Published: February 6th 2012February 6th 2012
Since the last blog we’ve done the Plain of Jars and Vang Vieng. I’m writing this from our room in Luang Prabang where we came to escape the midday heat – just roasting out there!
The Plain of Jars is located outside of the city of Phonesavan. This area in eastern Laos not only has the Plain of Jars but was also heavily bombed by the US during The Secret War. I personally had no idea that this war ever happened and I still only have a tiny bit of information to share on it, but it’s all very interesting and very sad. So here is my version of the story.
Laos was a monarchy for most of its history but during the mid 20th
century the people started to rebel and the Pathet Lao (communist movement) controlled large portions of the country. The US sided with the monarchy, based out of the west as far as I can tell. The communist rebels were based in the north-east and south-east, close to Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail actually crosses into Laos for a decent distance. The US gave weapons to
the monarchists and hired Thai mercenaries to fight the rebels who sided with North Vietnam. The US also launched a massive air campaign against Laos and Laos is now the most bombed country in the world per capita.
- US flew 580 344 recorded missions between 1964-73
- Dropped at least 2.5 million tons of bombs
- 30% didn’t detonate and remain active today (UXO – unexploded ordinance)
- In the 9 years of bombing a bomb was dropped every 8 minutes 24 hours a day
After watching a few documentaries on the current UXO situation we knew we wanted our tour of the region to include some war history. We started our tour by visiting the Plain of Jars Sites 1 (the largest) and 3 (the most scenic). Our guides family was the driving force behind getting the Plain of Jars open to the public in 1994. His theory is that the jars were used as offering urns. The jars are clustered together in very specific locations, miles from the quarries, our guide believes this is due to a weird magnetic field in the area. There are lots
of recorded iron deposits in this part of Laos so maybe that has something to do with it. Numerous planes have crashed in the area because their altimeters read too low and lightning strikes the area much more frequently than the surroundings – basically it’s the Laos version of the Bermuda Triangle.
After seeing the jars we moved onto war history, although there were numerous trenches and bomb craters surrounding the jars and many of the jars had bullet holes in them, some with the bullet still inside. Our first stop was the ‘Valley of Craters’ – a region riddled with craters that have been turned into fish ponds. The Laos people have been very creative and use the bombs and bomb casings in many fashions – as supports for buildings and feeding troughs for example. One house even had a step made from an airplane wing that had crashed nearby.
Our next stop was down a very bumpy track, I won’t call it a road, quite far off the beaten track. It was cave that Vietcong used to hide in during the war. We hiked up a river and scrambled up a rather
precarious slope (never would’ve happened in Canada). We saw old thermos’, boots, and morphine bottles – all relicts of the war. After this we stopped at our second guides village where he invited us into his home workshop. He makes spoons, forks, chop sticks, keychains, and bracelets from recycled aluminium that was apart of the bombs dropped. Again, very ingenious. His wife served us boiled eggs with an amazing chilli sauce and we did shots of Lao Lao (rice whiskey aka rubbing alcohol) which he served to us from a kerosene oil container. Interesting . . .
We left as it was getting dark and had quite an interesting ride back to town but I’ll save that story for when I get back.
We left the next morning and took a bus to Vang Vieng – famous for tubing down the river, TV bars, caves, and drinking too much. We experienced all the aforementioned activities/sites. The first full day we went and explored some pretty neat caves surrounding the town on rented motorbikes, that night we drank a few too many whiskey buckets while watching Family Guy in one of many TV bars. The
only two shows that they play are Friends and Family Guy, the locals must just hate them by now.
The next day we met up with April and Kyle to go tubing. We all bought the necessary ridiculous tank tops before hand – mine is neon pink and says ‘In the tubing Vang Vieng’ – good grammar. Tubing was pretty fun. There is just bar after bar for about 1km along the river. They throw ropes at you and pull in you in where you can swing into the river and drinks loads of whiskey buckets. We ended up staying too long and by the time we got back in our tubes for the final float into town it was getting dark. After floating in the dark for at least a hour and thinking that Vang Vieng must be ‘just around the next corner’ about 5 times we gave up and got a tuk tuk.
Matt and I are now in Luang Prabang for a few days and will be flying out to Hanoi, Vietnam on the 8th
. Our time in Laos is almost done but we picked a good city to end in.
Situated on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is full of amazing restaurants and shops, is very clean, and with its French Colonial architecture looks more like Europe than Laos.
Alright, that’s it for now. My next update will be from Vietnam!
There are more photos below