Phonsavan is the main town in Xiangkhouang Province, which is better known as the ‘Plain of Jars’ and is famous for its mysterious large stone jars created more than 2,000 years ago. You can travel to Phonsavan from Luang Prabang by bus.
By bus it takes 8 hours to travel from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan. Despite the length of the journey it is anything but tedious. The scenery on route is spectacular passing through isolated areas with mountains, valleys and small villages. The Luang Prabang to Phonsavan route is one of the best road journeys in South East Asia.
Route to from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan
There is only one route from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan and it’s 262 km long. On a flat straight road this journey could be completed in under 3 hours, but it takes 8 hours (sometimes more) because the road is anything but flat and straight. Luang Prabang is 305 metres above sea level and Phonsavan has an elevation of 1,097 metres, and there are lots of mountains and valleys on the route between the two towns.
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About the journey to Phonsavan
The journey to Phonsavan starts from Luang Prabang Southern Bus Terminal, also known as Naluang Bus Station. The bus is easy to identify because it departs from in front of a sign which says ‘PHONSAVANH’. The vehicle used on this route is a half length bus, rather than a minivan, which means passengers have a lot more room inside the vehicle.
The great scenery starts almost straight away after you depart from Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is located within an area with mountains on all sides.
The road from Luang Prabang to the Plain of Jars follows a series of mountains ridges. Some of the ridges are over 30 km long and as you travel the road follows the contours of the land constantly passing from one side of the many ridges to the other. It doesn’t matter too much which side of the bus you sit on because there are alternating views on each side.
The road itself is narrow, with lots of traffic in places. Major construction on the new railway line from China through Laos and on into Thailand is taking place in the area at the moment as well as other major projects such as dam building. The bus with get caught behind large trucks at certain points in the journey, particularly on the up hill parts of the road where the large trucks struggle with the gradients.
The areas to the sides of the road are sparsely populated. The only major settlements are the small towns and villages which the road passes through on the top of mountain ridges.
The other thing to look out for as you travel along the road are the isolated hill tribe communities. You will see clusters of wooden huts built on very steep hillside in and among fields growing pineapple and cassava. Life is hard for these people who have no electric connected to their homes and rely on growing a very limited range of produce on what must be some of the steepest farm land anywhere in the world.
The most striking part of the journey, however, is when you reach Xiangkhouang Province. The change in scenery is dramatic as steep side mountains and flat valleys, all sparsely populated, are replaced by flat fertile fields and larger villages and towns. The Plain of Jars is basically a large flat area of land at the top of the mountain ridges the road has been following all the way from Luang Prabang.
Compared to the mountainous area between Luang Prabang and the edge of Xiangkhouang Province, the Plain of Jars is a very hospitable part of the country to live in. The land is flat enough to grow rice without building terraces and the cooler climate is good for dairy cows and the production of excellent honey, potatoes and peaches. The journey by bus makes it clear how and why the Plain of Jars supported a large and advanced ancient community capable of producing the famous stone jars which are clustered all over the province.
The final stop for the bus from Luang Prabang is Phonsavan Northern Bus Station, also known simply as Xiengkhouang Bus Station. From there it is 4 km to Phonsavan town itself where most of the hotels in the area are located. Local tuk-tuks wait at the station for passengers. Expect to pay around 30,000 Lao Kip for the trip from station to the town centre.