After the madness of Thailand, we were looking forward to an opportunity to take, what the kids call, “a chill pill”. Laos was, indeed, the perfect country to do so.
We landed in Vientiane and upon exploration, learnt that it was the most sparsely populated city we had experienced. The roads were wide, infrastructure good, but a lack of people. The tone was relaxed, and the hustle bustle of previous cities nowhere to be seen. We strolled past the King’s Palace and asked whether he was in residence, which he was. We playfully asked whether we could see him. The guards said no, and they didn’t smile, at all. The next morning we came down to our hostel’s dining area and watched our chef picking her toe nails, who then asked us what we wanted her to cook us, we decided to eat somewhere else. We visited the Laos Museum:
In the 14th century, Thao Xieng-Mung and his son Phragba Pao ruled Vientiane and Viengkham. However, there was trouble in the hood. The mighty King Fa Ngum invaded and took Vientiane after Thao died. Phragba held strong and protected Viengkham successfully. Unfortunately, the greed of men overpowered all, and the King got his soldiers to fire gold and silver into the woods. When the soldiers defending the city saw this treasure in the forest, they cut back the trees, thus opening them up to attack, and they lost their city.
It seemed that King Fa Ngum was the main man in their history. His empire was called the Kingdom of One Million Elephants. Once captured, he renamed the capital Lanta Xang in 1351.
In 1893-1945, the UK dug their heels into yet another country and fought against the French for ownership of Laos. France won against the British Empire, yet became increasingly paranoid about controlling the Mekong river. They used the people as slave labour but needed more workers in such a sparsely populated country. Despite all their efforts, they couldn’t encourage reproduction among the Laotian people – they seemed too chilled out for all that. The population was so low, everything moved too slowly for the French. It was during this period that Ho Chi Minh was a prominent figure against the French, and a hero in Laos, alongside Khamseng Sivilay, Laos’ first communist leader. They helped to overthrow the French dominance.
Later that day we hired some bikes in this sparse city, and cycled to their Arc de Triomphe. ‘Is this the real one?’ I hear you ask, fair reader. Well, I can confirm that it was not, as the real one is in Paris, France. This was a scaled down, unfinished version, as a way of the French gesticulating their presence and power over the city.
Then we checked out the Pha Thay Luang temple which was a beautiful, golden monument, and a huge sign, proudly stating it as a non-smoking temple, but that didn’t deter a Buddhist monk from puffing away.
Arc de Triomphe (no, not the one in Paris)
Can’t remember who this geezer is outside the museum.
We visited a UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) museum – more on this later.
Visited one of the large temples in the city.
Ednora, just living life, loving life.
Carvings at the temple.
Just larking about in the town.
Monk wash day.
On our bus to Vang Vieng, we were met with three proper lads who were all like, ‘fuck off mate/nah geez/got so smashed last night, innit.’ You know the type, proper geezers, all in vest shirts to accentuate their gorgeous, tattooed bodies, sitting on the back seat of the bus, because that’s where the cool kids sit. Within five minutes they were effing and blinding about the driver, ‘this fukin clown don’t know wot ‘is doin’’ etc.. We listened to their ramblings for a while and then one of the
twatslads, Callum (off-piste lad name, I confess. These lads are usually called Dave, or Bloke) threw a curveball and confessed that the horror movie they had watched the night before scared him. The two other lads ripped him to pieces. It’s common knowledge that lads like that are not allowed to be scared of anything, let alone show emotions. Callum messed up. On the way there we were researching caves to visit, an organic farm, and great bike rides to take part in, while another passenger asked our lads what to do in Vang Vieng, having been there before. ‘Ah, nuffin to do there, mate. Jus’ get fucked on ‘shrooms innit.’ Ednora and I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell had they found themselves in Laos? Maybe they misspelt Malia on Skyscanner. Turns out they were from Essex, and not too far from my town. I had never been more ashamed to call them kin.
Our first night in Vang Vieng was spent eating our dinner under a fantastic thunderstorm. Rainy season had truly arrived.
The next day we hired some bikes and went exploring. We found a cave and some young kid took us through. At the end of the cave there was a pool which was nice and refreshing. The young kid pretended to drown and then told me to do the same. He laughed, I laughed, Ednora laughed. We were all laughing. Lusi cave was next but it was closed. Never fear however, we snuck through another entrance and walked about 50 metres, because we are rebels, but at the same time, huge cowards. The final cave was called Cave Hoi, which was an underground river cave. We had to sit on a rubber tube and pull ourselves along on a rope, which was great fun and a new, exciting way to experience a cave. We visited the organic farm where their speciality was mulberry. Ednora was knocking back shots of the stuff all over the place, the nutcase. We stumbled across another huge cave, I believe the biggest one we have been in yet, named Lom cave. We must have walked through this gigantic cathedral sized hallway for an hour before seeing no end to it, and so turned back. Our final cave had a swimming pool inside, which was cool, and very cold.
My mate and I larking about in the cave pool.
Living in a postcard.
Tubing through the cave.
The entrance, somehow.
The guesthouse we stayed at had a butterfly farm in its back garden.
Visiting the organic farm.
Ednora cooling off! Hahahahaha.
Smashing shots of mulberry.
Someone suggested sharing the shots of mulberry.
Feeding a baby bird.
Our delicious lunch at the organic farm.
We travelled to a district of Laos which had had two million tons of bombs dumped on it over the course of its history, primarily from the Americans during the Secret War. This statistic intrigued us, so hunted for more information at the UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) museum:
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita.
Of all the bombs dropped by the U.S., 30% didn’t explode.
Two million tons of cluster bombs (a big bomb with lots of little bombs inside) have been dropped on Laos. That’s almost a ton per person living in the country.
They were heavily bombed because the U.S. wanted to cut off supply on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran alongside the Mekong Delta. This trail was controlled by the Laos Communist Movement, an enemy to the U.S., and so the people of Laos paid heavily for this geographical misfortune.
Since the Secret War, 115 countries have signed an agreement to ban the use of cluster bombs in combat. The U.S. have not signed this agreement.
It could take hundreds of years to recover from the damaged caused by the bombs. The clearance of unexploded bombs is an arduous task, preventing the country’s expansion to cultivate new land. People are being kept poor because of this.
90% of all new land cleared of UXOs is used for agriculture. The other 10% used for schools or sewage systems.
Our next stop was the Plain of Jars, an old burial site where the bodies would be kept in these huge Jars, spread out over a few acres of land. Stunning views, and the sensation of being Alice in Wonderland.
Plain of Jars.
Exploring the town.
We bought a handmade laptop case, crafted by family members of the victims of bomb explosions.
After a nine hour drive, and a few wees in the bushes where, Ednora informed me, all the ladies peed next to each other, bonding, we made it to this sleepy town near the military caves. It was so quiet, we had to search far and wide for a place to eat. When we finally found a restaurant, the lady was completely bemused as to why we were there. After much explaining, she finally cottoned on to the fact that we were there for some food, in her restaurant, which sold food. I’m not quite sure what else she thought we may have wanted from her? It was very strange.
We visited the neighbouring town, Vieng Xay, where we visited the war caves. This was where the Laotian army and citizens continued to function under the protection of caves from the U.S. bombing.
There were 480 caves here but only several were open to the public.
President Kaysonephonvihanh stayed here too and founded the Laos People Party, which turned into the Laos People’s Revolutionary Party. The hierarchy used the Soviet model of having seven people in charge, as voted in by the committee.
During the nine years of war, the officials lived with the people, keeping harmony between the military and the citizens. They say it is what helped them survive the war.
The people had to wear dark clothes, and any light coloured animals they owned and to be killed, to avoid attention from the planes overhead.
We went in a hospital cave and saw where they kept the dead bodies. Sometimes, if there were too many casualties, they would burn the bodies in the cave. We saw the black stained ceiling from the smoke.
The ceasefire for the Vietnam war was signed in January 1973, and Laos signed their ceasefire in 1974. Vieng Xay was named so as it translates as City of Victory.
Inside the military cave. The board meeting room.
This contraption helped generate the flow of oxygen into the room.
The black ceiling in the hospital cave.