As is common with cluster bombs, about 30% of these munitions dropped failed to detonate. That’s approximately 80 million highly explosive bombs littering the country that could go off at any moment, injuring anyone in their wake. We visited COPE, a non-profit organization working hard to improve this situation: finding and safely detonating UXOs (unexploded ordnances); and providing artificial limbs and rehabilitation for bomb victims. Statistics show that about 300 people die each year from UXO accidents.
All of this pain and suffering was literally dropped on Laos, and yet no country officially declared war on them. We sadly learned that if bomber planes couldn’t find their target in Vietnam, they would drop their payload over Laos before landing in Udon Thani, Thailand. Our morning spent in the visitor’s center at COPE was eye-opening and heart-wrenching. This foundation is in dire need of financial support, as high-efficiency metal detectors, TNT and training are expensive. If you can, check out their website (link above) and consider making a donation.
We were lucky to get a guided tour of the exhibit, where we learned all that we explained above:
There’s even a part where we were invited to try walking with a prosthetic leg in their training center, something that proved rather difficult! Here’s Mindy trying it out:
After our emotionally-challenging morning, we grabbed a bite to eat and then visited Wat Si Saket, home to 6840 Buddha relics. In the picture below, you can see Ligeia with a number of larger statues, but behind those, all those little arched pockets in the wall house 2-3 little Buddha figurines each. The square complex comprised of 4 similar walls.
As is customary in Buddhist temples in Laos, women need to have their knees covered. So, when we paid our entrance fee, we were shown a basket of brightly colored sarongs to choose from. Ligeia, of course, grabbed a purple one, while Mindy opted for black as it matched her shirt. Look at how pretty we are!
We continued our day, battling the Vientiane heat (it was about 34 C / 93 F), and walked north to Patuxai Gate, or Victory Gate, which was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris with a Laos twist. We found the ceilings and the railings on the observation deck to be extremely ornamental and intricate, using mythical bird-women. We don’t suppose those exist in Paris…
While each set of stairs dragged you to another level of tourist kitsch and trinkets, the final staircase was a beautiful spiral one. Mindy counted 191 steps in all.
The view from the top deck was lovely.
The grounds feature many important statues for Buddhists, including this very large head…
…as well as this very large golden reclining Buddha. If you look closely, you can see Ligeia looking up at Buddha’s head:
We are now enjoying the beauty of Vang Vieng. Stay tuned for an update on our adventures here.
Mindy and Ligeia :):)