Luang Prabang - Phonsawan

Phonsavan Travel Blog

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A truely sad moment.

"No right to live in freedom, no right to live in peace,
Dropping bombs on children, feeding hate and fear."

Silenced - RPWL

I had felt very nauseous last night. I initially thought that I'd been drinking a bottle of water that had gone bad. I actually was so worried about it that I tried to make myself throw up, which didn't work. When I woke up in the morning I felt much better, especially after taking a shower. I realised that taking a malaria pill on a stomach full of Beerlao and Drambuie might not have been the best idea last night. (:-/

Some people just can't say goodbye an therefore it was no surprise that after breakfast, at eight o'clock when we would leave Luang Prabang with a new guide Keo came riding up the hotel's parking on his motorbike.

View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
For the second time we had to say goodbye, something we really regretted but Keo seemed seriously depressed about it. After some last hugs we realised that we really had to jump in the new van with our new guide, Phoumy. While Keo drove away on his bike we left Luang Prabang with a nagging feeling that something was missing as of today.

Our destination of today was Phonsavan, which was close to the legendary Plain of Jars, which we would visit tomorrow. For today we had a long day of travelling in store. The distance to Phonsavan is 'only' some 250 km, but most of this trip crosses a mountain range with the road swerving and curling up and down mountain passes. Phoumy had said that we would pass 8000 curves, which I thought to be a joke.

View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
After a couple of hours I realised that this might not be too far away from the truth. I counted an average of 10 curves a minute and we must has gone through the mountains for at least five to six hours so must have gone through some 3000-3500 curves ! And even though my nausea had died down, with your stomach constantly being thrown from left to right you'd be sick again for sure. I was therefore happy that we could make a couple of stops. Some to take pictures of some amazing views of the valleys below, including a spot where the clouds were hanging like a sea of fog below.

At noon we entered the Xieng Khuang province at Muang Phu Khoun, the town where highway route 13 and route 7 meet. We got out of the van to stretch our legs and take a walk along the local market.

View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
Some seriously weird stuff was sold here, including living bamboo rats and even a dead sivet cat! It was very clear that these weren't taken away as pets and would end up in somebody's meal. This didn't spoil our appetite too much though, so when we stopped at the small Khamu town Ban Namchat at half past two the local noodle soup went down very well.

Keo had written down some tips for sights along the way for us, which I shared with Phoumy. He was more than happy to accommodate us, so shortly after we left the mountain range and the landscape changed to fields and sloping hills, we stopped at Muang Sui at 3 o'clock. During the Vietnam war this town was the headquarter of the Lao Neutralists and a landing site for US planes (Lima Site 108). Phoumy told us some background information while we parked at what once had been the runway for the planes.

This is an ex-cat !

Many people are not aware of what took place in Laos during the Vietnam war, while it's all he more shocking. Ignoring the Geneva agreement the CIA started to recruit Hmong minorities in the Phonsavan area in the early sixties to fight the Pathet Lao (communist rebels) and Viet Minh forces, telling them that otherwise 'the communists will take your land'. Twelve years long the Hmong fought against the Northern Vietnamese that occupied the Plain of Jars, something that was kept secret from the US citizens and the rest of the world. Lots of Hmong died in the many battles, resulting in training of replacements as young as 12 years. When the cease-fire was signed in 1973 the 'secret army' was disbanded and the Hmong deserted. 120.000 Hmong fled the country, most to the USA where they often had to live under often dire circumstances (as I'd seen in the documentary 'The Betrayal').
What's for dinner tonight ? From left to right: peacock, sivet cat and bamboo rats.

We moved on to the nearby Tham Pha Buddha cave. In this network of limestone caverns hundreds of small Buddha statues were hidden from the looting Chinese Haw invasions several centuries ago. A low hole in one of the walls revealed some of them. A much bigger sitting Buddha could be found at the entrance and elsewhere a hydraulic lift had been used as a hospital bed. The Northern Vietnamese Army used the cave as a hospital and a second nearby cave which we visited was used to store medicine. Loads of empty phials still cover the ground here.
After a short stop at the lovely natural lake of Nong Tang, flanked by limestone cliffs, and nibbling on some more 'khao non kii meo' we had bought yesterday we continued for the last 50 km to Phonsavan, arriving there shortly before 17:00 hours.

A way to move your stuff ...

Besides the aforementioned Hmong tragedy there's an even greater war crime that was committed by the US in Laos. I took the group to the local office of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to show them. The MAG works together with the LAO UXO to clear the country of unexploded munition (UXO) that was left here during years of US bombings in the Vietnam war. In 1964 the US secretly began bombing the Plain of Jars that was occupied by Northern Vietnamese forces, as well as the south of Laos which was used as part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. What's more, when returning to Thailand air force basis bombers would often drop unused munition over Laos to enable a safer landing. The US dropped 2 million tons of bombs over the country, at the cost of 2 million dollars a day.

More noodle soup !
Laos still remains the most heavily bombed country in the world, taking more bombs than used in the whole of World War I and II together.
About 10 to 30 percent of these bombs never went of and most of these still remain in the ground of middle en southern Laos. Not only do these continue to cause deaths and injuries but poverty as well since large parts of the land are no longer suitable for agriculture and some people are even afraid to work in the field.
About 40% of the 30-60 casualties per year are children that have played with so-called 'bombies', devilishly brightly coloured explosive balls from cluster bombs. Kids mistake them for tennis balls or try to open them often don't live to tell. Others people get hurt while trying to extract gunpowder or collect and sell UXO as scrap metal.
The kitchen ...

The MAG has an exhibition about the bombs and their work and shows DVD documentaries, one of which ('Bomb Harvest') I'd already seen at home but after we made donations and bought some T-shirts the clerk was more than happy to change the playing schedule of the films so we could watch the interesting and shocking 'Bombies' instead.
After leaving the MAG we had dinner at the Crater restaurant next door (where two shell cartridges marked the entrance), used the remarkably fast Internet connection in a cybercafe and had one final beer in the Karaoke bar of the hotel.

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A truely sad moment.
A truely sad moment.
View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
View on the way to Muang Phu Khoun.
This is an ex-cat !
This is an ex-cat !
Whats for dinner tonight ? From l…
What's for dinner tonight ? From …
A way to move your stuff ...
A way to move your stuff ...
More noodle soup !
More noodle soup !
The kitchen ...
The kitchen ...
Lima Site 108 runway.
Lima Site 108 runway.
Buddha at Tham Pha cave.
Buddha at Tham Pha cave.
Hospital bed at Tham Pha.
'Hospital bed' at Tham Pha.
Tiny hidden Buddhas at Tham Pha.
Tiny hidden Buddha's at Tham Pha.
Tham Pha.
Tham Pha.
Medicine cave at Tham Pha.
Medicine cave at Tham Pha.
Medicine cave at Tham Pha.
Medicine cave at Tham Pha.
Fishing an Nong Tang lake.
Fishing an Nong Tang lake.
Delicious khao non kii meo.
Delicious khao non kii meo.
Nong Tang lake.
Nong Tang lake.
Our posh new hotel.
Our posh new hotel.
Empty cluster bomb at MAG.
Empty cluster bomb at MAG.
Poster in the Crater restaurant.
Poster in the Crater restaurant.
Bombies at MAG.
Bombies at MAG.
At the hotels nightclub.
At the hotel's nightclub.
Phonsavan Hotels & Accommodations review
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Phonsavan General Tips & Advice review
Help clear Laos of UXO
Many people don't realise that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the history of warfare. During the Vietnam War the UD dropped two million to… read entire review
Phonsavan
photo by: droonsta