Sunset in Vang Vieng
The golden temple Luang Prabang
A typical bridge, washed away and rebuilt after each monsoon
I´ve been thinking a lot lately about this unpresuming little country tucked snugly between Vietnam and Thailand.
Proud and lovely temples around every corner. Young monks with shaven heads and scarlet robes are on cellphones or in internet cafes like teenage boys anywhere. The most adorable children roam the streets, parents assured that they will be fine. There's no crime and homes lack doors because there's no one to keep out and everyone to invite in.
Yet there's a dark and terrible history that gives Laos an added dimension.
An excerpt from legaciesofwar.org:
'From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.'
Laos. Not Germany or England. Not Vietnam. Laos. Quiet little Laos, a country I had not even heard of until six months before I travelled there. Some 288 million cluster munitions and about 75 million unexploded bombs were left across Laos after the war ended, in the last 15 years more than 1 million items of UXO (unexploded ordnance) were destroyed, leaving a country littered with bombs that still kill and maim today.
modern day Laos
My guidebook heavily advised against leaving any paths and roads, advice I forgot at one point as I wandered into a field for the 'bush bathroom' during a long bus ride - more concerned about watching for snakes - before I realised what I'd done, and retraced my steps back to safety.
I then noticed the gas station across the highway with a restroom.
The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is the main charity that supports the clearing of UXOs. They recycle the aluminium casings from bombs into bangles for tourists, and at $2 each I bought a couple in the capital, Vientiane.
My little piece of Laos and the secret war.