By now you know that I absolutely loved Luang Prabang. But while the city and culture are amazing, a part of the Laotian culture was also sad and sobering. One afternoon I decided to visit the UXO (un-exploded ordnance) Center, which discusses how Laos was impacted in the “Second Indochina War” (Vietnam War). I had no idea how Laos was impacted, as growing up in the United States, this part of the Vietnam War was essentially glossed over in my educational curriculum.
The UXO Center discusses Laos’ involvement in the War, and the collateral damage sustained. The North Vietnamese would go into Laos to get around to the South, so the United Sates and allied forces would bomb Laos to cut off this supply line. Apparently, over a 9 year period from the mid-1960s into the early-1970s, an average of one bomb was dropped on Laos every 9 minutes, with almost 30% failing to detonate on impact. To this day, an average of 300 people per year die (and many more are injured) in Laos just from finding these ordinances and not knowing what they are. Many of them are children who think they are balls or toys. Many more are farmers simply harvesting their crops, and finding a very unpleasant surprise. And still a few more are people who unsuccessfully try and take apart the ordinances to sell the parts. Many old ordinances are on display in the Center, itself:
The “balls” in here are what children often would find:
The UXO fund is a non-profit charity that tries to find more of the ordnances and clear the land of Laos. As of 2017, the 20-some year effort to clear the land has now resulted in 1.5% of the country being successfully cleared of the ordnances, in what is a dangerous and painstaking exercise. Given the enormous scale of this effort, many of their current efforts are more focused on education of children, and making sure that by the age of 4, every child knows what the ordnances are, and knows to leave them alone. The Center is “entry by donation”, and after reading about everything and seeing all the pictures, I happily donated to their cause.
Some of the pics in the UXO Center were extremely disturbing, but then again, much of history is quite disturbing. And we will not persevere through ignorance. It is only through education and understanding that we can make the world a better place.
Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel