Go to Razzle Dazzle welcome page. Phonsavan, Laos


Phonsavan   |   Plain of Jars   |   battleground

August, 2004

Laos photo.
1. Phonsavan
Laos photo.
2. Home compound
Laos photo.
3. Fixing a flat tire
Laos photo.
4. Maly Hotel

— Index —

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Phonsavan is the capital of Xieng Khuang province. It has a current population of over 60,000 and has been growing at a rapid rate during the last decade or so. Many of the new inhabitants are Vietnamese. The Xieng Khuang plateau has been a crossroads of trade between China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Thailand for thousands of years. So, the people living here represent all of these ethnic groups. Because of its central location, the plateau has also been subject to frequent conflicts. The latest war in the 1960s and 1970s was particularly destructive. On the south side of the city, perched on a hilltop, are two war memorials. From the Laotian memorial, you can have a great view of the city (see photo #1, at left).

The city seemed smaller than its population would indicate. This is probably because it is spread out a great deal. Many of the original small farming villages, and their fields, are included within the city. These traditional home compounds (photo #2) look just like the village homes we have seen throughout Laos. We took a short walk through the town, and found many very rural scenes mixed in with the newer urban homes and businesses. Government policies changed during the 1990s, and home building in Phonsavan has increased dramatically.

The Indochina War (or Vietnam War, as we know it in the USA) had a huge impact on Laos. It still does. We passed this farm family that had stopped to change a flat tire on the highway (photo #3). They had to unload their cargo of bomb shrapnel to lighten the vehicle and remove the flat tire. Farmers find this sort of scrap metal in their fields regularly. The metal is harmless, but many of the bombs have not exploded. Called Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), they are deadly to many people and farm animals each year. Children especially are attracted to the many small bomblets that are shaped like pineapples or baseballs (and sometimes painted in bright colors to be more attractive).

We stayed at the Maly Hotel, whose owner has decorated the building with many bombs and other explosive ordnance (photo #4). Sousath Phetrasy, like most Lao people, has a very interesting, and often tragic, life story. He was a young boy in the 1960s, and by chance he was separated from his family for many years. Like many other Laotians, he lived in caves to survive the almost constant American bombings of villages in this part of Laos. He began dismantling UXO to get the explosives. He learned by doing, and was lucky to survive.

After many years, and many adventures through China and Eastern Europe, Sousath has settled in Pohnsavan and is promoting tourism in the area. He has decorated the walls of the hotel with many of the bombs and other debris of war left in Laos. Even the candle holders are made from UXO. He disarmed them all himself.

One of the best parts of our stay at the Maly Hotel was the food in their restaurant. It is reputed to be the best in town. We enjoyed everything we tasted, but especially liked the steamed fish. These dishes take an hour or more to cook, so you have to order them ahead. There are two recipes: steamed fish with lemon and steamed fish in banana leaf. The fish with lemon has a very delicate taste, much like trout. The fish in banana leaf is mixed with banana, egg, coconut milk, and spices. Both are excellent.

If you are interested in staying at the Maly Hotel, or need help with travel arrangements in Xieng Kuang province, contact Sousath Phetrasy at sousathp@laotel.com.

Here are some more photos from the city of Phonsavan:

War Memorial  | fishing  | rice  | geese  | street  | rice  | more rice


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 8/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.