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Published: July 18th 2017
Cascades, Kuang Si Waterfalls
The pools of water reminded me a lot of Semuc Champey in Guatemala.
Often overlooked as the backwater of Southeast Asia, this sleepy perception might also be part of Laos's charm. I had been told to expect things to be much more laid-back than Vietnam; although truth be told, that isn't hard.
I was also told that my overland journey there would be the bus ride from hell on a chicken bus where you're sitting in the aisles upon sacks of rice and manioc flour. Well about half of that description was correct; there definitely seemed to be more stock than people on the bus but at least the people could sleep in sleeper berths. I had my own little space right at the back amongst all the luggage and foodstuffs away from everyone else - sacks of peanuts were stacked like a fort around me. It was nice.
To catch this bus, I had to go back to Hue
from Phong Nha
for one night before making my way to Vientiane; I had considered making a couple of unplanned stops on the way to Vientiane, but assured I would be on a comfortable sleeper bus, I decided that I could cope with the 22-hour journey to Laos's capital.
Service didn't seem to
Standing Buddha, Luang Prabang
Inside a small chapel in the Wat Xieng Thong temple complex.
be a thing for this bus company and this became apparent when we got to the Vietnam/Laos border.
We get dropped at a restaurant a few hundred metres from the border but are not told what for. I ask the driver how long we have and from what he indicates on my watch, it appears we have ten minutes. It's lunchtime so I grab an ice cream as that is all I can eat in ten minutes. But why would we be dropped at a restaurant for just ten minutes? I walk back to the bus where me and a French lady are told to go to the border. It seems that we have to cross the border on foot; not that anyone bothered to tell us until now. I therefore deduce that we have an hour rather than just ten minutes. Approaching the border offices it is not clear where we go to do what. The signage is there but it's abysmal and directionless. The Vietnamese officers walking around aren't particularly helpful. Rolling up to Laos immigration, we are then told to go to another office for visas on arrival - not that this was signposted clearly either. We
Pha That Luang, Vientiane
Laos's most eminent landmark.
were like headless chooks.
There had been a lady who offered to change money for us on the bus so I swapped my US$100 bill for some smaller US notes and some Laotian kip
. I would've liked to have kept more USD but the lady only had US$50 on her. Nevertheless I took it because I didn't know if I would get change for a hundred dollar bill in USD when paying for my US$35 Laotian visa. Plus, I was getting a good rate for the US$50 of Laotian kip I was getting.
Back at the border, I was a bit miffed when I was charged US$40 for my Laotian visa instead of US$35 - this was proving to be a confusing and frustrating border crossing. Eventually we made it over to find the rest of the bus's passengers waiting for us at a rudimentary, plastic-chair-and-table cafe and before long we were moving again - not before I found out that my seat on the bus had been taken over by a giant sack of peanuts. I might've been a bit more cross than I was had this all happened earlier on in my trip, but episodes like this are
The Landscape Of Laos
On the way to the one of the blue lagoons from the Tham Phu Kham Water Cave near Vang Vieng.
now just par for the course after everything I have been through. I was still a little cross though.
I was sleeping nice and comfortably when I was woken up; at 4.30am, we had arrived in Vientiane a couple of hours ahead of schedule. Negotiating a shared taxi into town, I realised that if Vietnam had less English than Thailand, then Laos had even less.
Getting off the shared taxi at my hostel, my stomach felt a bit funny so I thought I'd let out a fart. Oh shit. Literally. That was more than just a fart. Fuck. It's a bad one too. My hostel wasn't yet open so I was trapped outside. Still early in the morning, there was still enough darkness that would allow me to clean myself up with the toilet paper and wet wipes that I luckily had on me. Just as soon as the damn shared taxi leaves! It leaves finally and I clean myself up. I then wait a little for the hostel to open before checking in. Not a great shart- I mean, start, to my time in Laos!
As I was told to expect, the Lao definitely seem way more
Streets Of Vientiane
For a capital city, Vientiane has a very relaxed and sleepy feel to it.
laid back and friendlier than their Vietnamese counterparts, though not as friendly as the Thais; in fact, they are so laid back that they seem almost indifferent to tourists. It's nice though as it means you don't get hassle.
I don't like the prices here though which are surprisingly about 50%!m(MISSING)ore expensive than in Vietnam. It seems to me that countries with smaller populations have more expensive prices for some reason; I was surprised to learn that despite having similar landmass to their neighbours, Laos only has a population of just under 7m people compared to Thailand's 68m and Vietnam's 94m.
For a capital city, Vientiane has a sleepy feel. There are no tall buildings at all, just the odd 4-5 storey one. No flash skyscrapers or gleaming shopping malls here.
There aren't too many sights to see in Vientiane either. Wat Si Saket is a lovely low-key temple complex but has nothing on the ones I saw in Chiang Mai
; Phra That Luang is iconic and resembles Angkor Wat
in shape if not size (it is painted gold); Patuxai is the Laotian Arc de Triomphe
modelled after the famous Parisian arch and has some nice local designs carved into
Wat Si Saket
Compared to the temple complexes I saw in Bangkok, Vientiane's oldest surviving temple has a rather understated elegance to it.
it - there are some OK views of the city up the top.
Every night down by the river is a big night market that reminded me of the Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai but disappointingly there were no food stalls set up. Further along the river are many sidewalk restaurants with a nice view of the river as well as some nice looking local bars playing local ballads. But otherwise Vientiane really isn't the most interesting place; there are some nice chic bars and restaurants in the old quarter but some might say that Vientiane is a bit quiet - perhaps even a bit boring.
The French legacy though is stronger here than in Vietnam; streets are still named "Rue"-something, government departments still carry French names and French signage is almost as common as English, although there is a lack of a distinct French quarter like there is in say, Pondicherry
, and there are very few colonial buildings left. No-one round here speaks French anymore either. As for the Lao language itself, it doesn't use the Roman alphabet like Vietnamese and looks a lot like Thai script.
Exploring Vientiane with me was Dane Morten who I met on
Vientiane's Arc de Triomphe.
the bus from Tak to Chiang Mai. We just happened to be in the same city at the same time so it was nice to hang out with a familiar face for a couple of days. We might even meet again in China!
One thing I have yet to mention - because I am sick of mentioning it - is that I had bedbugs again. So I moved hostels and checked all of my stuff yet again and found nothing. Then after two bedbug-free nights in a nice, new, modern hostel, on my third day there I was asked to hastily move rooms as there were cleaning the whole room out for "mosquitoes". I was sceptical - I encountered one mosquito in two nights there and you don't usually fumigate a place for mosquitoes. Then again I hadn't been bitten by bedbugs so maybe someone else did? Then after less than an hour lounging around in my new bed in my new dorm, I felt a bite inside my shorts. I quickly drew my privacy curtain and took my pants off and sure enough a small bedbug dropped down onto the duvet. I knew it. With pest control going
Riverside Restaurants, Vientiane
These outdoor restaurants have a lovely setting but were a little pricey.
in and out of my old room with masks on, I knew they were fumigating for bedbugs. But what about the one I had just found? Was that in my clothes? I had just checked all of my clothes the previous day! Were they also in my new bed? Did they need to now also fumigate this room too? Having now found bedbugs in four different places within the last two weeks - and in six different places in the last five - you really start to despair. You are at a loss as to where they have come from and where they have been hiding - despite all the knowledge I have picked up about them over the years - and you just feel completely helpless. I had had all my things dry-cleaned twice in the last two weeks and had checked every item of clothing and every nook and cranny of my bag two days ago. This had bitten me in the middle of the day!
"Yeah but come on Derek, it's just a few bites" you might say.
But they sting more than mosquito bites, enough to wake you up. They're itchier and don't go away for
There are loads of cafes in Vientiane just like this one, which was on the ground floor of my hostel.
several days. You become paranoid about every single sting, itch or movement you feel on your skin. You start struggling to sleep at night. You have to keep checking all of your stuff. Whether I am carrying them or not, it seems South East Asia has a big problem with bedbugs at the moment, exacerbated by the number of travellers and hostels that don't treat them properly.
I would liked to have stayed one more night in Vientiane to chill and completely get over a cold I had picked up but the bedbugs forced my hand. I was getting a bit tired of Vientiane anyway, which despite my low expectations was still a bit of a disappointment. Lonely Planet talked up the Gallic aspect of the city a bit but it was definitely a tad overrated.
So I made my way to Vang Vieng which as expected, was full of backpackers...and full of Koreans! It was a bit of a surprise. Apparently a Korean reality TV show was filmed nearby at Blue Lagoon 3 and that is why they all come here. I think also that there is a good relationship between Laos and South Korea.
Within minutes of
Roadside Scenery, Vang Vieng
Taken on the way back from the Tham Phu Kham Water Cave to Vang Vieng.
arriving, I walked past an Irish bar advertising the fact they were showing the second test between the All Blacks and the Lions in just half an hour - that's my afternoon entertainment sorted out! I met a couple of fellow Kiwis watching the game as you do, including Zoe, who would catch up with me in a week's time in Luang Prabang to watch the third test! Unfortunately for us though, we watched the rare event of the All Blacks actually losing a match (thanks Sonny Bill!).
I ended up befriending my dorm mates Joel, Cam and Nilash from England and Marnix from Holland, who were part of a bigger group staying at the hostel called the Buffalo Soldiers. The group had all met in the slow boat from Chiang Rai in Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos, and they had all been hanging out together in Luang Prabang and now Vang Vieng. They all had their endearing qualities; Joel and his hilarious cynicism, Cam and his love for animals, Nilash and his love for bongo drums and Marnix and his skills with the laydeez. Other notable members included Dutch girl Mary, our "stoner" from Amsterdam who was
Buffalo, Vang Vieng
A water buffalo peeks out at us Buffalo Soldiers from inside the bushes as we make our way to the Blue Lagoon from the Tham Phu Kham Water Cave.
fun and spontaneous; JD from England who was a nutter and quite the character; and Pacho from England who was always cheerful. Everyone was good value! The non-English peeps were even assigned English personalities; Marnix from Rotterdam naturally became Martin the bricklayer from Rotherham; Nikki, a 17yr-old Dutch girl who hung out with us for a day became Nikki the hairdresser from Chester; and I of course, was Derek the plumber from Slough. Like a line-up of contestants on a British game show. Good times. It was nice to have a big crew to hang out with for a few days. Buffalo Soldiers 4 Life!
My first excursion with the group took us on our own rented scooters to the Tham Nam Water Cave, a cave from which a river flows out of and which you can explore on a tube - the tube that you find on the inside of a tractor tyre that resembles a Li-Lo. I didn't expect too much from it as we squeezed our heads underneath the tiny entrance but it was actually pretty awesome, as we explored hundreds of metres of caves by pulling ourselves along ropes while floating on a tube. Headlamps
Tham Phu Kham Water Caves & Tubes, Vang Vieng
The small opening on the left of the picture is the tiny entrance to the Tham Phu Kham Water Cave; The black objects on the right are the tubes that you float through the cave on.
lit the way and it was pretty cool when everyone turned them off, surrounding us all in pitch black. After the Water Cave, we all went for a small hike that led us to the Blue Lagoon - not the famous Korean reality TV show one but one of the other two Blue Lagoons in the area. Resembling a larger but warmer version of Albania's Blue-Eyed Hole
, equipped with a zip line into the water and a small Tarzan swing, it might've been more fun on a hotter day.
A traveller's rite of passage in Vang Vieng however, is to go tubing down the Nam Song River. Basically you just hire a tube and let the river take you downstream, stopping by riverside bars along the way by grabbing hold of the rope that the bar staff throw out to you to literally reel you in. It is much quieter these days; back in its heyday, there were dozens of bars and hundreds of backpackers floating down the river until 20-odd tourists a year started dying. Drunk tourists left to their own devices on a reasonably fast moving river is a recipe for disaster when you think about it. Observing the
operation that got us on the river, it is perhaps no wonder that so many people died; you're basically given a tube, driven to the starting point a few kilometres upstream, and then left to float down the river by yourself, no instructions or advice given. Like a lot of Lao, the driver could hardly even be arsed taking you to the river.
Stopping by at the first bar a mere hundred metres from the start, we get our drink on before joining some local children for a game of football. The incessant rain had made it quite muddy and slippery underfoot with hilarious results. I needed a bath in the river to clean up afterwards! One more bar, two beers and a bucket later and I was smashed. Smashed enough to belligerently swear at the Lao and Koreans kayaking past for refusing to tow any of us. But it was amazing fun as we all got into that perfect drunk zone where everything becomes side-splittingly funny and you don't give two shits about anything. Despite the rain and the low-key nature of the activity these days with only three bars open and less than twenty people at each one
Through The Windowpane
View from the top floor of my hostel in Vang Vieng, looking out at the beautiful karst mountains.
- I imagine it would have been absolutely amazing back in the day when all the bars were open - it was still awesome fun and would definitely still recommend it.
Yeah, that rain. While Vietnam was scorching, it has thankfully been cooler here in Laos - I can actually walk around without sweating my balls off - even when it isn't raining. I'd obviously come during the wrong time of the year here too. The rain was a bit annoying though as it meant you couldn't do anything other than go tubing, where you were getting wet anyway. It was a bit chilly by the time we arrived at the last bar.
While the clampdown on riverside bars has ensured that Vang Vieng is no longer party central, you can definitely still find a party - which is exactly what I did for two nights. The best party was again surprisingly, where the Koreans were at. They like a drink as much as Westerners do and I've never seen so much energy and enthusiasm on such a standard night out before. At Sakura Bar, the Korean hangout, there would be breakdance circles, incessant shouting, loads of cheering and
Sakura Bar, Vang Vieng
Hanging out with the Koreans on the d-floor. Such fun!
lots of jumping as the DJ brought out all the K-pop. And when Gangnam Style came on...naturally...let's just say that you haven't partied until you've joined fifty drunk Koreans on the d-floor when Gangnam Style comes on. Viva Pub is a more conventional club - one of those filthy places like a Walkabout where you just have
to be drunk to have a good time.
As well as hard partying, Vang Vieng also had a reputation for hard drugs. That scene too has been cleaned up but there are still remnants; like how you can openly buy and smoke a joint off the menu at some bars; like how you can buy laughing gas balloons at clubs; and like how mushrooms are readily available everywhere.
My last day in Vang Vieng was a washout; I could've visited some caves but have seen awesome caves already, plus I didn't wanna be riding a scooter in the rain. I was also hungover after twelve hours of drinking the previous day. So I just smoked weed all day with Mary - not a bad cure for a hangover.
On my minivan ride from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, there was an
Meal With A View
This roadside restaurant between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang may have been unassuming, but the view from it certainly was not.
inescapable contrast on show; the countryside was beautiful but the people farming it were desperately poor. I was simultaneously able to appreciate the wonderful karst landscape around Vang Vieng while also recognising how lucky I was to have been born in New Zealand, which was the biggest stroke of luck that has allowed me to do what I am doing now. I could so easily have been born in rural Laos, Myanmar or India for that matter, living a much harder life. In this regard, I couldn't help but feel the locals knew this too; in general I just felt a sense of contemptuous envy towards foreigners. It can't be easy seeing foreigners and their fancy gadgets having a good time while you're living in the most basic of conditions inside a wooden shack with a corrugated iron roof. Seeing this difference pained me, as it has many times before when I've been on the road.
Luang Prabang is serene; particularly in the historic old quarter with its old French colonial buildings. Its aesthetics and vibe reminded me a lot of Kochi
and a little of Chiang Mai. Down any soi
off the main street and it doesn't even
Indochinese Charm, Luang Prabang
The UNESCO heritage protection afforded to Luang Prabang's peninsula has allowed it to keep its old colonial Indochinese character.
feel like you're in the city; maybe in a rural suburb or perhaps even in the countryside itself.
The historic peninsula where the Nam Khan River branches off the Mekong, is UNESCO heritage-protected and is especially charming - the absence of any new buildings and modern shops helps to keep the old Indochinese character. But what stood out for me was the amount of foliage, jungle and greenery still around. The small park right on the tip of the peninsula is perhaps the most well-kept and cleanest public space in all of Laos but traditional rural houses hiding in the jungle were never far away either.
The tip of the peninsula is also where the Wat Xiang Thong monastery is. While no comparison with the Wat Phra Khiew in Bangkok, the glass mosaic exterior here was much more subtle and oozed charm. The gilded Hohng Kep Mien housed an ornate gold ceremonial carriage with naga
fastened onto the front of it.
While I was disappointed with the night market in Vientiane, the night market here in Luang Prabang actually has food - buffets for just 15,000 kip (£1.50)! But like most food in Laos, it wasn't great. There seems
Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre, Luang Prabang
This is a traditional woman's dress from the Hmong Du ethnic group, which is part of the larger Hmong Yao ethnic group, one of four distinct major ethnic groups in Laos.
to be no dish that is truly Lao with most dishes are borrowed from either Thailand or Vietnam. Stir fries and noodles seem to be the order of the day here.
And I have to say that Laos hasn't really been my favourite country so far; compared to the other countries in the area, there is less value for money here, where you pay more but receive less, whether that be quality or service. I could liken it to Myanmar, which was also surprisingly expensive.
I thought I'd learn a bit more about the local people by visiting the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre which although was small, was well presented and had excellent English signboards.
I learned that there are four main ethnic groups that reside in Laos, classified according to their ethnolinguistic origin; the Hmong Yao who migrated to Laos from Southern China; the Sino-Tibetans from Tibet who are only found in the northernmost corners of the country; the Austroasiatic or Mon-Khmer, who are native to Southeast Asia; and the Tai Kadai, who make up the majority of the population and who also originated from Southern China. The Tai Kadai mainly live in the lowlands and the
Kuang Si Waterfalls
The main set of waterfalls at Kuang Si, thirty kilometres southwest of Luang Prabang.
other three groups mainly live in the highlands, with different sub-groups living at different altitudes. Various garbs from the four main groups were on display at the museum, showcasing rich colour and designs consisting of squares and straight lines. The majority of the population - some 80%!l(MISSING)ive in rural areas and this is apparent when you pass through the countryside and when you see how things are generally done in Laos.
Luang Prabang's backpacker highlight though, is arguably outside the city. Along with Aussie girls Rebecca, Izzy and Donny, I took a 30km trip south to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, a picturesque series of cascades not dissimilar to Semuc Champey in Guatemala
. Like in Guatemala, you could hike upwards alongside the waterfalls for views and more pools to swim in. Instead of the emerald water you see in Semuc Champey, here the water is a slightly milky, swimming-pool blue. The water was refreshing, especially after having hiked the wrong way for twenty minutes!
In the evening, Luang Prabang also has a signature backpacker highlight; drinks at Utopia followed by ten pin bowling.
To warm up, I bought some, get this; True Manhood Whiskey. At just 15,000 kip I just
THE bar to go to in Luang Prabang and the first half of THE traditional backpacker night out here, which is followed by ten pin bowling.
had to buy this local rice whiskey. Considering it was only £1.50 for a bottle, it obviously wasn't great but it wasn't as bad as one might expect, as I shared it around by introducing the dice game
yet again. It had been some time since I last played it.
We were pre-gaming because Utopia is quite expensive though you can understand why when you get there. Set at the top of a hill in the jungle overlooking the river, the cushions, low tables and thatched-roof shelters reminded me a lot of Twice By Nature in Arambol
Following a couple of shots at Utopia, it was time to bowl! In truth however, it was nothing special if you've ever been ten pin bowling before. Archery is also available which looked more interesting but the highlight of the night was probably the drunken tuk-tuk ride to the bowling alley with crazy Belgians who climbed on to the roof of the tuk-tuk and stood up while we were all in motion.
I felt surprisingly fresh the next day, but all I had planned to do was enjoy a couple of beers watching the rugby. Well, 'enjoy'. A draw? Are you fucking kidding me? Full credit to the
Wat Xieng Thong
Not flashy like say, Bangkok's Wat Phra Khiew, but subtly elegant and charming, like Luang Prabang itself.
Lions but we definitely deserved to win the series. But to be fair, I was
actually enjoying myself, chatting and laughing with fellow Kiwi Zoe, some Lions fans and Norwegian Ida, who was watching her first ever game of rugby, probably the highest calibre rugby match one could ever watch. And perhaps I enjoyed myself just a tad too much; I was in such a good mood after the game (strangely enough given the result) that I decided to keep drinking and got pretty fucking smashed.
I felt absolutely awful the next day; a headache was accompanied by nausea and diarrhoea but I also had body aches and tenderness more commonly associated with a fever rather than a hangover. I mean, I had only watched a rugby game, not played in one. The day was a write-off apart from publishing a blog.
The next day, I thought that I'd go settle my bill with the hostel.
I had paid for four nights before deciding to tack on another three - which was why I was surprised when the guy on reception ask me to pay for six nights. I tell him that I should only be paying for three
Soi, Luang Prabang
One of many peaceful alleyways in Luang Prabang. Spas and wellness resorts have taken advantage of Luang Prabang's serenity and are dotted all over the city in settings like this.
nights but he's not having a bar of it.
"I remember you!" he shouts accusingly. "You tell me that you just pay for one night before!"
At first I couldn't work out where he was coming from but eventually it transpires that he thought that I'd only paid for one night. He was obviously mistaken but he refused to believe that he could have remembered wrong or made a mistake with his record-keeping. He even disputed which day I had arrived, even though his records showed I arrived on the day I said I arrived on.
"I write everything down" he tells me, "you are wrong!"
Having already paid him, I refused to give him any more money. I could tell that he'd made a mistake and calmly told him that I wasn't trying to pull a fast one or steal anything from him, that I just wanted to pay for what I owed and nothing more. I even asked him to check his CCTV cameras to verify the day I arrived but he couldn't find or refused to try and find the footage. The whole episode smacked of arrogance.
With none of us willing to compromise, a tense standoff
Wat Wisunarat, Luang Prabang
This stupa in one of Luang Prabang's oldest operating temple complexes, dates back to the 16th century.
ensued and I suddenly started to worry about how this might now play out in front of loads of gobsmacked guests who definitely seemed to be on my side, for what it was worth. If he was to call the police, they would surely believe him over me; and there might be bribes to be paid too. But I stuck to my principles and refused to budge.
"I'm not paying you any more money man, only the 40,000 I owe, nothing more."
"You don't pay more money, then you go!" he replies.
That was my out - so I packed up my things and left. I ended up 40,000 kip up from the whole thing but I'd rather have paid it and avoided the whole unsavoury episode, none of which was of my making.
It was in keeping with this uneasy relationship I felt I had with the local population; of hospitality being somewhat forced rather than being genuine. Even the hustling by tuk-tuk drivers and shopkeepers seemed forced. This uneasy relationship wasn't helped by the locals' natural tendency to be standoffish and aloof. You had the feeling that all the locals wanted to do was to stop work,
Royal Palace Museum, Luang Prabang
The temple in the picture is Wat Ho Pha Bang, which is inside the Royal Palace Museum complex and houses the Pha Bang buddha. The complex is on Sisavangvong Road.
go home, drink beer and lie in their hammocks.
While the Lao trying to sell you stuff aren't as pushy as Vietnamese, I will say that service here has probably in general been the worst I've experienced in South East Asia. Laos shares a lot with Thailand but service and hospitality in the tourist industry doesn't appear to be one of them.
Anyway, the whole episode at the hostel cast a shadow over the rest of my time in Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunarat and the Royal Palace Museum are both nice but nothing spectacular and the views from the top of Mount Phusi are grand but nothing special. And while Luang Prabang was probably the best place I visited in Laos, I just felt that in keeping with the rest of the country, that there are cheaper and more value for money places I could've chilled out in for a few days. As it was, I couldn't wait to leave the city and the country.
I ended up staying in Luang Prabang for a whole week; not because I necessarily wanted to but because I had to wait for my visa to be processed so I could go
Black Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice is a staple of Laotian cuisine although this is the first time I've seen it coloured black!
back into Vietnam. Don't worry, I didn't defraud any Vietnamese immigration officials this time...
On my last night in Laos, I had probably my best meal in the country. With a bit of cash that needed spending before leaving Laos, Ida and I decided to treat ourselves to TripAdvisor's #1 ranked restaurant. All three dishes we ordered were delicious; the Luang Prabang sausage curry, the duck laap
and the steamed fish in banana leaf.
The next day, I wanted to pick up my passport and visa, check out a museum and then buy a ticket for a 24-hour bus leaving that night. But like the Spanish, it seems that the Lao like a long bloody lunch break which left Ida and I with literally nothing to do. I have not been enamoured by Lao work ethic. I did eventually do everything I wanted to.
The museum I visited was dedicated to highlighting the work being done to remove UXO; unexplored ordinance.
During the Vietnam War, the Americans dropped around two million tons of bombs on the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail - a supply route that got Viet Cong men and munitions from North Vietnam to the south which ran mostly through supposedly neutral
UXO Laos Information Centre, Luang Prabang
This small museum highlights the plight and the fight against unexploded ordnance in the Laotian countryside. Laos is the most bombed country in the history of the world.
Laos - which included an estimated 270 million cluster bombs. An estimated 80 million "bombies" failed to explode and are thus now scattered throughout the countryside, endangering farmers and families as they go about their daily lives. The museum told the stories of kids curiously investigating cluster bombs in the field, accidentally triggering them off and then losing their limbs and their lives. Large tracts of farmable land then become dangerous and unusable but pushed into poverty, some families farm the land anyway, knowing that there is a very real risk they could lose their lives in doing so.
The organisation that set up the museum - UXOLAOS - is the biggest organisation in Laos dedicated to clearing land of UXO so that it may be used for farming and community purposes. The work involves clearing UXO as well as educating the locals so that they can recognise UXO and contact the relevant authorities so that they can be safely removed. The work however, is painstakingly slow; since they started operations in 1996, UXOLAOS has safely removed 441,000 bombies - just 0.55% of the total estimated 80 million unexploded bombies that were out there.
It left me reflecting that the
That Chomsi, Luang Prabang
Stupa atop Mount Phu Si, in the centre of Luang Prabang.
Americans have done some real asshole things to other countries over the years. As one current high profile American buffoon would say, the whole situation in the Laotian countryside is "sad."
After bidding Ida goodbye, that was the last thing I did in Laos.
As mentioned earlier, it has not been my favourite country; I didn't feel like I connected very well with the people, there isn't an abundant amount of things to see and do here and the place didn't offer great value for money - it was comparatively more expensive than Thailand and Vietnam which in my opinion, offer a lot more. But then this is why I travel - to find these things out for myself.
In saying all that, I did really enjoy my time in Laos as I met some cool people, drank way too much and had some great times. I may not have liked the place that much, but I leave Laos with some unforgettable - and some rather more forgettable - memories.
ເບິ່ງທ່ານໃນໄວໆນີ້ (Boeng than naiuaaini),
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