a good bus but the road is bad. It should take 20 hours to Luang Prabang and 30 to Vientiane, barring
breakdowns, which are highly likely. It leaves daily at 8am.

The plane to Luang Prabang cost US$35 one way.