• River cruise
  • Northern Vietnam
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  • Beach Destination
  • Ecotourist Destination
  • Vietnam Discovery
  • Cambodia Wonders
  • Laos Highlights

Destinations

XIENG KHOUANG * PHONSAVAN

Located 400 km northeast of Vientiane Capital, Xieng Khouang Province is one of the 17 provinces of Lao PDR, located in the north-central area of the country, on the mountainous XiengKhouang plateau. The province shares borders with Houaphanh province  to the northeast, Luang Prabang province to the northwest, Vientiane to the southwest and Bolikhamxay province to the southeast, as well as an international border with Vietnam’s Nghe An province to the east.
 
 
Area: 15,880 sq.km
 
Population: 249,000 inhabitants composed of numerous ethnic groups, including Thai Phuan, Hmong, Khmu and Tai Dam.
 
Topography: Xieng Khouang topography is largely mountainous, surrounded by mountain ranges. Apart from floodplains, the largest area of level land in the country is located in the province's Xiangkhouang Plateau. This area is characterized by rolling hills and grassland whose altitude averages 1,300 m. The country's highest peak, Phou Bia 2,820 m, rises at the southern side of the plateau, while the Plain of Jars is in the plateau's center.
 
Administrative organization: 8 districts
 
Climate: Xieng Khouang has humid subtropical climate mildened by its high altitude (1,100 m) with long, warm and wet summers and short, dry winters. Average June temperature is 23.60C, average December (the coldest month) temperature is 14.80C.
 
 
Sights of interest
 
Most of the province’s landscape consists of steep mountains and green hills. Xiengkhouang Province offers the awesome beauty of high mountains and rugged karst formations.
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. 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.
 
     + Phonsavan, capital of Xieng Khouang province, has a population of 37,507 and the name Phonsavan roughly translates as ‘hills of paradise’. Built during the 1970s, Phonsavan has picturesque countryside full of green hillsides and forests of pine trees. It replaced Muang Khoun which used to be known as Xieng Khoung which was ravaged during the Second War of Indochina. The colourful houses in the villages here are made from wood. Cattle raising provides a livelihood for the locals in this region. One can often see Hmong cowboys dressed in violet-and-brown attire complete with hats. New Year’s Day here is celebrated with bullfighting.
 
Bull fight at New Year's Day at Muang  Khuon
 
 
     + Mulberries Organic Silk Farm
 
Xieng Khouang province has always been synonymous with fine Laotian silk, the tradition of which dates back for centuries. Mulberries Organic Silk Farm, in the Phonsavan District of Xieng Khouang Province, is an establishment that aims to promote silk production as a way to generate income to families in surrounding areas while preserving the vanishing art of Laotian weaving.
 
This non-profit company grows their own chemical-free mulberry trees supplying leaves to raise silk worms for four months, after which their silk cocoon is collected and reeled. The dyeing process that follows makes use of indigenous plants (such as indigo, jackfruit, and tamarind), which produce deep and rich colours.
 
Once the thread is spun, village women take it home to weave in their spare time. The silk farm then buys back the finished products to sell in their gift shops here and in Vientiane. Prior to that, the women attend workshops and learn how to make and use natural dyes, and the complex art of incorporating traditional designs into their creations.
 
Visitors can view all the silk making process right here in the house. Mulberries gift shop features beautiful plain silk scarves in a variety of rich colours, patterned throws and cushion covers and fabrics by the metre. Some patterns and home furnishing fabrics can be ordered.
 
   
                                                 Mulberry tree                                                                      Silk work cocoon
 
 
     + The Plain of Jars is considered the most famous and enigmatic site in Xieng Khouang province. The large area around Phonsavan is dotted with stone jars but no one has a clear idea as to why they are there.
 
The mysterious jars were carved from both sandstone and granite in various sizes from very small to about 3.5 metres high and are thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Legend has it that they were made to store rice wine while some believe they were for storing the dead. Until today the function of the jars is still disputed.
 
The three most popular jar sites to visit are Site 1, 2 and 3. The main reason is because they are safe from UXO (unexploded ordinance). Still, visitors are advised to walk only on the known routes as Laos is considered the most heavily bombed country in the world. During the Vietnam War this area got hit hard and some of the bombs did not go off.
 
Site 1, about 8km southwest of Phonsavan, is where the biggest jar is located and has nearly 331 jars.
Site 2, 20km south of Phonsavan, contains about 93 jars spread over two hills
Site 3, made up of 8 groups and is located around the village of Ban Xieng Di, around 10 km further south of site 2.The main group with some 150 jars situated on top of a scenic hill offers great views of the surrounding plain and rice paddies.
 
 
Plain of Jars
 
 
     + Muang Khuon (Old Xieng Khouang), located 30 km southeast of Phonsavan, was once the Royal Capital and the centre of the Phuan Kingdom  and was the provincial capital during French colonialism. This rural centre of faded glory was heavily bombed at the end of the 1960s and bears testimony to centuries of aggression. Once the town rivaled Luang Prabang in glory but today only few ruins remain, such as Wat Phia wat. The Phuan village of Ban Nasi is nearby and a good opportunity to cross a suspension bridge with a splendid view of lush fields and creeks. The villagers do basketry and weaving.
 
Ruins of Wat Phia Wat at Muang Khuon
 
 
     + Nong Tang lake, 48km from Phonsavan on Route 7 leading to Phou Khoun, is a large picturesque natural lake flanked by high limestone cliffs. Locals use it for fishing and it is a favorite picnic site. Around Nong Tang are several temple ruins of Wat Pong, Wat Xiengna and Mang Stupa dated from the Phuan Kingdom. The Tham Pa Buddha cave is also located nearby. Overnight stay is available in a guesthouse along the shore.
 
     + 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.
 
     + Hot springs
 
The big hot spring Baw Nyai, 67 km from Phonsavan, 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. 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.
 
     + War Memorials
 
South of Phonsavan are two major war memorials set 1 km apart on separate hill tops. Both are set in the style of traditional Laos stupas (each containing the bones of the dead) although one is representative of the Vietnamese and the other the Laos lives lost. Inscribed on the Lao monument is the slogan “The nation remembers your sacrifice”, erected in 1998 a nearby slab of granite has the names of all the soldiers lost inscribed on its surface. The Vietnamese war memorial has the inscription ‘Lao-Vietnamese solidarity and generosity forever’. Both memorials enjoy sprawling views of the countryside and are especially attractive at sunset.
 
 
     + Ban Mixay paper umbrellas village
 
The village of Ban Mixay is famous for making the umbrellas (Khan Nyu)  that were originally made by monks 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.
 
Mulberry paper umbrellas from Ban Mixay
 
 
     + Hmong Khaen at Ban Souamone
 
The mouth organ, which called qeei in Hmong language, is used for contact 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 a long neck which tappers up from the wind chest to the brass mouthpiece.
 
     + Tai Dam culture Hall at Ban Xieng Kio
 
Ban Xieng Kio is a government-designated cultural village located about 48 km north of Phonsavan near Kham town on 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 of basketry employed for different activities from cooking sticky rice to trapping fish. Items such as traditional skirts, wall hangings, table clothes, scarves, alongside baskets and shoulder bags-are sold in the village.
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