The Aftermath of War
Phonsavan Travel Blog› entry 127 of 151 › view all entries
My last days in Laos were full of fun and eye-opening education about the countryâ€™s history.
After our up-north adventure, we headed down to Vang Vieng, famous for its river tubing. Everyone Iâ€™ve met who has done the tubing has raved about it. You basically jump on a tube and bar hop along a river, stopping about every 3 minutes where someone throws you a bamboo pole to grab, they reel you in to their bar, and you drink and take advantage of the swings into the river. I do a big river tubing thing back home every year, so this was not a novel thing to me, but I found it be lots of fun and enjoyed the Laosâ€™ take on it.
From VV we caught a bus to Phonsavan, where I sat behind two pukers and alongside another one. The Lao people Iâ€™ve noticed donâ€™t handle bus travel well.
Our main reason for visting this place was the mysterious jars scattered in sites around the area, called the Plain of Jars. They are stone jars about 2,500 years old, but their origin is unknown. Some believe they are burial markers.
We set off on our day tour, first pulling up to an area with bomb craters caused by bunker bombs. I stood there, trying to picture planes flying over head, dropping bombs and causing damage to this countryside of amazing beauty. It was so peaceful then, so it was so hard to imagine otherwise. I hesitantly posed for pictures by the craters, noting that a smile was probably not a good idea.
From there we headed for a Hmong village so see how these ingenious people have incorporated the scrap of war into everday life. The U.S. used cluster bombs (CBUs) as well, the reason for the UXOs. They are shells containing about 67 bombies, small individual bombs that once released from the shell, spin in the air until the bomb is armed and then explode. Many are not properly armed before hitting the ground, thus do not explode and lie in wait for unsuspecting villagers to find them. More on that later, but the shells previously containing these were left lying around as well. Villagers now use them as stilts for their homes, fences, troughs to feed the animals and even boxes to grow herbs in. So we toured a village, noting the CBU shells in various places.
After that we took a break from bombs and trekked down to a waterfall for lunch. We previously stopped at the local market to pick up lunch supplies. It was not a very appetizing market, so Alex and I ended up with sticky rice, screwers of unknown meat and some fried bananas. After lunch and a quick swim by some, we climbed back up, following the falls along the way through water (I wore my Chacos this time). I fared a little better on this uphill climb, but I managed to pick up another leech along the way, stuck between my toes. Upon notice, I started screaming leech, leech, and after Rob removed it for me, I noticed that Alex and another guy had leeches as well between their toes.
Yep, they are jars, in a plain. We took pictures, posed and chatted about them, and after a whole ten minutes, all of us were tired and lounging about on the jars, so Crazy Kong decided we should head back and begin the nightâ€™s festivities. He had an eye on the single gal from England, and we knew where this was headed. The evening turned into a big storm, literally and figuratively. It started pouring rain, hailing even. Alex and I were in our bungalow and fought off the drenching to join the others outside for dinner.
Mainly everyone got drunk and ended up going to bed before nine. We were entertained by Mr. Kong, who picked up his guitar and belted out a tune about Falangs and how they love sticky rice and Lao Lao, but he saw his English girl start stumbling off to bed, so ditched the guitar and disappeared for the night. We called it done pretty early and went to bed as well.
My last day with Alex and Rob was spent walking about Phonsavan, checking in with the internet place every hour to see if it was finally up and doing a whole lot of nothing as there isnâ€™t much to do in town anyway.
In any event, the U.S. did a horrible thing and as far as I can see, have done little to remedy the aftermath. The aftermath being the dangerous UXOs. This town lives off of crop growing. If you are in fear of gettting blown up when you till your field (many have), would you want to be out there growing food? So many have to survive off other foods, if they can. As mentioned, the metal from the bombs is valuable, so the other option is selling it for scrap, but that, too, is dangerous. It is a difficult situation for the Laos people to be in and MAG can only clear so much. It is a painstaking process. The one thing I noticed, though, is that the Laos people take all this in stride. I felt like a bad guy, not wanting to admit where I was from, but no one begruded me and I was always treated with welcome. These people have struggled so greatly and continue to do so, but they never wear their struggles for everyone to see. I have such great respect and admiration for this country.
So we watched two documentaries at the MAG office (one talked about the Honeywell plant in Minneapolis that manufactured some of the CBUs, so much for hometown pride) and I donated $20 for the cause (thatâ€™s a lot of dough for a backpacker). The sobering statistics made our moods even lower given we were off to celebrate our last supper together as the comedic trio. Iâ€™ve so enjoyed traveling with Alex and Rob in Laos over the last three weeks. Weâ€™ve had so much fun weâ€™ve already made plans for a meet up, but this time in the States.
I type this as I sit in Hanoi, and I feel anxious to get out and experience this place. However, Laos really touched my heart and I was so hesitant to leave. Time is running out for me, though, and after a long time on the road with no place to be and no deadline to be there, I actually have a return date home: July 11th. So time is winding down quickly for me and I panic at the thought of only three more months abroad! I have much to look forward to still, so I will soak in every second and not worry about tomorrow.