In Search Of The Secret War In Laos: Trekking into the Tri-Border Jungle from Attapeu.
Above Photo: Scene of the Crime in BACK – The tri-border jungle near Attapeu, Laos.
I based the backpackers in my novel BACK in Attapeu, southern Laos, from where there they ventured on an ill-fated trek to the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the tri-border area of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Ironically, the screenplay for our forthcoming film, MIA: A Greater Evil, is also based in the same real-life jungle.
As I’ve previously mentioned, Attapeu is not set up for tourism at all. There are few private transport options available, about three tuk tuks, no tour agents, nothing to see in town and, besides the SAM missile site at Pa-Am, and the rapidly shrinking Dong Amphan jungle, there’s little outside town too.
That’s how it really is, and that’s how it’s portrayed in BACK, which reflects my real-life experiences and frustrations of trying to arrange treks into the war-ravaged jungle along the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Attapeu.
On this visit, with superhuman effort and having wasted a full day trying to find anyone to take us, we finally secured a car, a driver and a ‘guide’ to take us from Attapeu into the Dong Amphan jungle. This lazy joker said to me, “I’m not an official guide, so if you want to know any information when we’re out, you’ll have to pay me more…”
I suppose I should have been alerted to a potential problem when the guide asked did we want to see the “old jungle or the new jungle”? I said “Both”, but I didn’t understand the question until we got there.
As we headed out of town, I was struck by the enormous convoys of log-laden trucks we passed and slowly began to realize that what had been nearby jungle a couple of years ago had now been destroyed and replaced by millions of rubber and palm trees planted by Vietnamese companies.
Our guide stopped the car around 38 Km from Attapeu, as we were surrounded by rubber and palm trees stretching as far as the eye could see. He gestured around us and said, “This is the new jungle. This is what you want, yes?”
I don’t know if he was being sarcastic or not, but I told him to keep driving, which he glumly did.
Around 50Km outside Attapeu, well on the way to the Vietnamese border at Gia Lai, we finally found some beautiful jungle and trekked into it. It wasn’t the triple-canopy, 70,000,000 year old jungle I write about in BACK, but it was as good as we were going to get that day.
It was lovely and quiet, unusual birds were singing and exotic butterflies danced around the jungle clearings. We trekked through bamboo forests and followed trails winding deep into dense jungle.
For the first time on the trip, I suddenly felt close to my backpackers as they too headed into the jungle, but for them the outcome was disastrous, as they were confronted by problems and evils left over from the Vietnam War, whereas we just had a long, pleasant jungle trek ahead of us and a long drive back to Attapeu with our non-conforming, sullen amateur guide.
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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