BACK Locations in Laos: From Pakse to Attapeu.
Above Photo: Monument to the many Laotian and North Vietnamese dead in Attapeu. Major arteries of the Ho Chi Minh Trail passed nearby during the Vietnam War.
Following in the footsteps of my ill-fated backpackers in my Vietnam War/modern-day crossover novel, BACK, we headed out from Pakse to Attapeu in southern Laos, close to the borders of Vietnam and Cambodia, near the tri-border jungle where the novel is mostly set.
The changes I saw on this journey were astonishing, even in the 12 months since my last visit.
First, we left Pakse for Vietnam on a new Vietnamese minibus service heading for the Vietnamese border.
The border crossing at Gia Lai in Vietnam has been responsible for flooding southern Laos, and Attapeu province in particular, with Vietnamese migrants, Vietnamese money and many Vietnamese-run businesses. So much so that it sometimes just feels like you’re in a particularly unfriendly part of Vietnam when you travel through southern Laos these days.
My backpackers had to go the hard way to Attapeu, as we did a few years ago. Now the roads out there are rapidly changing from bone-shaking dirt tracks to cement and bitumen roads, built with Vietnamese money by Vietnamese companies.
Unlike the Laotians, at least the Vietnamese can run a relatively safe, modern bus service on time, and we were whisked away to Attapeu in the relative comfort on a modern minibus. The Vietnamese minibuses are the best-run public transport service I have been on in southern Laos in the past 5 years.
The trip was interesting, witnessing the rapid Vietnamization of Pakse and the whole of southern Laos – more roads, more development, more traffic, more people, more electricity, and much more Vietnam.
We expected to be dropped at Attapeu’s nightmare bus station, located 7km from the town centre of Attapeu, and which always presents local transport problems for the final leg of the journey into the town centre (as it did in BACK). However we were instead dropped in the very centre of Attapeu, although had we not known where we were going, or where we wanted to get off, the minibus driver would have cheerfully continued on to Vietnamese border.
But it was only when we got off the bus that we realized just how much Attapeu had changed, and I shall deal with those changes in another article on the real-life Laotian locations featured in BACK.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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