Bombs, Unexploded Ordnance and B-52 Strikes – a Dodgy Trip Across Laos on Bone-shaking Route 9.
Above Photo: Don’t fancy yours much – travelling in style to Sepon on a Vietnamese-bound bus.
Just after dawn, as we waited for our early bus to Sepon (called Tchepone during the Vietnam War), I took a photo of the most unroadworthy bus I could find in Savannakhet’s bus station, assuming it would be ours.
As I was doing so, an even worse one turned up, and it transpired that this one as ours.
Already missing rear windows, over which a steel plate had been fitted, it was crammed high with boxes and produce destined for Vietnam, even before we boarded.
We were heading down Route 9, a road infamous from the Vietnam War, when the American-backed South Vietnamese army invaded Laos intending to progress along Route 9 in order to cut the country and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in half.
It was only a five hour journey, so we weren’t really bothered about the state of the bus, as this was a short hop for us travel-wise.
However I was surprised by the shocking state of the road, given Route 9 is a major highway stretching from Savannakhet to Vietnam. It looked like the Vietnam War was still on and there’d been B52 strikes along it (although most of the road has been upgraded since writing this article).
In fact, old B-52 strikes on Route 9 were still evident, as ducks swam, and people fished, in ponds which now inhabited former bomb craters.
Much traffic along Route 9 was going to and coming from Vietnam, mostly big articulated trucks, and much of the signage in towns and villages the whole way along the route were in Vietnamese.
I soon realised our knackered old bus was not the most unroadworthy public vehicle plying its trade along the road, as decrepit museum pieces juddered past, losing bolts in the potholes.
At the town of Muang Phin, we passed a war monument, built, surprise surprise, by the Vietnamese recording Lao-Vietnamese co-operation during the war. We also saw two UXO Lao vehicles on the road, another modern-day reminder of the road’s importance during the war.
Nearer the Vietnamese border,outside the town of Sepon, we saw UXO Lao teams combing recently cleared fields, for Unexploded Ordnance.
It was because of Sepon’s role during the war, and its proximity to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that I wanted to visit the place, and it didn’t disappoint.
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.
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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