Stories

The Secret War in Laos

 

Having already done our research on Laos prior to traveling there, we were aware of the devastation that America’s secret war had on the people of Laos.

Phonsavan, the capital of Xiang Khouang province is one of the many provinces in Laos heavily littered with ordnance (explosives). We visited Phonsavan in September of 2013 and decided to stay for a few days.

 

Bombs over Laos

Many of the bombs found throughout Phonsavan

During the Vietnam war, the U.S. dropped 250 million bombs on Laos attempting to stop the spread of communism across Indo-China.

Averaging one B-52 bomb load every 8 minutes for 9 years (more than 2 million tons of ordnance dropped)
Laos PDR became the most bombed country in the world per capita.

This was the U.S. so called secret war.

 

Bombs over Laos

Phonsavan, Laos

From 1964 to 1973 30% of the bombs dropped did not detonate, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing ceased.

UXO contamination is also a key cause of poverty within Laos PDR and is one of the main factors limiting the countries long term develpoment, stopping the people from using land and denying access to basic services.

 

Bombs over Laos

Cody holding bombs that were found around Phonsavan

We spent a day touring different parts of Phonsavan and everywhere we looked there were old bombs displayed. Bombs in supply shops, bombs in guesthouses, bombs in restaurants, and even bombs cleverly used as plant potters.

The most creative idea we came across was villagers melting down the bomb parts and using moulds to create bracelettes, rings, trinkets, and utensils which they then sell to tourists passing through. I wanted to support the local villagers so I bought quite a few bracelettes. The bracelettes are a great conversation starter and a message to everyone saying No More Wars.

 


Cody and I walked through some fields and came across massive holes in the ground that we discovered were bomb craters. We couldn’t imagine living through 9 years of constant bombing, it was difficult to fathom. There are still thousands of bombs burried underground that there are pathways you do not veer off from.

 

Bomb Crater

Giselle standing in the bottom of a bomb crater.

Many children have been killed or badly injured by accident, or trying to dig bombs out to sell to shops.
One little boy Kayeng, and his two teenage uncles were sitting around a small fire on a cold morning, and were not aware that the fire was sitting above an UXO  buried in the ground.

The heat from the fire caused it to explode. Kayeng was blinded in both eyes and left with severe tissue damage on his upper torso and face. All three boys had shrapnel lodged all over their bodies.

There are Several NGOs clearing unexploded ordinance from the area and educating locals about UXO-related dangers. One of them is called MAG (Mines Advisory Group) from the UK.

MAG has been operational in Laos since 1994. Their vision is of a Laos where people can build peaceful and prosperous futures free from the impact of wars long past.

 

Phonsavan, Laos

MAG removal program around Phonsavan, Laos

MAG sent a clearance team to clear out Kayeng’s families land so that there will be no further chance of any similar incidents. Within an area close to 2,000 square metres in size, 11 UXO items were identified and destroyed. Each having the potential to cause serious harm or death.

We had of course heard of the Vietnam war, and what happened to the Cambodians during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, but we knew nothing about the secret war before doing our research for traveling to Laos.

Not only have thousands of people been killed, but the living have to pay for the mistakes of the past.

 

Bombs over Laos

Phonsavan, Laos

While we were walking in the bombed areas we had to be aware of our every step to make sure we stayed in between the markers. This in not something we are used to doing as we don’t have to worry about bombs exploding beneath our feet. There are so many things we are lucky to have, and  a safe ground to walk on is one of them, but it is not something we ever think about.

 

Bombs over Laos

These are everywhere in Phonsavan, Laos

It is an incredibly rich and beautifully diverse world we live in, but also a sad one, where people are still suffering and struggling to keep afloat. The people of Laos are presently living a sad legacy of war that I hope one day will be wiped out and replaced with joy.

Comments To This Entry.
  1. I knew nothing about this secret war as well. Thanks for informing!

    • Giselle and Cody October 5, 2013 Reply

      You’re very welcome. It is quite surreal when you wander around Phonsavan and see all the bombs everywhere and then you head out into the hills and you can see where they dropped.

  2. Abby October 4, 2013 Reply

    Very sad indeed. Thank you for sharing.

    • Giselle and Cody October 5, 2013 Reply

      You’re welcome. It is very sad when you read the stories that people have shared. Just imagine waking up one day and bombs are dropping all around. Very scary.

  3. Alex October 4, 2013 Reply

    Very enlightening post. I only spent two weeks in Laos and did not make it to these far flung places, but I still learned quite a bit. The National Museum in Vientienne was interesting in many ways — check it out if you have yet to pass through!

    • Giselle and Cody October 5, 2013 Reply

      There are a lot of places in Laos that are off the beaten track but it is a very slow travel. Phonsavan was worth the long ride for sure.

  4. Cheap Flights Trip October 5, 2013 Reply

    Great article..

  5. Diana Edelman October 7, 2013 Reply

    There are such unspeakable atrocities that happened in SE Asia in our lives. It boggles my mind what has gone on. Thank you for sharing this story and helping to educate travelers visiting Laos.

    • Giselle and Cody October 8, 2013 Reply

      I know Diana, it is unbelievable what some people have gone through and are still living through in the present. Our hope is that people learn from the past.

  6. Sally October 7, 2013 Reply

    I also had no idea about this “secret war”. What a fascinating country. Thanks for the education.

    • Giselle and Cody October 8, 2013 Reply

      Hey Sally, anytime. It is amazing how much we still don’t know about the world we live in.

  7. Elizabeth October 8, 2013 Reply

    I’m learning quite a bit from from your great stories. This is a sad one. 9 years??!! Wow.. I sure hope they are surrounded with joy one day..

    • Giselle and Cody October 9, 2013 Reply

      I know. Can you imagine living through 9 years of your country being bombed non stop? It is unbelievable.

  8. Lucia October 9, 2013 Reply

    Wow! What we don’t know about when we stay in our own little safe
    world at home…..excellent shots Cody…..how crazy is that to have
    a war in your country that very few people are aware of…..

  9. Erica October 13, 2013 Reply

    Its like going through Latin America and learning what we’ve done. Good grief.

    • Giselle and Cody October 15, 2013 Reply

      It is very sad and still so present in their everyday life. There are lives still being lost because the country is so riddled with bombs everywhere.

  10. Franca October 15, 2013 Reply

    It’s a very sad past and reality unfortunately, thanks for sharing and speaking out about it, people mustn’t forget.

    • Giselle and Cody October 19, 2013 Reply

      We think it’s very important for people to remember these times in order for them to never happen again…… 🙁

  11. Rebecca October 15, 2013 Reply

    Wow!!…so sad to think of people going through that. Thanks for the article guys. 🙂

  12. Cindy October 15, 2013 Reply

    Great article!

  13. Hiruka December 15, 2013 Reply

    It is very sad that this happened. So many countries have these kind of problems and so many people don’t know about them. I just wish that we all could love each other and not fight.

    • Giselle and Cody December 15, 2013 Reply

      Hiruka, you’re totally right. This happens all over and no one knows.
      That’s why it is important to share these stories and let others know what happened.
      We wish everyone would love each other as well.

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