The day began with an early 8am start. The Germans and I worked out a tour that covered all the different areas we wanted to see in Phonsavan. It was a little pricier than I wanted to pay at 215,000 Kip ($26.77US), but when I assessed all that we were doing to cover in one day, I realized we negotiated a good deal. Sometimes when throwing around so many ideas and wants around, it can be confusing. After the day I’ll describe, I am definitely satisfied.
We met our driver and jumped into his nice Toyota pick-up truck. It was so nice to be in a truck again. They don’t really have them in Korea at all. Once we jumped, in we headed to a field that was littered with craters from American bombing in the region during the Vietnam War. We were also walking in an old mine field. The field was riddled with holes from dug up mines. “From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.” (http://legaciesofwar.org/about-laos/secret-war-laos/). “American B52s and other aircraft dropped more bombs than fell on all of Europe during World War II. Up to 30% of those bombs failed to detonate.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1100842.st).
The next place we went to was the Crater Village because it was near this location. Here you can see the people used the old bombs to make fences and elevate their homes. The picture on the right is a bird house. Interesting the alternative use for these devastating weapons.
As we were leaving the village, we also saw a market with freshly hunted deer, squirrel, and other critters. My mouth watered for some wild meat. I have not had venison in so long and there laid a hind-quarter of a deer ready to be made into steaks for me. We attempted to see if we could get them to cook it up, but it was only for buying:-(
We moved on to a couple of caves, The Tham Xang Caves, that were used to protect people from the bombing of American jets that basically housed over a thousand people at that time. We had to pay 10,000 Kip ($1.25US) each to see the caves. The driver and man showing us the caves were about two years old during the war and went there to escape certain death. We hiked pretty far into the main cave before turning back.
The second cave was used for medical supplies, revolutionary fighters, and the wounded. There were remnants of medicine bottles and supplies (above). Many people died here because of wounds sustained from the bombing. Another interesting part about the second cave was the ability to walk from one end to the other. Nadine found she was getting a little freaked out about the caves, but we made it through. We did rent a head light for 4,000 Kip in the first tunnel, but realized my phone did a fine job lighting the way and did not pay for more. I found the caves very interesting I imagined being in there while bombs were being dropped above and all around my place of refuge. Also to imagine the intense heat of napalm rushing into the cave making it like an oven and sucking out the oxygen. I should note that this is part of the Ho Chi Man Trail supply line the US was trying to disrupt during the war.
At this point it was about midday and we went to eat some lunch and then continued on our tour. The next stop was a little couple house where they brewed Lao-Lao whisky, otherwise known as moonshine! We saw how it was made and had a small shot. It had an initial burn to it, then a sweet taste I merged before a sigh and smile arrived. It was pretty good! Our driver bought a bottle for home and we then headed to see a bombed out Russian tank. Now, my two German friends are from Eastern Germany. Daniel was a kid when the wall came down and remember life before and the transitions in Germany. Understandably, there is a dislike for Russia, so this was a bit of a highlight for him and unique for me. It’s not everyday I am able to see a military vehicle destroyed from a wartime action.
The second Plain of Jars site cost is 10,000 Kip ($1.25US) each to enter the grounds. We made our way up a trail to them, nestled in the woods at the top of a hill. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BC to AD 500). From my understanding, there are a number of suggestions for what these jars were used for, some believe for burial, others to collect monsoon rain water, or maybe food processing. It is still a bit of a mystery. There are over 90 sites, but because of all the bombing only 3 are available for the public. We then walked further down the trail, thinking there were more, but we ended turning around and heading back.
Now, I started thinking I really wanted a bottle of that moonshine for the rest of my trip in Laos, so we asked the driver to make a stop back at the house to buy some from the little old lady. Now, I was not sure how much this stuff was, so I gave her 10,000 Kip ($1.25US) to fill my empty water bottle. She then started pouring more in another. Ottos. I stopped her and indicated 1 was enough. She seemed very thankful, so perhaps I paid to much! Oh well;-)
The last place on the tour we visited was Site I Plain of Jars. This is where he largest jar is located. The are is so interesting and all around were more craters from the bombing and even a trench line. There was also a cave which is believed to have been used for cremating bodies for the jars.
One of the uses the area people have found for the scrap metal from the bombs, mines. And munitions is melting it down to make flower pots, bowls, barbwire, and even utensils. I bought some spoons for 15,000 Kip ($1.87 US) as a reminder of the destruction and devastation my home country still is causing in this place 40 years later. It’s hard to wrap my head around that so much farm land can’t even be used because the soil is contaminated or has not been cleared as safe.
If your interested in more information in Laos or other bombed places, check out http://www.maginternational.org/where-mag-works/laos/#.UtgLOWQW01U .
When we got back to the hotel, we were chillen out with a cup of coffee and taking a break when suddenly our Aussie friend, Hsien popped around the corner!!! She had just got in and heard our voices in the lobby. I love these traveling moments!!! Daniel, Nadine, and I needed to eat before we caught our night sleeper bus, so we all went for some Indian food down the street. It was so good and I pulled out the moonshine. I figured these may be the coolest people I will meet in Laos, so I want to share with them. When we finished dinner, we had just enough time to grab our bags and say our goodbyes to, Hsien.
When we headed to he sleeper bus, we were a bit excited. We had seen a few and they looked comfortable. But, when we got to our bus, it was not as nice. As I’m sitting here typing all of this on my iPhone, I’m pretty much sitting upright and fitting in my foot and a half space next to some guy who conveniently fit perfect from head to toe. I guess this is made for someone close to 5 feet tall. I don’t really think most of my friends back home would fit in this space comfortably. It may also suck being on the top bunk area. Oh well, I’m making the most of this. This bus cost me 160,000 Kip ($21 US) and cuts down on my usable travel time! Plus, it’s a new experience!!