In a nutshell
Phonsavan is known as the core of Xieng Khuang province, where curious travelers could explore the Plain of Jars. The town is quite spread out, having a mysterious and unexplored feel to it.
Why visit Phonsavan?
One of the reasons why we fell in love with Phonsavan is its unique vibe, as it features a combination of unexpected elements. The Second Indochina War has devastated this region. So, the presence of bomb-casing collection in various guesthouse lobbies is a reminder of the area’s tragic history. You’ll see bomb casings everywhere: as fences, decorations, vegetable planters or barbecue fireplaces. As we already mentioned, Phonsavan is the site of the intriguing Plain of Jars. The center of the province is cluttered with clusters of massive stone vessels that are thought to be ancient funerary urns. The provenance of these jars has remained unclear until today, provoking international debate. The natural landscape is also unique and entirely distinct from what we’ve seen in Laos. During the wet season, the hills are coated with evergreen grass and sporadic pine tree forests. That is in sheer contrast with the typical scenery consisting of abundant jungle and mountain peaks. The little fresh food market is also well worth a visit. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety of fresh produce available. Similar to other markets in Laos, going there is an excellent choice if you want to enjoy an equally delicious and affordable meal, on the go. Other places worth visiting are the Indochinese war sites, Tham Piu Cave and Tham Xang Cave, Nong Tang Lake, Ta Ka Waterfall in Nong Het, Nong Tang Lake, the old cemetery and Lake Jao Supanouvong.
When to go to Phonsavan
Typically, you can visit Phonsavan throughout the year, since the weather in Laos is pleasant round the clock. The green season lasts from late May to October, when the likelihood of rain increases. That could make traveling to the jar sites quite difficult. On that note, we would advise you to go there during the dry season – from November to March.
Where to stay in Phonsavan
Accommodation in Phonsavan is sprinkled throughout the entire town. Nevertheless, east of the main intersection along the main road you’ll find numerous guesthouses that are excellent for foreign visitors. Plus, some hotels located on the back streets are open to negotiating the asking prices.
Nice Guesthouse is a top budget accommodation, which is popular with backpackers. It is situated on the main road, which is pretty great, and the prices range from LAK70,000 to LAK100,000 (USD8.5 to USD12.50). The staff speaks English, and there is Wi-Fi available.
White Orchid Guesthouse is a decent mid-range accommodation, also located on the main road. The starting price per room begins at LAK60,000 kip – USD7 (with no breakfast).
The Hillside Residence provides rooms starting from USD25 (LAK205,750). This is a beautiful guesthouse with a relaxed, charming vibe that makes one think of the past.
In short, you can choose from various types of accommodation, depending on your budget. As you can see, the prices are surprisingly affordable, even for the best hotels in town.
Where and what to eat in Phonsavan
One of the things we love about Phonsavan is the variety of cuisine. You’ll find a combination of Lao, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. Irrespective of the small size of the town, it features 32 restaurants and noodle shops referred to as Pho-shops.
Vietnamese Simmaly is a familiar spot that serves delicious Vietnamese food. Take note: the servings are large, so make sure you’re hungry when you get there.
If you’re looking for a combination of Indian and Lao dishes, Nisha is a decent option. It serves both vegetarian and meat dishes at fair rates.
Still, if you feel like eating a pizza or a burger, you can have that, as well. Craters Bar and Restaurant offers a far-reaching range of Western dishes.
At Phoupadeng Hotel, Auberge de la Plain des Jarres has a reputation for their delicious French dishes. Still, the prices tend to be quite steep there.
How to get around Phonsavan
Getting around Phonsavan shouldn’t be too difficult. There are numerous tuk-tuks, and we recommend you to use those. Nevertheless, note that they could be unavailable at early or late hours without booking them in advance. Taking the local bus is also an option.
A tuk-tuk ride around the town should cost about LAK10,000 or USD1,20. Another option would be renting a bike (LAK20,000 per day – USD2.50) or motorbike (approximately LAK100,000 per day – USD12). Don’t hesitate to negotiate the prices, though, since that’s quite common in Phonsavan.
Bear in mind that tuk-tuks aren’t permitted to drive tourists to the Jar Sites.
How to get to and from Phonsavan
Phonsavan Xiang Khouang Airport offers five flights per week to Vientiane. The airport is situated at about five kilometers south of town. The one-way flight price from Vientiane to Phonsavan costs around USD90 (LAK740,700). The airport code is XKH, and booking agents make reference to Phonsavan airport as Xieng Khouang.
The local bus is also a popular option for travelers. The drive from Vientiane to Phonsavan costs about LAK120,000 – USD15. You can also take the VIP bus if you want. This costs approximately LAK150,000– USD18. The trip lasts ten to twelve hours, depending on traffic.
The international bus from Luang Prabang to Vietnam goes through Phonsavan. Taking this bus from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan will cost about LAK100,000 – USD12. The trip will take eight hours or so.
Taking the minibus is another alternative to get from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan as the trip lasts only six hours. Nevertheless, there could be a difference in price; typically, that would be an extra fee of LAK20,000 – USD2.50.
Also, a minibus ride from Vang Vieng to Phonsavan will last up to eight hours and will cost about LAK110,000 – USD13.50. If you’re coming from Xam Neua to Phonsavan, you’ll spend eight hours on the bus and pay approximately LAK100,000 – USD12.
Moreover, the same international bus mentioned above will help you get from Phonsavan to Hue, Vinh and other equally beautiful destinations in Vietnam. This is good to know especially if you consider experiencing the insightful Vietnamese culture, as well.
As you can see, depending on your budget, there are plenty of transportation options to get to and from Phonsavan. So, there’s nothing to worry about in this respect.
Is it safe in Phonsavan?
As we already indicated, Phonsavan is a heavily bombed location. That means the region features unexploded ordnance, to this day. When exploring the rural areas, we advise you to be doubly mindful and cautious. By all means, remain on the paths and follow the markings made by the Mine Advisory Group, which highlight the boundaries of safe areas.
Additionally, due to inadequate equipment and brakes, there has been an increase in motorcycle accidents. Before renting a motorbike, make sure it functions accordingly.