Discover archeological tours from Laos to Cambodia
December 2, 2016
What do you think about an archeological tour from Laos to Cambodia? To the young who are fond of archeology and travel, it is probably a full satisfaction with the two following suggestions.
Mysterious plain of jars in Laos
Have you ever seen hundred of hidden jars around a vast plain? Their age is much older than our great great grandfathers are. Their silence is as deeply dark as the night, making archeological experts thirst to discover in many years.
My motorbike was bouncing along a potholed track outside Phonsavan, a mid-sized town 400km northeast of the Laos capital, Vientiane. I was very close to the Plain of Jars, Laos’ most impressive stone-made attraction. In this low season, the area is completely devoid of travellers.
Compared to the Unesco-listed city of Luang Prabang to the North, many visitors decided to take a visit to the surrounding area of Vang Vieng, a much-loved party stop where travellers and backpackers down to Nam Song River. However, I am not interested in party or festival. I was in search of a never-been-solved mystery that was 2,500 years old.
Still be an unknown to most travellers, thousands of stone jars from the Iron Age are peppered over hundreds of square kilometers in the mountains surrounding Phonsavan. Lied in random locations, some reach huge dimensions – up to 3m tall and 1m wide – and weigh well more than a few metric tons.
These stone jars made for purpose and who constructed them remains a mystery to the world. Due to their size and the nearby human bones, some archaeologists think the jars were prehistoric burial sites for an ancient civilization. This civilization merged and developed between Mekong Delta River and the Gulf of Tonkin.
Additionally, some rims on jar are considered to be placed on top until the body decomposed, adding credit to this theory.
On the other hand, local people have other more exciting theories. Some say the stone jars were created to brew rice wine to celebrate the victory over their enemies; however, no one knows the secret behind this ancient mystery.
Most of the vast area containing the jars is not welcome to the public; travellers can visit only seven out of the 60 sites. Site 1, with more than 300 jars and a natural limestone cave is the most impressive scene to discover the mystery.
While the travellers walk through the fields, please spot dozens of red and white markers placed carefully on the ground – signs of MAG. Phonsavan were located on a flight path for US fighter jets during the Vietnam War and became one of the world’s most heavily bombed places per capita. Around 80 millions of these bombs undetonated upon landing, dangerously threatening the area. The land surrounding the Plain of Jars is unusable and prevented from usual entry. Only the site got the marked, cleared zones is opened for tourists.
I still wandered and wondered, to find my own answers to the mystery. Time and war may have covered many clues to get the understanding the creator and purpose of these jars.
The Lost City of Mahendraparvata at Mount Kulen in Cambodia
I was heading further into the forest surrounding the temple complex belonging to Mahendraparvata at Mount Kulen. It is a monumental, sophisticated, densely populated urban landscape which dates back over 700 years. It connects the cities of Angkor as Angkor Watt, Angkor Thom and Bayon with other medieval city ruins of Phnom Kulen, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, over 100 km away.
Phnom Kulen is a sacred mountain, a holy place for Cambodians. The ancestors of local people called this place Mahendraparvata, or the Mountain of Indra, King of the Gods. Now, they call it the Mountain of the Lychees. Due to far distance, we can see it as a long, low, flat plateau that barely rises above the palms, banana plants and rubber trees that skirt the road and embrace the traditional stilted timber houses noting the beautifully emerald-green countryside.
Carvings at Ta Nei Temple, Siem Reap and at Srah Damrie, Mount Kulen, Phnom Kulen may not be the most mysterious misty peak I could imagine. It is a mountain of 492m-high, 8km-wide and 32km-long. It takes 90 minutes to drive from northern Siem Reap to the foothills of Mount Kulen Park. Some travellers can choose to hike to the summit. I totally agree that the remains of the three-connected temple of Prasat Rong Chen that marks the site where the Khmer Empire was founded in AD 802, when a Brahmin priest declared Jayavarman II universal monarch, just two years after Charlemagne was made Holy Roman Emperor – would be nothing less than adventurous.
In fact, local people never consider Mahendraparvata as “a lost city". Because the mountain has long been known as the location of the sandstone sources that built Angkor's cities. Experts also discovered the source of water for a complex system that irrigated the vast empire around the city. During the visit, local people are floating in the River of A Thousand Lingas, a section of the stream boasting stone carvings on its foundation. It is not a surprise for villagers who often came across, recently some bronze, copper and sandstone statues of Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva and Lakshmi. Mahendraparvata was confirmed that it is a part of a city and much larger than suspected and maybe it is as huge as Phnom Penh at present.
The city of Mahendraparvata is so enormous and it seems unwillingly to welcome our travellers. However, tourism services here are likely to increase. There is representation of a cutting-edge museum introducing the exciting new discoveries, new archaeological sites in the future and greater interest in off-limited outlying temples already accessible and attractive to the public.
Have you heard the call of these two thrilling attractions? I bet they never let you down. Just take your backpack and become Indiana Jones!
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