|Farewell to Luang Prabang and hello to another long bus journey. The journey was slow with the steep climbs up the mountain passes. Luckily we stopped every couple of hours or so for pee breaks. I took a couple of Gravol pills to help with the motion sickness. I happily could read as the bus cranked along the road.
Phonsavan was another wild sort of boom town. Not a attractive place yet we found a cheap guest house owned by a crazy Lao fellow named Kong who could speak english quite well. Kong convinced us to go on one of the guest house tours promising that we would not regret it.
That evening we found another good India restaurant then retired for an early night of sleep in our little room with the best hot shower I have encountered since traveling in Laos.
Next morning was tour time. We began by watching a good yet upsetting documentary on the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam war. Laos was the most heavily bombed country in history and hardly anyone in the rest had even heard if it. The Americans first hand broke the Geneva code that had labeled Laos as a neutral country. Then the Americans then proceeded to drop two million tones of bomb material on the country. Who died? Thousands of villagers. Innocent people. The bombings went on from 1963 to the early 1970s. The areas around Phosovan were bombed almost daily.
Now there is a big problem with what is called UXO or unexploded ordinance, mostly from the outcome of dropped cluster bombs. Cluster bombs begin as a large shell that breaks apart in mid air then releases "bombies". These small bombies then fall to the ground and are meant exclusively to kill people. They are about the size of a baseball. Thirty percent of these bombs are still in the ground and did not explode.
These UXO have become a huge problem since they have continued to kill people three decades after the war has ended. Farmers attempting to till their fields can easily hit a bombie, children are a large casualty since they think that these bombies are toys, there has been an estimated two hundred thousand deaths due to UXO.
Now there is vigorous education about UXO traveling to villages as well as programs created to detonate the bombs. Yet these programs are expensive and the process is slow. The Americans are taking very little responsibility for their actions and even denied at one point that they even bombed Laos at all. Hum, seems like a bit of a repetitive story doesn't it?
After the video we hopped into a van and drove first off to see the bomb craters. It was disturbing since I had witnessed war only through television and stories told by my grandmother and family. The countryside was littered with craters that at one point were around 5 meters deep. Now the craters are eroding and have plant life growing in them. I could not begin to imagine the terror of witnessing bombs falling on my home and all around me. Many of the villagers had to flee their homes to hide in caves or escape as refugees. There was over a million refugees thanks to the bombings.
It was a sober morning. Our guide Sang then took us to visit an old man who had a collection of bomb shells around his house. Many people now recycle the detonated bombs. They reuse the metal for many different and useful things such as tools, water basins for their animals, posts for their houses and cooking utensils. The old man could speak fluent French and at one point was a French teacher in the village. He also liked to share his Lao Lao whiskey and gave me a hardy pat on my back as we departed.
The rest of the day was more light hearted. Sang brought us to a Hmong village were we watched the business of village life. The villagers appeared happy and did not mind us visiting since they knew Sang. We watched a group of metal smiths shape tools from bomb material, we helped an old and very strong woman grind her corn and then we proceeded on to do a hike down to a waterfall for lunch.
Including Sang there was only six of us in the group. Two guys from Vancouver, a man from Hong Kong and then J and I. We hiked down a steep path to the falls and then had a enjoyable lunch in front of the most gorgeous falls to date that I had seen in Laos.
The hike up was vigorous and we followed the waterfall all the way back having to wade through the water which was cool and refreshing.
The end of the day was a visit to the Plain of Jars. The landscape was stunning and the jars an enigma. They date back to about two thousand years and no one really knows what they were used for. My theory was that they were for burial, yet some think they were for storing things or for fermenting alcohol. I was amazed that the jars had escaped getting bombed to smithereens since more bomb cratores were in the area. Instead the jars live on, hardy things and perhaps in the future someone will figure out their use.
In the evening the guests and owners of the guest house, including a drunken Kong, feasted on a large dinner and drank a large bowl of cocktail. Kong, his brother and Sang posed as decent drunken musicians and entertained us with their Lao pop songs.
It had been a full day in Phonsavan and after a decent night of sleep thanks to the Lao Lao cocktail we caught the early bus for the grueling ride to Vientian.