Experience 5: Lao

We are already two weeks in Laos and we cannot get enough of the country. It is very diverse and it continues to fascinate us. In this somewhat long report we tell some astonishing details about the “Secret War” and about our trip to Muang Ngoi Neua and Huay Sen, where Marlous performed a spontaneous dance.

We are now fully accustomed to our existence travelers. Aspects that made our trip so interesting are the conversations with the special people that we meet along the way. We learn a lot from Pat, our Japanese American, with whom we have traveled for about ten days. He is a Buddhist and we have come to the conclusion that Rob and his attitude is in fact also a Buddhist. Just accept the situation as it is and be grateful for what you have. As our friend Luuk always says: ‘It is as it is”. There is more wisdom behind these simple words than I initially suspected.

Enough philosophical excesses. Laos is the country where we are at the moment and we like to tell about what we have learned about the “Secret War”. It is incredible how this war still influences current Laos.

The “Secret War” took place between 1962 and 1975 . During this war, the American CIA attacked Laos in secret with a huge amount of cluster bombs. The “Secret War” did arise from fears of Americans that communism would overtake Southeast Asia. Besides that the wanted to disturb the logistical network of the Vietnamese. This proofs that fear is the one of the worst counselors in our point of view.

For nine years, Laos have been bombed by American planes, every eight minutes on average, without approval by the U.S. Congress. In total 580,344 military missions have been executed. This makes Laos the most bombed country in the world. You just don’t expect this.

A third of the bombs does not seem to have exploded, causing the bombs to this day many victims among the Laotian population. Explosions occur due to playing children, farmers that are working on the land and ironmongers that seek for old iron to sell, because of the enormous poverty.

The most amazing thing about the whole story is not that the Americans, but a British organization – the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) – cares about the bombs. The MAG is currently dismantling the bombs and the expectation is that it lasts longer than 100 years to make a save country of Laos without any unexploded ordinances.

Near Phonsavan have visited a vast field with huge bomb craters. As far as we could see, we saw fields with untidy even bombs. We also visited a cave where some 300 civilians have been killed by a rocket attack by the Americans. These people took shelter from the bombs, according to the Laotians. A visit to a native village taught us that the remains of bombs can be used for everything, such as poles to build houses, planters and barbecues. As a souvenir we bought a spoon made of an American bomber. That seems very tasty to us!

Around Phonsavan we also visited the mysterious “Plain of Jars”. On these plains you can find hundreds of giant jugs, spread over three locations. According to researchers, the jars are from 2500 to 3000 years old and researchers still are not sure about the origin of this immense jars. Skeletal remains were found, so researchers assume that the jars can be used as graves. A number of Laotians believe that whiskey was stored in the jars. Walking through the plains is an adventure, because there are still many unexploded bombs and you have to stay exactly on the path.

We recently came back from our trip to Muang Ngoi Neua, a village which is only accessible via the Nam Ou river. A beautiful village, where no traffic exists, other than pedestrians and a single bike or scooter.

The scenery is breathtaking and cannot be compared with anything. We visited the native village of Huay Sen. 200 people live there and it is only accessible by foot. In this village we met a French family that is traveling for three months through South East Asia with 2 children, age 7 and 9. Just one letter to the director of the school was sufficient for a  three months break. Fantastic! And now the dance of Marlous …. On the way back to the village where we slept, about 2 hours walk, it started to rain and we had to walk through the mud. After a 10 minute of walking, Marlous discovered leeches on her feet. This discovery made her shouting and dancing in the mud! Too bad it was raining, making it unable for Rob to film the whole event. The movie would have been number one in the list of most funny holiday movies of all times. The leeches were finally removed and we could continue our walk safely.

That’s it for this time. We have now arrived in Vientiane. The stomac of Marlous turned around, so we stay another night here and we will continue our trip to Pakse.


Marlous and Rob