Today was another driving day – so lets skip that part because I don’t remember it. We arrived at Vientiane I think around 1 or 2, and went to the Laos equivalent of Williams coffee for lunch. I point that out because after recently discovering a dish called laap, all of us were disappointed by western food.
After that we went to the COPE centre to learn about the bombings that happened during the Vietnam War. Laos sided with the Americans during the Vietnam War so the Americans used Laos to land their airplanes. The problem was during some of the air raids on Vietnam, the airplanes did not always drops all their bombs on Vietnam. As the it is extremely dangerous to land with live bombs on-board the plane, they dropped them on Laos. For 9 years a 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. Ya. And no one know about it.
Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War (210 million more bombs than were dropped on Iraq in 1991, 1998 and 2006 combined); up to 80 million did not detonate. But these are live bombs and dangerous. So far only 1% have been found.
The bombs were painted yellow when they were originally dropped. This is a a good/bad thing. It is good because when they turn up in the soil there is a chance you will see the bright colour, bad if you are a Laos child who does not know its a bomb and tries to play with it. There are also a lot of adults who try to sell the metal to make money they get injured by the bombs. And lastly farmers who are constantly digging in the soil to plant rice – as the earth shifts new bombs turn up and sometimes their sticks hit the bombs and they get injured.
SO why not use a metal detector and get rid of them – the country of Laos is all mountains – you can use a melt detector but you have to go by hand through every inch of the entire country. They are working on it – but it is not an easy task.
If you want to help, there is an artisan website where local artists make jewellery safely from the scrap metal of the bombs. Initiatives like this are being set up to encourager Laotians to contact authorities when a bomb surfaces instead of removing it themselves.
Next we visited the Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph. You can go inside and go up to the very top. (Inside they have a market for tourists). This also has a very cool history. In world war two – the Americans again used Laos as one of their bases for fighting the Japanese. As a thank you they gave the Laos people money and a lot of cement to build a new airport. The Laos people did not like this idea and built a peace arch instead. The building is also supposed to give reference to the french Arch d’triumph as it is dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France.
Yup – today was a history day.
Next we visited, Pha That Luang, a gold-covered large Buddhist stupa, it is generally regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and a national symbol. For luck you can buy bird outside the temple, make a wish and release them.