To put it bluntly, the minivan ride from Luang Prabang to Phonsavahn was probably the worst experience of my entire life.
Okay, maybe not the worst, but certainly not the best.
I have never really had issues with carsickness before, but these roads were absolutely insane. It was just constant turns along the side of mountains the entire way, with straight stretches that did not last even a minute before another killer turn, which the driver took as I he was in a race. I thankfully had some extra plastic bags with me.
Phonsavahn itself is an interesting little town. It seemed bigger than Luang Prabang, with three story concrete buildings along the main road.
I wasn't expecting it, but I learned a lot about the history of Laos during my time here, including the 1964-1973 Lao civil war and the 'secret war' that the USA made on (had with?) Laos.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. There were 1.9 million tonnes of bombs dropped in Laos, from 580,000 bombing missions, compared to 2.2 million tonnes dropped by both sides combined during WWII. That's a lot of bombs.
Laos also has the largest amount of unexplored ordinance (UXO) in the world as a result of the civil war and the United States' involvement.
I went to the Mines Action Group (MAG) office to see a free viewing of the short film 'Bombies'. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn a bit more about USA's 'secret war' on Laos, about the destruction it caused and continues to cause in this country, or about cluster mines in general.
It's quite powerful and completely blows my mind to think that children learn songs in school about the importance of not playing with leftover UXO, which are brightly-coloured and look like perfect balls to play catch.
Approximately 1/3 of all deaths caused by cluster bombs are children, either by walking in the wrong area, helping in farm land, playing with them, or trying to open them in order to sell the scrap metal to supply a bit more income for their families.
Turns out the town of Phonsavahn looks slightly soviet-esque, with it's stark concrete buildings, because it was essentially bombed to the ground and reconstructed really quickly.
It was pretty emotional to learn about the 'secret war' and the after effects on the development of Laos. It is difficult for much development to happen here when farmers can't turn their fields, or roads to be built, or schools to be established when everyone is so afraid that they will turn up a bomb in the process.
The craziest story that I heard was that the USA provided weapons and trained Hmong (an ethnic group in Laos) guerrilla fighters to help them attack the communist group in the north of the country, but pulled out of the country so suddenly that they did not inform this group that the war was over.
About 20 years later, a European photographer was travelling in the north and stumbled across many of these groups who had been living in secrecy. They assumed he was American and asked him if the war was finally over. When he assured them that it was over, they cried in relief.
Anywho, the town has a great night market, with the best pho soup restaurant at the entrance - def a must to try out if you're in the area!