UXO Museum – Luang Prabang

This is a post that I’ve been putting off for a long time.  Why?  It’s not a particularly pleasing topic, but it’s one that needs to be covered.  Heidi and I knew the place was going to be a bit rough, but wanted to visit it anyway.  As a tourist, it’s easy to see all of the fun stuff.  Beaches, cities, waterfalls, and the like are worthwhile but in this post, I’ll cover the UXO Museum we visited.

UXO Visitors Center Luang Prabang Laos (2)

If you don’t know, UXO stands for UneXploded Ordnance.  That’s a military phrase for unexploded bombs or mines.  You probably see where I’m going with this.  The short of it is this:

From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2 Million tons of ordnance on Laos.

This bombing was kept secret from the public, with military officials, as well as the President of the United States, stating that there was no U.S. presence in Laos.  I could compare the similarities of the past, to what is going on now, but that’s not what this post is about.

All of that ordnance that was dropped during those nine years makes Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.  Obviously, many villages were destroyed, lives lost, and hundreds of thousands displaced.  But it’s the ongoing toll that brought us to visit the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Museum in Luang Prabang.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the ordnance dropped across Laos never detonated. Cluster bombs (a big metal casing with hundreds of bomblets) are the biggest risk to communities in Laos.  Here are a couple of typical scenarios:

  • A boy is walking in a field, and sees a shiny ball in the mud, and goes to pick it up, it detonates and kills him.
  • A farmer is plowing his field, and his hoe hits an obstruction which the farmer tries to remove.  It blows up, and he loses his leg.

This has taken place over the last 50 decades.  While U.S. kids are being taught to look both ways before crossing the road, Lao kids are learning to not pick up metal balls or go in unmarked fields.  Pretty sad, huh?

The purpose of the UXO LAO organization is to educate, as well as remove the unexploded ordnance.  The staff member at the museum informed us at present, about 1 person a day is impacted in Laos by these. Statistics from their site:

“Around 12,000 UXO-related accidents occurred since 1973. Data gathered by UXO Lao in areas where it operates in from 1999 to present, show 934 casualties, divided into 655 injuries and 279 deaths. Data indicate more than 50% of the victims are children and more than 81% are male. Bombies are the most common cause of accidents.  Please note that UXO Lao only receives reports of UXO accidents in areas it operates in. Actual UXO accidents nationwide may be more than this.”

The biggest risks listed by the UXO LAO are:

UXO BombiesCLUSTER MUNITIONS (BOMBIES)
Cluster munitions are the main cause of UXO casualties. Bombies are considered as the highest risk.

48% of UXO found, removed or destroyed
UXO Land Serviced AmmunitionLAND SERVICED AMMUNITION
Rockets, shells, mortars, and the like are a hazard, but not high risk.

51% of UXO found, removed or destroyed
UXO Big BombsGENERAL PURPOSE BOMBS
GP bombs are a hazard, but not high risk.
UXO Land MinesLAND MINES
Mines cause very few casualties, hazard, but not high risk.

While we were there, we saw all of the above ordnance, and watched videos of how the UXO had affected a person, family, and community.  It was pretty hard to see the aftermath of these unexploded munitions.  It is a small place, but makes a very big impression.

If you do visit Luang Prabang, it’s a worthwhile place to visit.  As an American, it makes me ashamed of what my government did, but we need to remind ourselves about this, and to not let it happen again.  I don’t know if Anya really understood the meaning of it all, but it definitely affected Lars, and we had a good talk about it on our walk home.

http://www.uxolao.gov.la/
Telephone:  +856 71 71 252073
Prices:  Admission by donation
Hours:  8:00 – 11:45AM & 2:00 – 4:00PM Mon-Fri

UXO Museum - Luang Prabang

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About Alan Wagoner

Alan digs on technology and travel and is definitely the comic in the family. He’s traveled all over the globe in search of cultural experiences. He has a fantastic wife and two great children that put up with his “humor”, and luckily they all love travel as well. In Aug 2012, they sold their house and all of their possessions and moved to Spain to soak up the culture. He has written a book titled Live In Spain to help those wanting to obtain a Spanish Resident Visa. He also loves to write about the funnier side of the family’s adventures.

2 thoughts on “UXO Museum – Luang Prabang

  1. Delighted to ead this post and to hear about the museum! As a journalist in the region in the late 1999s I covered the release of the first UXO report and was hooked by their strange story and the persistence of their presence, especially the little yellow balls of destruction. I wasn’t aware a museum had been built in LP and think it is a good idea that will help raise awareness. Thank you for beinging it to my attention!

    • I’m glad you liked the post Leyla. It’s tough seeing a place like the UXO museum, but they’re doing good work, so any exposure on the program is definitely needed.

      Thanks for commenting!

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