Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Drinking at the Plain of Jars

Legend has it that the hundreds of huge stone jars scattered across the Plain of Jars in remote Northeast Laos are the wreckage of an almighty piss-up of giants. The scattering of upright and toppled jars looks like the discarded beer cans of drunken revelry. It’s a good story but archaeologists, who are by no means sure of the whys and wherefores, believe they’re funeral urns. This makes more sense in the context of their setting; their resting places are all in peaceful surrounds. Despite what the guidebooks say, Site 2 is the most beautiful, with a 360 degree view of rice paddies and tumbling hills. At Site 2 a tree has grown through the base of the jar splitting it four ways. Throughout the sites the Mines Advisory Group has laid marker bricks; you’re not allowed to wander outside of these zones. I have never been so fixated on a pair of bricks in all my life.

After a day contemplating the legend of the imbibing giants, Tae, my guide, offered to take me to a local disco. It was a Hmong hang out. The crooners crooned, there was some very restrained Laos dancing which involved twisting my wrists, followed by a frustrated Kevin Bacon Footloose routine. I was happy to shake a leg or two after being so feet focussed on ground tainted by so much unexploded ordnance.

As the night wore on, Tae’s friends thought it a good idea to pour wine into the Beer Lao. Beer Lao is a fine drink. I asked them why they wanted to taint the sacred national drink by polluting it with vino; some people like the sweet taste, they told me. It was nothing short of a blasphemous transubstantiation of the gold nectar into cough mixture.

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