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Archive for November 19th, 2012

Phonsavan And The Secret War

Posted by TravellingStrom on November 19, 2012

Mayan Prophecy Countdown

After another riverside breakfast I decided to go and find another Geocache, the third and last one here in Phonsavan. According to the info on the net, this had never been found and had only been placed recently, so it would be good to get a FTF here in Laos. It was too far to walk so I grabbed a tuktuk and headed to the temple where the cache was located. It was up a bit of a rough track, then the steep concrete slope into the compound. The cache called My Temple was easily found but somebody had beat me to the FTF, oh well, never mind.

Once I had that under my belt I was free to look around this place which is called Wat Sakaem, and it is a poor temple, but the locals do bring food and gifts, as you will see soon.

I could not find any English speaking novices, so after a short while I left, just as the gift bringers came up the track πŸ™‚

Once they had passed I went and packed the bike, fuelled up and headed off around 10.30am. It was around 270km to Phonsavan and I expected it to take around 6 hours or so, depending on how many times I stopped for photos, so I should get there late afternoon πŸ™‚ The road from here was great, a mix of sweepers and twisties and after following the lowland near the river for a while, I climbed up the range, and it was not long before I came to this brilliant lookout above the river.

After that I was amongst the clouds so the photos were a bit dismal, hopefully they would get better later on. I was at around 1500m at this point.

I came to this steep corner where I tried to get a photo of down below, which I sort of did, but I noticed the crash barrier had taken a massive hit along its full length!

This was a fun section of road and of course I was taking it easy, because there were still the usual hazards like trucks, tractors, cows etc to deal with.

I kept stopping to take photos which was really slowing me down, I noticed that it had taken me ages to cover 80km!!! But when you find good roads and good weather with brilliant scenery, who cares πŸ™‚ There were a few bad potholes the closer I got to Phouk Houne which is where my turnoff was to the east, but not too many and only a short stretch of them. I got to the junction after a yucky bit of loose tar and gravel and grabbed some lunch around 1.30pm, it had taken me around 4 hours to do 140km, crikey mort!

It was now 2.30pm and after lunch I had another 140km to go, if it took as long as the last 140km I would be riding in the dark! 😦 The first section of around 70km was just as twisty as the bits I had already done and was slow going again. But fun πŸ™‚

After a few hours of this I came out of the serious hills and it started to become more flat and open, but the sky looked ominous and at every corner I was happy that the road took me around the edge of a storm.

But my luck did not hold out long enough and I took the opportunity to stop and insert my jacket liner and just in time too, as the rain came down. It was lucky for me that the serious twisties were behind me, on the road ahead it was easy to keep the speed up, and I still had another 70km to go. I arrived in Phonsavan just on dusk and then tried to find a place to stay. The place I had been given as a bike friendly place was just a bit too far out of the way and had no WiFi, so I went looking in town. I eventually found a cheapish room with WiFi at the White Orchid Guest House [ N19.45056 E103.21917 ], just off the main drag, and importantly for me, had a lock up fence for the bike. You could probably get two big bikes in there if you squeezed it a bit, but I was happy, you can just see my bike to the left of the building in the last photo πŸ™‚

After unpacking I tried the WiFi which worked but it was a weak signal from the foyer. The strongest signal was from a place called the Lau Falang pub, which was right next door, so after a quick scrub I decided to head there for a beer, and grab the ‘free’ WiFi password so I could use it later, sneaky bugger eh πŸ˜‰ When I got there it was a loud place, there was a documentary playing on a large projection screen and the commentary was booming. I was a bit unsure about the noise but ordered a beer anyway πŸ˜‰ I soon forgot what I was doing as I became engrossed in the story unfolding. I had missed the first 30 minutes but as I saw a sign showing it would be replayed every day from 6pm, I vowed to return.

The story was about the CIA during the Vietnam war period, secretly engaged in another war here in Laos, the CIA version of events here: Here is an excerpt from the Legacies of War website, it makes for interesting reading and the footage I was watching certainly backed up their website.

From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missionsβ€”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. The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians during the nine-year period.

I could not really understand why I never knew about this war, in Oz we were very familiar with the Vietnam war, we had taken in many refugees. I had heard of the atrocities in Cambodia even, but this was a dark secret 😦 I would find out more in the coming days, but the next movie that showed was called Bombies, you can see it here on YouTube This goes for 55 minutes and it shows the despicable practice of the US in dropping bombs here that are still live today and still killing people all the time. The main bomb was called a cluster bomb unit, which was filled with about 670 cluster bombs, or as they are called here – bombies. The cluster bomb is dropped then pops open and releases the bombies, which are designed with ridges which cause spin in the air, this in turn arms the fuse and when it lands it explodes. The shell is impregnated with up to 300 ball bearings and these are lethal for up to 30m, they were designed to kill humans, not tanks or trucks, and they were used mainly against civilians 😦 The problem was, many of them did not explode, about 30% failed due to a too low drop(not enough time to arm the fuse properly) or they landed in water or boggy areas.

A journalist called Andre Vltchek, has written a very good story on the effects of these, and I will leave it to him to tell as I would never do the story justice, you can read his blog site here, it will open in a new page.

I had a good chat with Veo from the pub here over the rest of the evening, he has lost many family members to the war and the bombies 😦 It is hard to believe that 38 years on and there are still over 20 million, yes 20 million of these bombies scattered over Laos and the United States are doing nothing about it, except providing a few dollars, they should be getting off their arse’s and supplying men and machinery that can locate and defuse this scourge to the Lao people!!!! As you can probably tell, the movies I watched affected me deeply and I wandered what I could do to help, if anything, but I would think about it more over the coming days.

Cheers from Phonsavan

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