The Secret War in Laos: From Salavan to Sekong.

The Secret War in Laos: From Salavan to Sekong.

Above Photo: Giant Vietnam War bombs outside the Salavan UXO Office.

This article was first published a couple of years ago, after one of my research trips. I set my novel BACK in the south of Laos, both during the Vietnam War and in the modern day. Many of the places in the photos have now changed, especially the roads in southern Laos.

Our first stop after leaving Pakse was Salavan.

Salavan took half a day to reach, and was a quiet, unremarkable town, except for the wide variety of unusual and no-doubt endangered jungle animals for sale in the market. Come to think of it, I saw more jungle animals for sale as food in the markets of Southern Laos than I have seen anywhere else in Asia, or the world, for that matter.

A novel about modern day backpackers the khmer rouge the vietnam war and the ho chi minh trail. BACK peter alan lloyd

This one was still alive.

We took public transport the whole way; the buses becoming increasingly smaller and more crowded as we travelled east towards Salavan, although the journeys were always made more interesting on account of our fellow travellers.

A novel about modern day backpackers the khmer rouge the vietnam war and the ho chi minh trail. BACK peter alan lloyd

Note the hunting rifle.

A novel about modern day backpackers the khmer rouge the vietnam war and the ho chi minh trail. BACK peter alan lloyd

Living it like I wrote it: Ever-helpful fellow bus passengers fascinated by my map on the way to Salavan.

On the way to Salavan I noticed a number of Vietnamese monuments and Vietnamese graveyards.

Once we’d found some basic lodgings in Salavan we tried to arrange transport to Tavoy, a remote, small town, lying on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, up Route 15. Tavoy is so off the beaten track you have to ask villagers to show you war remains by drawing pictures of bombs and tanks. There are also still supposed to be tigers roaming in the jungle near the town (although that might just be Lonely Planet traveller bullshit).

unexploded fat albert 3,000 lb bomb dropped by the USA during the secret war in laos unexploded ordnance in salavan and sekong southern laos adventure backpackers

A 3,000 lb bomb – AKA a Fat Albert.

Unfortunately, nobody would go to Tavoy because the dirt road was completely impassable without a four-wheel drive vehicle at that time of year.

Disappointed, we walked around Salavan village centre and spent some time in the UXO Lao compound/war museum, which where I took the below photographs of defused Vietnam War bombs, ordnance and weaponry, recovered from the nearby jungles and rice fields around Salavan (which many branches of the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through during the war).

For scale. On the left, the 3,000 pound bomb, on the right a 2,000 pound bomb. I wondered why they were shaped so differently, and I've been told it may be because the MK84 2,000 lb bombs were designed to penetrate concrete, caves and bunkers, whereas the 3,000 lb bombs were designed for surface bursts.

For scale. On the left, the 3,000 pound bomb, on the right a 2,000 pound bomb. I wondered why they were shaped so differently, and I’ve been told it may be because the MK84 2,000 lb bombs were designed to penetrate concrete, caves and bunkers, whereas the 3,000 lb bombs were designed for surface bursts.

A 3,000 lb bomb - AKA a Fat Albert dropped on laos during the vietnam war

A close-up of the 3,000 lb bomb dropped by the US during the Secret War in Laos

Here are some other pieces of defused UXO in Salavan (A couple of years after I took these photos most of these items were stolen by the Laos military on the pretext of being displayed in some bullshit museum apparently being built in Vientiane. It never was, and was most likely sold to Vietnamese scrap dealers by the bent Laos military officials who removed it).

Mortar round from the Secret War laos in Salavan's UXO Lao Compound

Mortar round from the Secret War in Laos in Salavan’s UXO Lao Compound

USAF bombs dropped on the Ho Chi MInh Trail in Salavan Province during the Secret War in Laos.

USAF bombs dropped on the Ho Chi MInh Trail in Salavan Province during the Secret War in Laos.

A rusting mortar and plate from the Secret War in Laos.

A rusting mortar and plate from the Secret War in Laos.

The next day started badly when we were told the below wooden contraption would be our mode of transport,, for some of the way to Sekong.

A wooden bus - a real boneshaker.

A wooden bus – a real boneshaker.

Bone-shaking down the dusty, wheel-rutted, crater-riddled roads of Southern Laos in this vehicle was not an appealing prospect, but it was all research, so why not.

Views on the way from Salavan to Sekong.

Views on the way from Salavan to Sekong.

After disembarking from the bone-shaker, we drove some of the way to Sekong in a much smaller but more modern vehicles with bench seating inside, called a songthaew, which we usually shared with chickens, long pieces of bamboo, baskets and dead animals, all being transported to local markets, as well as many hill tribe passengers, usually amazed to see us as they climbed into the vehicle.

A novel about modern day backpackers the khmer rouge the vietnam war and the ho chi minh trail. BACK peter alan lloyd

We ended up spending a lot of time cramped in dusty Songthaews like these two.

The scenery from Salavan to Sekong was interesting, but we felt we were doing some seriously remote travelling the further south we went. We didn’t see any other tourists for a couple of days, which was unusual for Laos.

backpackers travelling in southern laos on public buses salavan to sekong to the vietnamw ar jungle and ho chi minh trail

On the way to Sekong. Some of the road was like this…..

backpackers travelling in southern laos on public buses salavan to sekong to the vietnamw ar jungle and ho chi minh trail

And much of it was like this.

At long last, after an uncomfortable journey on winding, potholed roads, we arrived in Sekong, which was another very quiet town, although what it lacked in creature comforts and infrastructure was more than made up for by the generosity and hospitality of its inhabitants.

sekong attapeu salavan pakse scenes ont he road in southern laos

The Sekong Welcoming Committee.

backpackers travelling in southern laos on public buses salavan to sekong to the vietnamw ar jungle and ho chi minh trail

Yours truly, sweating it out, walking into Sekong, looking for somewhere to stay.

sekong the gateway to the ho chi minh trail fanger adventure BACK vietnam war secret war and adventure backpackers in laos jungle face to face

The main road through Sekong.

Once we got settled into our extremely basic accommodation, we headed out get our bearings and to have lunch by the side of the picturesque Sekong River, which itself was part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war. The North Vietnamese would float thousands of barrels of oil and diesel down it, which were fished out in nets at their ultimate destination, to keep vehicles running along the roadways of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Sekong river - part of the ho chi minh trail secret war in laos salavan sekong adventure backpackers in laos

Sekong River looking east.

sekong attapeu salavan pakse scenes river views in southern laos

Sekong River looking West.

After lunch we went to find the UXO Lao compound/war museum in Sekong, passing a monument for Vietnamese soldiers killed in the war, on and around the Ho Chi Minh Trail in this area.

Vietnam war dead memorial secret war sekong laos adventure backpacking

A Vietnamese War Memorial in Sekong, southern Laos.

After we’d visited the UXO compound in Sekong, and saw the small, informative display about the bombing, the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Southern Laos, and the work of the UXO teams, I decided to see as many war remains as I could in Southern Laos. This stood me in good stead for our forthcoming trip to Attapeu, due to the number of unusual Vietnam War remains and relics in the area, which I will deal with in the next instalment.

Early morning walk to market in Sekong, southern Laos.

Early morning walk to market in Sekong, southern Laos.

Below were a few items from Sekong’s formerly large collection of war items in its UXO Lao compound. Many of these were also subsequently looted by Laos’ scumbag military and sold off for scrap.

vietnamw ar aecret war mortar rounds in sekong laos

vietnam war secret war USAF bombs dropped in sekong laos

salavan sekong southern laos ho chi minh trail-UXO BACK-novel-backpackers-in-danger-vietnam war crossover novel unexploded vietnam war ordnance in the jungle students backpackers laos (10)

 

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:

 

location map of salavan and sekong in southern laos

Location of Salavan and Sekong in Laos, in red circle.

© Peter Alan Lloyd

Reviews: Amazon.co.uk: Customer Reviews 

UK: Amazon.co.uk: BACK Parts 1 and 2 

US: Amazon: Back Parts 1 and 2

Smashwords: Back Parts 1 and 2

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.lloyd.94064?fref=ts

Website: www.peteralanlloyd.com

Twitter: @PeterAlanLloyd

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

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