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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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