Laos, strangely wonderful
On my trip to Vietnam in 1970, I asked my official U.S. host if it would be possible for me to visit Laos. The Vietnam War was coming to a close, and I hoped to visit the wonderful little county I had slipped in and out of while a Peace Corps volunteer in the early-60s.
My host at the Saigon embassy closed the door and whispered: “ Since 1964, we have been bombing Pathet Lao villages in a Secret War to support the Laotian government against a North Vietnam takeover. The Communists use the Ho Chi Minh trail to supply their forces in South Vietnam.” (Note: The U.S. dropped tons of bombs on Laos over nine years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country since 1945. The bombings displaced thousands of peasants. And, to make it worse, many delayed-explosion bombs blew up days later killing or injuring men, women, and children. When the U.S. military withdrew from Laos in 1973, thousands of refugees were resettled in the United States costing American taxpayers over $13 million.)
Laos is now enjoying peace, a stable government, and is a safe place to travel. Tourism has increased as has the Lao economy. The nation’s traditional ways are being preserved but are changing rapidly.
The Peace Corps has never assigned volunteers to Laos, but volunteers serving in Thailand report the best way to travel in Laos is to use common sense, honor local customs, and go with the flow. However, all Americans are now restricted from using roads connecting the towns of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng in Laos.
Laos and the U.S. have cooperated in the search for more than 500 American servicemen missing in action in Laos during the Vietnam War. The long-standing issue of opium traffic out of Laos has been protected by high-ranking Laotian officials. In reaction, the U.S. gave $8.7 million to Laos to help hill tribes growing poppies turn to other crops.