An Unknown History Lesson

Trip Start Jul 08, 2009
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, August 14, 2009

Phonsavan is famous for the plain of Jars which is a large area extending over Phonsavan from the southwest to the northeast where huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen groupings. The jars are made from solid stone, most from sandstone and a few from granite.

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. Boys as young as 12 were sent to war.

 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”.  These bombs were aimed at caves where hundreds of town’s people lived all over Laos during these twelve years. Some of the bombs were large bombs meaning for destruction of towns while other bombs were called cluster bombs which dropped small bombs called bombie.   The bombies would not explore upon landing, but If a local person or animal stepped on one, they would explode on contact.  It explodes into a lot of little ball barings. It wasn’t designed to kill but to hurt the person.  Often it would kill many people.  These bombies are still found in farm lands today.  We saw three of them without even seriously searching for them.  One of them was found on the side of the road while two were found where cows were grazing.  It would cost millions of dollars and many years to explore all the land in Laos where bombs were dropped.  The government mainly cleared land near schools and main towns.  However farmers fields were not checked.  The road we traveled on was a paved road.  It was started in 1996, but first they had to clear all the bombs shells and check for bombies so they didn’t start paving until 2001, 5 years later. Crazy.

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.  Before the air raid, two men were sent to get food and while they were gone it was attacked by US bombs.  The heat from the blast was so strong that they could not enter it for three days.  When they were able to enter, everyone was dead. The two men removed as many bodies as they could and created a makeshift grave. Inside the cave was rubble left over from the blast.  Before the bombs entered the cave it was a functioning community. Inside the cave were two levels.  The top level was for sleeping and the bottom level had a make shift school and hospital. 

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. 
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • You must enter a comment
  • You must enter your name
  • You must enter a valid name (" & < > \ / are not accepted).
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


allieadventures on

Re: Just saw you have at the bottom listed...

Phonasvan is a great city and it should not be missed. Many travelers don't go there which is good for us but bad for them. You definitely learn a lot there. There is also a bomb awareness program/site there that's in town. I only found out about it after I left but I definitely suggest checking it out. From my knowledge this guesthouse is the only one that does tours like this so check it out. I just hope you don't mind rock hard beds :) But the pillows are extremely comfortable. :) Safe travels and feel free to write if you have any questions.


Baz on

Surprised you do not know about the bombings in Laos. Did you also know about the drugs the USA sold to fund the war. It is a pity that the USA do not pay to clear up all these unexploded bombs.

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: