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Xieng Khouang

By virtue of the Franco-Siamese treaty of 3 October 1893, signed in Bangkok and ratified by the French Parliament in January 1894, Laos became the fifth province of French Indochina. Laos was a protectorate like Tonkin (north Vietnam), Annam (central Vietnam) and Cambodia, but Cochin-china (south Vietnam) was the only province with the status of colony. Laos entered the Union of French Indochina from a position of disadvantage, with no defined status of its own but often thought of as an extension of Vietnam.

Located 400 Km northeast of Vientiane Capital, Xieng Khouang Province has a population of 249,000 spread over an approximate area of 15,000 sq. km. It is one of the 17 provinces of Lao PDR, located in the north-central area of the country, on the mountainous Tran-ninh plateau. Xieng Khouang includes eight districts: Paek, Phaxay, Phoukoot, Kham, Nong Hét, Khoun, Thathom and Mokmai.

It is set at an altitude of more than 1,000 metres above sea level and enjoys mild temperatures for most of the year, although winters can be surprisingly cold. Kham District is a low-laying basin set at around 600 m above sea level.

Xieng Khouang enjoys a remarkable geographical location, surrounded by mountain ranges, with Phou Bia (2.700 m) the highest peak in Lao PDR. The province sits at the crossroads of traffic from central Vietnam and northeast Thailand. Historically, these two powerful neighbours-Siam and Vietnam have vied for control of its soil.

The province shares borders with Houaphanh, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Bolikhamxay provinces, as well as an international border with Vietnam’s Nghe An Province. Xieng Khouang has a long and rich history and is home to numerous ethnic groups, including Thai Phuan, Hmong, Khmu and Tai Dam.

Xieng Khouang is home to the Plain of Jars, the prehistoric stone megaliths which attract thousands of tourists to the province each year. The Lao government is currently finalising an application for the World Heritage Committee to consider listing the Plain of Jars as a World Heritage Monument. The area is of significant archaeological importance on account also of the standing stones in nearby Houaphanh Province.

Until briefly after World War II, the French used Xieng Khouang Town, present-day Muang Khoun town, as their provincial capital. A few ruinous colonial public buildings remain to this day, such as the governor’s residence, church and French school.

A total of 63 tourist sites were recorded in Xieng Khouang in 2010, consisting of 32 natural sites, 18 cultural sites and 13 historical sites (2010 Statistical Report on Tourism in Laos, published by the LNTA, the Lao National Tourism Administration). The same publication reports that visitors to the province increased from 5,062 in 2003 to 21,631 in 2010 and that the total number of hotels, guesthouses, resorts, restaurants and entertainment establishments in the province grew from 98 in 2009 to 140 in 2010.

Phonsavanh, the new provincial capital, is located in Paek District and caters to increasing numbers of national and international tourists, eager to experience Xieng Khouang’s natural, historical and archaeological attractions. The new airport in Phonsavanh is served by regular flights from Vientiane Capital by Lao Airlines.

Xieng Khouang and the enigmatic Plain of Jars make up one of the most important sites for studying the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia. While the ancient civilization that constructed the jars was flourishing, advances in agricultural production, the manufacturing of metals, and the organization of long-distance overland trade between India and China were also rapidly transforming local society and setting the stage for urbanization across the region. Mortuary practices associated with the jars consisting of both cremation and secondary burial suggest a highly-evolved local tradition of ritual, symbolism and metaphysics which persisted through to the kingdoms of the Angkor Period, long after the arrival of Hindu and Buddhist philosophies into Southeast Asia.

Prehistoric material found at the Plain of Jars is still under study, and apparently spans a considerable period of time, with some dating from as early as 2000 BC. The bulk of the archaeological material, however, as well as the jars themselves appeared much later, dating to the early Iron Age between 500 BC and 500-800 AD. The closet archaeological parallels to the finds at the Plain of Jars appear to be Bronze and Iron Age materials from Dong Son in Viet Nam, Samrong Sen in Cambodia, and the Khorat Plateau in northeast Thailand. There are also similarities with the present-day city of Danang, as well as with sites in the North Cachar Hills of northeastern India where megalithic jar North exist. All of these similar sites date to approximately the same period-roughly 500 BC - 500 AD. Together they form a mosaic picture of a large area of upland Southeast Asia criss-crossed by traders, with the Xieng Khouang Plateau at its centre.
 Although little is known about the people that constructed the megalithic stone jars, an account of the area's history as it relates to the Tai Puan and the lands they settled in Xieng Khouang is recorded in the Pongsawadan Meuang Puan or the Muang Puan Chronicles. The Tai Puan are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated from what is today southern China and by the 13th century had formed an independent principality at the Plain of Jars that prospered from the overland trade in metals and forest products. In the mid-14th century, Muang Puan was incorporated into the Lane Xang Kingdom under Fa Ngum, though the Phuan were able to retain a high degree of autonomy. After Siam (Thailand) extended control to Lao territories east of the Mekong in the 1770's, Muang Puan became a Siamese vassal state and also maintained tributary relations with Dai Viet (Viet Nam). To exert greater control of the lands and people of Muang Phuan, the Siamese launched three separate campaigns (1777-1779, 1834-1836, 1875-1876) to resettle large parts of the Phuan population to the south to regions under firm Siamese control.
Subsequent invasions by Chinese marauders called "Haw" plundered Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang, and the Franco-Siamese treaties of the 1890's placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until briefly after World War II.

During the Second Indochina War that raged in Laos during the 1960's and early 1970's Xieng Khouang suffered heavy aerial bombardment and intense ground battles due to its strategic importance. This conflict has left a deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) which is still being cleared today. Since Laos gained full independence in 1975, Xiengkhouang and the Plain of Jars are enjoying peace and tranquility after centuries of conflict.
The original capital city, Muong Khoun, was almost totally obliterated by US bombing and consequently, the capital was moved to nearby Phonsavanh. Of several Muong Khoun Buddhist temples built between the 16th and 19th century, only ruins remain. Vat Pia Vat, however, survived the bombing and can be visited.
Located: Northeastern Laos (Northern Heritage)
Total area: 15,880 square kilometers.
Population: 230,000.
08 Districts: Phonsavanh, Phaxay, Phoukoot, Kham, Nong Hét, Khoun, Thathom and Mokmai.
Capital of the province: Phonsavanh.

 

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