Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions - equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. These bombs were meant to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of jungle and mountain paths that served as a logistical supply route for the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. In September 2016, we hope to retrace the trail in Laos on bicycle.
We have zero cycle touring experience, so the obvious place to start is Vietnam, where traffic laws are not so much rules but friendly suggestions. We will then cross into rural Laos and the Indochinese jungle to begin getting wet, getting lost, getting sweaty. It's not often that ideas this foolish come to fruition.
But there are more consequential reasons to give away your money. Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the end of the war. Between 1993 and 2016, the U.S. has contributed on average US$4.9M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent US$13.3M per day for nine years bombing Laos. Today, the landscape of rural Laos is a landscape of death, posing an every-day danger to the lives of local communities.
If we emerge from Laos sans tiger attached to scalp, we aim do so with the stories of people for whom the wounds of war continue to bleed. We hope to tell their stories with dignity and compassion. All money raised goes directly to Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a non-profit that works to clear landmines and UXO, ensuring that whenever and wherever wars happen, ordinary people do not pay the price.
Photo: Sean Sutton/MAG