An Unknown History Lesson
Trip Start Jul 08, 2009
26Trip End Aug 31, 2009
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There is an untold history to Phonsavan that many people do not know about. During the Vietnam/American War, America was determined to stop communism in Laos as well. Laos was also on the break of having a civil war against two political groups in Laos. Without the US civilian knowledge, In 1961 President John F. Kennedy gave the order to recruit a force of 11,000 Hmong villagers to help fight this war. They were trained by several hundred US and Thai Special Forces and over the next 12 year the Hmong "secret army" fought to keep Plain of Jars non-communist from North Vietnam. As the war dragged on, so many Hmong were killed that it became difficult to find recruits
In the 1970's President Linden B. Johnson called a ceasefire from the US bombing Vietnam, but the US continued to dump all left over bombs in Laos even though the war was not meant to be with Laos but for Vietnam. The US dropped 2,093,100 tons of bombs on 580,944 sorties over communist Laos. The total cost was US$7.2 billion, or US $2 million a day for nine years. Most of the bombs were dropped in or around Phonsavan. No-one knows how many people died, but one-third of the population of 2.1 million became internal refugees. When the ceasefire was signed in 1973, Hmong casualty have been put between 12,000 dead and 30,000 more wounded, but could well have been higher. This secret was kept from the US people until 1970 when it was made public. Even though the Vietnam War was to fight against communism in Vietnam, Laos got involved when it was not even their war.
In Phonsavan my guesthouse exposed this to me. I had read in my guidebook that people hid in caves during the Indochina War but I had no idea about this secret war. The first place we stopped off at was a bomb crater field. This was a field that had craters from US bombs. There were between 7-10 craters created from bombs dropped from the US during this “secret war”
We then went to a small village where many of the locals had remnants of bombs on display. From there we traveled to one of the caves where Laotian people hid during the air raids from US. This cave has significant meaning because this cave was hit by US bombs and killed 374 people living in the cave
We then traveled to another village that was primarily where most of the locals who bought traditional skirts were made. The women make a skirt a day on the loom. For 60,000 kip around $7 US I bought a loomed skirt that had to be fitted to my body. Figure if the material to buy a skirt was $7, that’s how much that person earned in one day, if she even sold a skirt that day. We stopped off at our guide’s aunt’s house where she measured and fit me for my skirt for 25,000 kip around $3 USD.
From there we went to the Plain of Jars which I mentioned in the beginning of this blog. It was really interesting because NO ONE knows why these Jars are actually there. My guide book states that there have a number of theories including for wine fermenters or for rice storage but there is no evidence supporting this.
My overall reason for coming to Phonsavan was to see the Jars that were so highly recommended by my “second-mom”, but I learned more about Laos history than I ever expected. Surprisingly throughout all of this, Laos people don’t hate Americans. They actually welcome us to their country. Some of the older generations of Laotians might differ in opinion but the overall feel is that they welcome all travelers.