New Country. New NGO's!
21.02.2012 - 25.02.2012 36 °C
We landed in Vientiane after a short 1 hour flight from Hanoi. The city is quiet as cities go. The shops and guesthouses owners let you look at their wares in peace. The food is great with a strong French influence in the forms of cafes and croissants. There is nice French charm in places. Happy days.
New country: Laos! Or Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos (PDR Laos), because that’s the sort of name you give communist countries! 6.5 million people. Land locked. Most people live near the Mekong and its tributaries. Like most remaining communist countries they have given up on state fixed prices and let the market do its thing. Unlike Vietnam and Chine, Laos has little industry and organized agriculture. Last year the governments budget was 90% (yes, 90%!!!) foreign aid. So it’s poor and selling its natural resources fast to China and Vietnam….. another land for NGO’s.
We spent the first day doing what we do best. Eating and wandering. It’s a universal observation that people like to congregate next to a water front and the Laos are no different. We spent a fun few hours wandering along the Mekongs promenade, looking at the night market and watching the world go by. We had a fantastic Indian meal and hit the sack.
We hired bikes on our second day and pedaled out to the Burmese embassy and after an (slightly disappointingly) easy process. We left our passports with one of the worlds most oppressive regimes with a receipt to pick them up in 3 days. We hadn’t planned on staying in Vientiane so long but as places go for an enforced pit stop, you could do worse.
On our way back to town we stopped at COPE. This incredible organization is an active physio/orthotics/counseling clinic for disabled people. The full story about unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos is a long and tragic story. See more at the bottom.
COPE visitors centre
Cluster bomb bombies.
The afternoon was spent doing some travel planning and purchasing flights from Bangkok to Burma and back as well as KL to Borneo. Our travel plan is coming together. After all the traveling and walking over the last few days it was an early night and a lie in.
Day 3 in Vientiane and we spent the morning trundling around some beautiful Wats and trying to plan the onward trip in Laos. It was becoming apparent that the temperature was going nuclear at midday tipping over 35. Time to run away to the shade. I found an outdoor 25m swimming pool which was heaven in the Laos heat and set about doing some laps. Feeling very good about myself we set out for a restaurant recommended by a local expat- Amphone. We had some delicious traditional Laos food including grilled chicken with spices, a beef curry, Grilled fish with lemongrass and dill served with a chili sauce and sticky rice, oh and the every present Laos beer. Laos beer is excellent and is defiantly the best beer we’ve had in SE Asia (and I promise I have tried most of them in each country).
Wat sisket. Thousands of buddhas line the inner walls.
Evening meal at Amphone.
Our last day in Vientiane was spent on the bikes again. In the morning we visited the countries most famous Wat with a piece of Buddha breastbone under it!!!! We then hit the market for a torch (See next blog!) and then set off for another café for disadvantaged children. I worked out our responsible travelling score at 12 last night. It keeps the wife happy and me in karma. In the afternoon we pedaled out to the Burmese embassy again and were rewarded with our passports avec visa. C’est formidable!
Pha That Luang- the national emblem.
Evening meal and Beer Lao
Road side BBQ
Next stop Khong Lor cave!
Cambodia is blighted by landmines. Vietnam is still feeling the effects of Agent Orange. Laos is devastated by unexploded ordnances. UXO. The story and statistics are scary. Laos was declared a neutral country at the Geneva peace accord in 1954 and as such neither the US or Vietnamese could cross its borders.
However the North Vietnamese used Laos as a means to get arms and people to the south (the Ho Chi Minh Trail) and the US saw the region as a communist threat. The US therefore bombed the country. And did they bomb. It is the most bombed country per capita in the world. The US flew 584,000 missions and dropped more bombs than the entire of WWII on the country. This cost $6.5 billion dollars. An estimated 280,000,000 cluster bombs were dropped alone. These release hundreds on little bombs (bombies) in the air covering a huge area. They were designed to kill and maim infantry formations but were adapted to also send out trip wires. About a third don’t explode leaving an estimated 80 million UXO in the former of tiny bombies in the country side. Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world and so can’t afford to clear these up, or offer the medical support when people are injured. The soaring scrap metal trade in China means more and more Laos are buying cheap $10 metal detectors from Vietnam and going hunting. This has predictably devastating consequences for the young adults and children who partake in this. COPE offers support and orthotics for any disabled person, which because of the above includes mostly UXO victims.
Check out the official US state review of Laos. It mentions UXO in one line near the end as part of a list of things they give aid for. I particularly like the line that “relationships remained cool until 1982”. I wonder why?
War is horrific in every way but what is often swept under the carpet is the after effects. Cluster bombs are still being used despite an international agreement to stop their use (yes, the US are amongst the usual perpetrators). They were used in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan leaving vast area of agricultural land unusable when the troops withdrew.
It always amazes me that the US and UK were willing to spend 256 million dollars a day on illegal wars but struggle to stump up the cash for the problems they create, and giving all the contracts to Hallibuton doesn’t count.
I could go on. But I better not. Rant over.