I was in Khon Kaen for 9 days learning about the life of being a rice farmer. After a 5 hours bus ride from Khon Kaen to the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge, and a mishap with my visa, I am in Laos. It is one of the poorest countries in SE Asia, and I have already learned a lot. I have been in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, for 2 days and I will stay one more, then I will head 3 hours north to Vang Vieng in Laos. I will stay there for about a week then head further north to Luang Prabang. Vientiane is the smallest capitol in Asia, and it has French influence, in the architecture, because it once was a French protectorate, but gained independence in 1954. Laos is one of the last remaining Communist states in the world. There are communist flags everywhere.
Today was not an easy day, not for the reasons you might be thinking, it was a hard day because I was faced with the reality of the negative impact war has. I went to the COPE center for rehabilitation, where they make prosthetic limbs for victims of accidental explosions from US bombs. During the Vietnam war, the US dropped 2 million tons of bombs on Laos from 1964 to 1973. More than 580,000 bombing missions were conducted on Laos. That is one bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years in a row. The US never declared war on Laos, but merely used it to dispose of the unused bombs, that were never dropped on Vietnam, because it was unsafe to land with the bombs. After the war was over in 1975, 80 million unexploded bombs remained, waiting to take more innocent lives. Post war, more than 20,000 people where killed from UXOs and even today 100 people die annually from UXOs. It is sad to see that even though the US/ Vietnam war ended 44 years ago, the past is still haunting the lives of Laotians even today.
Most of the people still affected today are the poorest villages in Laos, where farmers trying to grow crops to feed their families could suddenly have an arm blown off by a UXOS. I am sure I was the only American there today, and it felt weird seeing other people view the remains of what the US left behind. I felt guilt the rest of the day.
If you want more information visit http://copelaos.org/donate/. You can donate here and read more about what COPE does.
Other than this sad history lesson, Laos is treating me well.
In Laos there is a very strong Chinese influence, from high rise buildings being built, to the Chinese railway that is currently being built, that will eventually make its way to Singapore. One can only wonder why China is moving in and expanding in Laos, a country that would never win against the power of China.
NPR article on Chinese railway being built in Laos.