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Phonsavan

In the late afternoon our VIP van arrives in Phonsavan after a fairly short, although not a very comfortable ride. The view along the route is stunning as we go over the mountains and the time in the van went by extra quick as we had the very pleasant company of Masuk from Morocco, John from the UK, and Jonathan from Austria. We're dropped off fairly close to the centre of town where the majority of the hotels are located, so we decide to walk there rather than get a "free" tuc-tuc lift to a hotel of the tout's choice... We first head for one of the Kong Keo Guest House, warmly recommended by the Lonely Planet, only to find it was a spider-infested damp dump... We had to look at alternatives and ended up in White Orchid - a fairly OK place with breakfast included, and it's relatively cheap.

After settling into the hotel we head out to find some food and beer. Hannah had spotted a quirky little bar and restaurant called The Bombie while we were walking about looking for accommodation, so we head there. We also realise later that this bar is mentioned in the Lonely Planet, and that every evening it shows a documentary banned in Laos about the "Secret War" conducted over Laos parallel to the Vietnam War (The Most Secret Place On Earth). It's a speedy history lesson, and it's not in any way a happy tale. The owner of the bar also has a little travel company that arranges tours to the sights around Phonsavan called Sousath Travels. As we're watching the documentary we discover that the local guide for the film crew is called Sousath as well, and after inquiring we learn that it's the father of our host that soon start to bring out the local (and very lethal) Lao Lao Whiskey. We'd contemplating booking a sightseeing tour with Sousath as he's got a bit different itineraries than what the other tour operators are offering but as it was just the two of us we thought it a bit expensive and needed to have a think about it. As we were having our dinner some more people wanted to sign up for it and suddenly it seemed much more affordable. Sousath runs another documentary after the banned "The Most Secret Place On Earth" and we stay there to watch it while enjoying the beer and a couple of shots of Lao Lao - although enjoying the beer and Lao Lao we're in shock watching the horrific documentaries. The third documentary, or more stunt reportage, was a bit disturbing in a completely different way, and I thought this one should have been left out... It's an MTV production about blowing up a cow - something you used to be able to do in Laos as a "tourist attraction" apparently. This reportage was featuring the owner of the bar as the guide of the MTV film team. I thought it just looked like he'd sold out for a bit of "fame" to try to be like his dad. Needless to say I was NOT impressed by this...

[caption id="attachment_1476" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Bombie Bar and Restaurant, Phonsavan. Bombie Bar and Restaurant, Phonsavan.[/caption]

The next day we head out on our sightseeing tour which takes us to see the Plain Of Jars site 1, a Russian tank, a secret CIA base and airfield (although there is little trace of it left - it's now a village), a glimpse of how they've used parts of old bombs from the war in construction of houses, a nice lunch, some of the caves used for air shelter and even hospital, and finally a very holy stupa. On our itinerary there were much more listed though, so we felt a bit betrayed. The tour is "not what it said on the tin" - one of the posts was to visit a UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) field, to see how they are working to clear unexploded bombs left over from the war. We were also supposed to visit another temple and Buddha statue damaged during the bombing raids. A couple of more posts were skipped, although they weren't the most interesting ones anyway, so can't remember what they were...

[caption id="attachment_1477" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan. Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1478" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan. Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1479" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan. Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1480" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Russian Tank, Phonsavan. Russian Tank, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1481" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Some shy but curious kids in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Some shy but curious kids in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1482" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1483" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1484" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1485" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1486" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1487" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1488" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah having her fortune revieled in the Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Hannah having her fortune revieled in the Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1489" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1490" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1491" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Holy Stupa in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Holy Stupa in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption]

We return from our tour early - funny that - and went over to the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) and the UXO Visitor Information Centre for more information about their work and the impact the remnants of the war has had on Laos. We both find a nice t-shirt in MAG and can feel a bit better for donating a little bit towards their work.

[caption id="attachment_1492" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Phonsavan. Phonsavan.[/caption]

In the evening we go for dinner in an Indian restaurant called Nisha (yes, we get India-Withdrawal-Symptom). John, our fellow traveller on the bus from Luang Prabang recommended it to us - when we get there we find him there waiting for his order and we sit down with him for a nice chat and a very tasty meal. Masuk and Jonathan also arrive a bit later and settle on the table next to us.

We arrange with our hotel for a van down to Vang Vieng and funnily enough end up in the same van as Masuk and Jonathan again. John is going in a different direction as he's heading for Vietnam. The journey down to Wang Vien passes very quickly, as we're engrossed in conversation for most of the trip.