The Most Bombed Country in The World
Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
170Trip End Ongoing
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Next to the MAG centre is the Quality of Life Association: UXO Survivor Information Centre. Unexploded Ordinance or UXO, is the proper name for these active bombs. This centre is filled with stories of the survivors of the bombs and shares how this government run program helps provide victims with medical care, rehabilitation, and even some things to help financially. Within this centre, there are chalkboards where the names of the latest victims are written. It was incredibly sad to see how many people are still injured by bombs as recent as last month and most of them being children. With our heads full of new information and new questions for Tey, we had a quick dinner, we called our Moms to wish them a happy Mother's Day, and went to sleep.
This morning we woke up early to begin a day of touring with Tey. Our first stop was the tourist office in the town where we had to register before visiting the sites we planned to see. At the tourist office there are numerous bomb casings that have been found around the area and defused. Some of them were absolutely massive, but they were all scary to see. The tourist office also has a bit of information where we learned that people in villages affected by the bombs have been taught to make good use of the casings by turning them into bracelets and spoons to sell
Our next stop is completely separate from all the bombs and even separate from the Secret War (which I will get into later). This site was the Plain of Jars. There are over 50 sites of the Plain of Jars, 7 of which are open to the public. The Jars are large stone (mostly sandstone) carvings in the shape of jars that were created by an ancient civilization which has long been gone. Archaeologists, a French archaeologist in particular, have come up with theories as to what these jars were used for and the local Lao people have another theory. The archaeologist and UNESCO believe these jars were used as burial sites. Some evidence of teeth and other bones have been found to help prove this theory. The jars site we visited also has a cave, which is believed to have been where bodies were cremated and then something from them were put into a jar. Tey explained that the jars do not have lids because it is believed that the spirit of the deceased could easily go up to heaven without one. A few of the jars do have lids, which Tey said were thought to be used as storage. There were some gravestones found with family symbols on them, further proving this theory, along with sandstone quarries found around Phonsavan. Further proof of a path was discovered leading from the cave to a mountain about 9km away where it is believed that the sandstone was mined and brought back by elephants.
Next up, we headed to an area that has many large craters from being hit with bombs weighing up to 2 tons. Tey explained that along with all the bombs, the US also dropped a large amount of Agent Orange, an extremely harmful chemical, all over the area to kill the dense jungle so they could have better visibility from the air. Even today, the land and water in the area is highly contaminated with Agent Orange. When people want to grow crops or build houses, they need to ask people from the hospital and other places to check the area for bombs and Agent Orange. Today, many people are injured by bombs by either touching them unintentionally while farming or children who play with them
For nine years, bombs and Agent Orage were dropped on Laos every eight minutes. For a country dependent on agriculture for survival, this was extremely difficult. People would take shelter all day and then do their farming at night in the dark because it was the only safe time. Rice could not be planted at this time because it was too difficult to work the rice fields in the dark. The people of Laos had to change their eating habits to include much more cassava, sweet potato, and corn. At night is when they would plant and pick crops to eat in their places of hiding, usually caves. During this time however, there was even more stress and danger in this part of the country as the CIA helped lead a massive civil war on the ground. So while there were constant air raids happening, there was an aggressive civil war happening on the ground using even more US ammunition. The entire situation is completely complex and intricate, involving the US, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand
Our next couple stops gave us a mental break as we had a nice lunch at a local restaurant, with local prices. Tey actually treated us to lunch and explained that it would be cheaper this way because he would be given the local's price and we would have had to pay tourist's prices. We were appreciative of this! Our mental break continued at the natural hot springs where Jason took a nice hot dip and I soaked my feet. Again, Tey helped us save a bit of money by telling the woman selling tickets we would just pay one admission, but not take tickets and she could pocket the money for herself. Brilliant!
Leaving the hot springs was also the end of our mental/emotional break because the next stop was to an historical cave called Tham Piew. This cave was used by an entire village of nearly 400 people, plus their wildlife, as shelter from the bombs for years. Most of the people living here were women, children, and older people, as most of the men were fighting in the Secret War. The people of this village lived each day of their lives in this cave together and farmed each night in safer conditions. One day in November 1968, the US hit the cave multiple times. The first three were insignificant, but the fourth bomb entered the cave and killed everyone inside
From the cave, we headed to a "bomb village". Hmong people live in this village, but it's called a "bomb village" because the villagers use bomb casings in many creative ways. For example, as planters for hens, barbecues, stilts as foundations for homes, fences, and many other unique ways. As we walked around this village, I found it interesting and inspiring that these people have found ways to take something that brought (brings) so much misery to their country and turn it into something useful. I also enjoyed watching the young girls of the village do gymnastics on the ground. It reminded me of my childhood!
After taking us to the bus station to organize transportation for tomorrow, Tey took us to the last spot on our tour, the local organic market. While we were here, Tey explained some of the items we passed by, including produce and different meats. He also explained that the market has vendors from all different ethnic groups with such different dialects that not everyone can even communicate with each other. He helped us buy some deep fried sweet potatoes and we aren't sure if it's because of Tey's help of not, but we were given a very large amount of this delicious treat for less than $1CDN! Saying goodbye to Tey, we let him know how much we appreciated our day with him. He is a wealth of information and speaks fantastic English. Our private tour with him cost more than visiting sites on our own or with a group would have been, but it was a fabulous way to spoil ourselves for a day!