Phonsavan, Laos, 2013
I had never seen a bombshell. Or just maybe, never paid much attention. Until Phonsavan.
I came to see the Plain of Jars, a gigantic collection of big jars made of stone, that have been there for thousands and thousands of years. Their origin and function are unknown, a mystery.
I expected the Jars to be Phonsavan’s main attraction. I was proved wrong. As I walked down the main street, bombshells were exposed everywhere. Old war sites were advertised. Almost everything in this little town turned out to be about bombs, craters and the impact of the Vietnam War. The Jars were just a tiny side attraction. Little did I know.
The next day I went out to the Plain. The jars were interesting and indeed mysterious. But the holes in the ground from exploded bombs opened my eyes. I saw many jars. Most in good state. And a crater, from an exploded bomb. Some jars. Another crater. As I kept walking I got surrounded by more and more craters. Some of them had water in them or flowers growing inside.
Something clicked inside me. If so many explosions had taken place on this small site, how much unexploded ordinance would there be left? Where would the bombs be hidden? In someone’s backyard, at the rice fields, in the jungle? Near the road? How many people will still lose arms and legs because of undiscovered bombs? How many toddlers picked up a bomb, thinking it was a toy?
Then I thought about Vang Vieng. Right now, how many backpackers would be watching Friends while sipping on their beers? Joking, exchanging stories about love, freedom, partying, and agreeing on how great life is.
And it is. As long as you can wander around freely. And your biggest concern is deciding whether to order another beer or to walk back to your hostel. In safety.