Luang Prabang - Phonsawan
Phonsavan Travel Blog› entry 12 of 27 › view all entries
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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').
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.
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.
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 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.