Plain of Jars

2,000 year old stone jars used in burial ceremonies scattered across the fields

One of the fields of the Plain of Jars, Laos
Scattered stone jars

The Plain of Jars is a group of fields containing thousands of stone jars cut out from rock thousands of years ago.

The sites are located around the city of Phonsavan in Xiangkhouang province, North East Laos. While some of the sites contain just a few jars, others contain hundreds many of which are broken or have fallen over.

The Plain of Jars have been submitted to the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Plain of Jars history

The history of the stone jars is shrouded in mystery. The jars are believed to be about 2,000 years old. They come in varying sizes up to three meters high, weighing up to several tons. Most of them were sculpted from sandstone rock.

Very little is known about the people who created the jars. Although their purpose is not known with certainty, archeologists believe they were used as urns in burial rituals. All jars are now empty. During archeological research in the 1930’s glass beads as well as burnt bones and teeth were found inside. Around the jars archeologists found grave goods and bones. The jars were probably originally sealed off with lids. Today only a single jar contains one. A few stone lids have been found between the jars, others might have been made of wood or other perishable material that has long gone. Stone discs between the jars mark the location of a grave.

Purpose of the jars

Several theories and legends exist about the purpose of the jars. Local legend tells that they were made by a race of giants to use as cups to drink rice wine. Another story tells the jars were used to store water for the dry season, or a King had the jars made to store rice wine after a military victory. As remains of human skeletons were found inside the jars it is now believed they were used as urns in burial rites.

Remnants of the secret war

Signs of the “secret war” are clearly visible at several of the sites, in the form of bomb craters and damaged jars. During the Vietnam war enormous quantities of bombs were dropped on Laos, many of which failed to explode. Although clearing works of unexplored bombs have been carried out at the most visited sites, it is strongly recommended to stay within the marked paths.

Site 1 Thong Hai Hin

Thong Hai Hin, which translates to “Stone Jar Plain” is one of the largest sites with over 300 jars. The site, also known as Site 1 is located about 15 kilometers South West of Phonsavan. The large area surrounded by a fence is adjacent to a Laos army military base.

Signs at the site inform the the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has performed clearing works of unexploded bombs. White and red markers mark the areas where clearing works have been carried out. It is recommended to stay within the areas marked by white markers where intensive clearing has been done as opposed to the areas marked with red markers where only visual clearing has been carried out.

A path from the entrance gate leads to the top of a small hill where the first group of jars is found. From the hill a path leads to a second group of jars a few hundred meters away. The only jar containing a stone lid was found here. Thong Hai Hin is the only site where a decorated jar was found, bearing a sculpted human figure carved into the stone. A cave at this site was probably used as a crematorium; human remains were found here in the 1930’s.

Field with ancient stone jars around Phonsavan
Group of stone jars
Jar with stone lid on the Plain of Jars around Phonsavan
Jar with stone lid

How to get to the Plain of Jars

The sites are located in the Phonsavan area in Xiangkhouang province, North East Laos. The easiest way to get there is to book a tour with a Phonsavan travel agent. Alternatively, you can get to Thong Hai Hin (Site 1) with a jumbo, a 3 wheeler converted motorbike with benches in the back. A round trip will cost around 40,000 Kip (about US$ 5), the driver will wait. If you have a group you can charter a minivan for about US$ 60 per day, depending on season and demand.

The quickest and most comfortable way to get to Phonsavan is by air from Vientiane. Laos Airlines has daily flights from Vientiane to Xieng Khouang airport of Phonsavan. Flights take 30 minutes, the fare is about US$ 100.

Entrance fee & opening hours

Opening hours are daily from 9 am until 5 pm. Entrance fee is 10,000 Kip (US$ 1.30) per person to each site.