Monday, June 5, 2017

A Heartbreaking Legacy of War: Visiting the UXO Lao Vistors Centre

June 5, 2017
Luang Prabang, Laos

Examples of UXO being recovered in Laos in an effort to make Lao PDR a safe and economically viable nation
Today we visited the UXO Lao Visitors Centre here in Luang Prabang.  This modest, little museum sits on a quiet, back street not far from our hotel, but in the opposite direction from the main drag, so it’s definitely off the tourist track.  Although it is the type of sight that seems right up Lonely Planet’s alley, there is no mention that I could find of it in our guidebook.  (I did, however, find mention of it on when I Googled it, after the fact, when writing this post).  I discovered it because it was listed as an attraction on the small map our hotel gave to us.  As it turns out, it was well worth a visit.
After breakfast at the hotel, we hopped on a pair of the loaner bikes that our hotel provides and pedaled the short distance over to the museum on a blazingly hot and sunny Tuesday morning.  There were only a few other parties (all westerners), comprised of one or two people each (no Chinese tour groups), wandering the museum during our visit.  Our fear of crowds (i.e., bus-loads of Chinese tour groups) was completely unfounded, as it turned out. 

The UXO Lao Visitors Centre: bombs displayed on the entrance walkway
Requesting only a donation as an entrance fee, by way of a small, unobtrusive donation box, we were greeted warmly by the young Lao woman working at the front desk. She explained briefly how the museum was organized (it’s so small, there is really no need for explanation) and that there was a film that would be shown after we looked around for a bit.

The UXO Lao Visitors Centre
If you’re like me, you aren’t really aware of all those bombs that we Americans dropped over Laos during the Vietnam War, known as the Second Indochina War in these parts, in our fight against Communism.  But, when you add in all the bombs dropped in previous wars as well, Laos has the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world. In. The. World. Per capita, but still.  

The museum is laid out with a series of large panels containing text, maps and photos, combined with many examples of the types of artillery used in the war that has since been recovered from the many affected provinces of Lao PDR (Peoples Democratic Republic, as the country has been known since 1975).  

Reading of the horrors of war and examining the samples of UXO being recovered by UXO Lao
As the museum displays so clearly and succinctly explain, about 30% of the bombs dropped during the various wars did not explode and still pose a daily threat to the villagers of Laos.  They are known as UXO, or Unexploded Ordnance.  The last bombs were dropped in 1973 and yet they still pose a daily threat in this country, well over 40 years later. These UXO kill and maim many Lao people every year, a good proportion of them children who have not yet been educated on the dangers of UXO or are actively searching them out in order to sell them for scrap metal or in the tourism industry.  The presence of these UXO also makes farming difficult and dangerous in many areas of the country, making it challenging for the villagers to earn even a modest living, simply out of fear, or worse, death or dismemberment of a family member.

On a brighter note, the museum discusses the work being done by the UXO Lao organization, from education to clearing land of these dangerous UXO.

The UXO Lao Visitors Centre
It was a well-done and very sobering exhibit and definitely an experience that will surely remain with me long after we return home. I highly recommend a visit on your next visit to Luang Prabang.

More photos:
A sobering display panel at the UXO Vistors Centre
A typical big bomb, filled with hundreds of smaller "bombies," which continue to pose a significant to the villages of Laos
After visiting the UXO Lao Visitors Centre, we took a pleasant ride across the river

Bamboo bridge crossing the Nam Khan River in Laung Prabang, as seen from the Viewpoint Restaurant, which makes the best "lemon soda" in town. Although we have walked across this rickety structure, this is NOT the bridge we rode our bikes over!

Lunch after the museum at the charming and delicious Le Banneton CafĂ© & French Bakery on Luang Prabang's main street

Riding back to the hotel after lunch

Aaaand, back at the pool!

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