Xieng Khouang History

Learn about the timeless Plain of Jars, an ancient kingdom, and intense bombing.


Xieng Khouang and the Plain of Jars make up one of the most important sites for studying the late prehistory of mainland Southeast Asia and Laos. The ancient civilization that constructed the jars flourished, as did advances in agricultural production and metal manufacturing. The organization of long-distance overland trade between India and China was also 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 sites suggest a highly-evolved local tradition of ritual, symbolism, and metaphysics. This 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 closest archaeological parallels to the Plain of Jars appear to be Bronze and Iron Age materials from Dong Son in Vietnam, Samrong Sen in Cambodia, and the Korat Plateau in north-eastern Thailand.

In the 13th century, the Tai Phuan began migrating to north-eastern Laos from China, and established a principality, Muang Phuan, with its capital at present-day Khoun Town. Muang Phuan prospered as a trade centre, and in the mid-14th century, it became a Lane Xang Kingdom protectorate under King Fa Ngum.

Muang Phuan then evolved into a centre for Buddhist art and distinct temple architecture. According to French Historian Paul Le Boulanger, the “opulence of the 62 pagodas and their stupas, of which the flanks concealed treasures, obtained the capital a fame that spread fear wide and far.”   

The Siamese sacked Muang Phuan in the 18th century, before Chinese Haw pillaged Xieng Khouang and Khoun Town’s temples in the 1870s. Soon after, a Franco-Siamese treaty handed the province to France, which established a governor’s residence and colonial outpost in Khoun Town. 

The French lost control after World War II, and the ensuing Indochina War placed Xieng Khouang at Ground Zero for intense US bombing from 1964-1973, which levelled most of Khoun Town. Consequently, the capital was moved to nearby Phonsavanh.

Source: Lao Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism


Xieng Khouang: Beyond the Plain of Jars

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