Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
Trip End May 30, 2013

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Where I stayed
Kong Keo Guesthouse & Tours Phonsavan
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world! The US dropped more bombs here than they did on Germany and Japan during the whole 2nd world war.  Two million tons have fallen. That works out to a ton per inhabitant at the time. Over 9 years of bombing which averaged 1 attack every 8 minutes – for 9 YEARS!  This story is even more tragic since these countries were not even at war. Laos was simply a convenient tactical point for the war in Vietnam being used by the CIA. Most of the areas hit were only attacking local minority people in remote villages stopping them from being able to farm their land. Even now, over 3 decades after 'the secret war', people are dying and being maimed by the remaining unexploded ordnances (about 30% of what was dropped did not detonate). We are in one of the most heavily bombed areas of the country. This directly corresponds with the poverty of the country.  People are afraid to expand their farmland or build new houses or roads because of the bombs. We've been to some information sessions and watched some documentary films (banned in Laos – guess why?) and it's so tragic. We've heard stories of women making a fire for cooking and the heat explodes a bomb underground. Children finding UXO's and blowing themselves away. People taking the cow out to pasture and disappearing when they drive the stake in the ground.  Most of these bombs have a kill radius of a kilometre, so you're looking at a whole family and part of a village going as well.  Only these are remote hill tribes so there's no actual record of how many deaths have occurred.

Scrap metal trade exemplifies this problem. You have poor people trying to make some money by salvaging. To come across some of these shell casings could bring in a lot of money. But people are harming themselves by touching these bombs instead of bringing in professionals to deal with them. Tourism can also cause problems as well. People may want to buy bombies as a souvenier, but that will only encourage people to go out and find potentially dangerous munitions in order to sell them. A similar thing is going on with remaking the metal into spoons and bracelets for sale.  It appears to be a good thing, but may not be...

We visited a village which is using many of these scraps of war in their everyday life. Fences built, supports for the houses, cooking stands in the fire, herb gardens...It's all made from remains of war.  So much is lying around they need to do something with it.  

But even 30+ years people are still being harmed. Thankfully, they've started an education program in schools to help the children understand the dangers. But it doesn't stop kids playing, or little boys bravado or daring games...

We went to a site where there are obvious craters still riddling the landscape. No one can farm or do anything with the area as it's too dangerous. We took a very small walk, but upon seeing an exposed bomb only a few feet off the path, none of us really wanted to go any further. What
really hurts my heart is the fact that almost these people have had to deal with this every day of their lives!

All around the town there are bits of artillery and empty bomb casings. The fire pits at our guest house are old bomb casings, the lights are recoilless shells and our key is attaches to a 50 calibre bullet.  Remnants are everywhere. Where we have our coffee, tourist info office, market stalls. Each person seems to have their own collection of war remains. I'm sure they all have their own collections of stories as well...

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Bethany on

This is the kind of story that would get picked up by National Geographic or some kind of political magazine.

This must be a mind-blowing landscape to witness in person (no pun intended)

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