Southern Laos: Photos of a Journey from Pakse to Salavan.
Above Photo: Sunrise on the Mekong River in Pakse, Laos.
This is the first in a series of articles on my trip to the Plain of Jars, Southern Laos and the Tri-Border Area, which I did as research for my Vietnam War-backpacker novel, BACK. I first published it in 2015, and the dusty, dirt roads I travelled on have changed considerably since then.
In terms of the Vietnam War/Secret War in Laos, I had the Plain of Jars, Pakse, Bolaven Plateau, Salavan, Sekong, Attapeu, the tri-border area, Vang Vieng and Long Tien on my “must see” list for this first War-related trip into Laos.
That said, I had little idea on this first trip about the full extent of the Secret War in Laos, or about the covert operations which went on inside the country by US Special Forces (SOG teams) when I first went, although I did have a general interest in the Vietnam War.
I’d traipsed all over Vietnam on numerous visits to the Cu Chi tunnels, the Mekong Delta, the Vihn Moc tunnels in Quang Tri, Hue, the DMZ, Khe Sahn, the Hanoi Hilton and many other places; but I’d never investigated the Secret War in Laos or been over to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, so I was really looking forward to this first trip to little-known places in Laos.
In 1992 I was in the first British tour group to be allowed into Vietnam (a Trailfinders trip). I’d cadged a lift to Khe Sahn, when it was red dirt, twisted metal and scrub. Bullet heads and casings littered the ground, and I picked up a few, along with half a US helmet.
Imagine taking them through airport security now, but that’s what I did in 1992 and they remain in London, with my World War 1 battlefield relics.
So I do have some previous for visiting military sites and battlefields.
Where possible, in this series of articles, I’ll include photographs showing topographical features, as some people may recognize mountains or other features from their time in or over Laos during the Vietnam War.
I now live in Thailand, so a quick trip across my fence into Laos is a much more sedate and less dangerous affair than many people reading this will have experienced.
Having persuaded my Thai wife that some pretty rugged travel in Southern Laos was just what she needed, we flew from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani, then crossed by bus into Laos, heading for Pakse.
Pakse was an outstandingly laid-back city. We loved it. Wonderful sunsets over the Mekong, and a perfect base for trips around the area including the nearby Bolaven Plateau.
I saw no evidence of the war in Pakse, and in fact it wasn’t on my radar at all when we were there, although that soon changed when we got to Salavan.
On my next visit to Pakse, I’ll specifically ask the question about war artifacts and sights, because I feel sure I missed something either there, or on our trip to the Bolaven Plateau, which was all about coffee, tea and fruit plantations.
The Se Don River, a tributary of the Mekong, runs through Pakse, and is spanned by a long, single-lane metal bridge.
Having said our farewells to Pakse’s captive beasts (I discovered later they were Binturongs and they live in a cage in the centre of town), we were off on our voyage of Discovery.
Travelling in southern Laos is a real challenge. The public transport system reflects the utter poverty of the area, but at no time did we have any problems with using it. We just needed patience; we were prepared for some hardship, and fortunately we had all the time in the world.
Luckily we were travelling, er posh.
Here’s what VIP got you:
It’s fair to say that on this first trip, this bus was one of the most MODERN buses we used in southern Laos!
The below are photos from the trip from Pakse to Salavan.
One thing that astonished us on our trip was the unbelievable friendliness, honesty and hospitality of the Laos people. Everywhere we went we felt it or experienced it.
Another thing I’ll say about Laos, and in a rare ‘hats off’ to the French, they taught the Laotians how to grow and make some of the world’s finest coffee. Even in the meanest bus stops and roadside joints in the middle of nowhere we were able to find world class coffee, costing next to nothing (none of the rip-off double pricing we are used to in Thailand) which made everything a lot better.
On arrival at Salavan we were whisked to our hotel by a motorbike and sidecar, which packed in my wife and I, my huge rucksack and her smaller one, as well as sacks of rice for another bus passenger.
In the next instalment I’ll include photos of the many war items collected en masse in Salavan’s (open air) UXO Lao war museum, and from our trip over to Sekong as we moved south towards our final destination, Attapeu.
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 and MIAs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
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