Sam Neua - Hintang Archaeological Park

Right: Cooling off

From Phonsavan I took a long bumpy bus trip up to Sam Neua, capital of Hua Phan Province in the northeast of Laos. It's an area that doesn't get a lot of tourists apart from those crossing from the Vietnamese border at Nameo (Nam Xoi). I was intrigued by reports of mysterious stone megaliths in the region which may be related to the stone jars in Xieng Kuang. Also in Vieng Xay district are the caves where the Pathet Lao (communists) hid out during an intensive bombing campaign on behalf of the Americans.

cooling off

Hintang Archaeological Park:

menhirs

Left: Hua Phan Menhirs

The main site is about 6km up a dirt road which turns off highway 6, about 57km out of Sam Neua on the way to Nam Noen. To get there I hired a motorbike in Sam Neua. Setting off I still hadn't had any breakfast so I stopped in a place just on the road out of town. I asked the guy inside if they had chicken. He just shook his head lead me to the fridge and opened the door for me to see inside. The thing on the plate had two hind legs and a tail. "Can you eat?" he said optimistically. "Well I am pretty hungry I replied".

chamber

Having dined on rat I made my way out to the park. The journey took a shade under 2.5 hours.

Left: Burial Chamber

The megaliths are cut from schist and placed in rows, often with the tallest in the middle. Interspersed are what appear to be burual chambers covered over with large round discs. A notice board on site informs us that the sites were partially excavated by archaeologist Madeleine Coelani in 1931 though for the most part they reamain a mystery.

Just before the main site there is a track leading to a couple more menhir clusters. The round trip takes about 90 minutes however the track is poorly maintained and the sites are somewhat overgrown.

The Legend of the Hua Phan Menhirs:

In ancient times Lao was inhabited by the Kha Yeui. Their chief, Ba Hat was a great giant possessing amazing powers, to whom the gods also gave three magical objects: a double-headed drum - one face struck to make enemies disappear and the other to call help from the gods; an enormous awl which pierced the stoniest ground and made water gush out; and an axe which could cut hard rock like wood.

Ba Hat fely himself no less strong than the Luang Prabang Kingdom, thanks to these marvelous instruments, so he decided the were no longer subjects of the king, who soon declared war. But the victory went to Ba Hat. Later believing the enemy king intended to return, Ba Hat called on the help of the gods. The chief of the gods descended in person and on seeing no enemies anywhere he flew into a rage and seized back the magical drum.

Ba Hat still had the other tools given him by the gods. With the magical axe, he set his people out to cut blocks of stone along Nam Peun, and bear them to the top of San Ang ridge to build the new city of Kong Phanh. This aroused the king of Luang Prabang's fears and he decided apon a ruse to keep that city from ever beeing founded. He succeeded in marrying his son to Ba Hat's daughter. Misplacing their confidence in the prince, the Kha Yuei were induced to lay the magical awl and axe onto a white-hot brazier. The two instruments immediately lost all magic power.

So the Kha Yuei had to abandon their project and they just left the stones where they had been raised along the crest. These later on became the menhir fields of San Kong Phanh and the neighbouring countryside.

(Department of Museums and Archaeology, Laos PDR Ministry of Information and Culture)