July 30, 2010
Wild camping is usually as easy as pulling off the road and finding a flat, secluded spot.
Not so in Laos. In a country with the distinction of having the worst unexploded ordinance problem in the world ... you don't casually wander off the road and pitch a tent. From 1964 to 1973, it is estimated that 1.4 million metric tons of weaponry (mostly cluster bombs) were dropped over Laos. Between 20 and 30 percent of the "bomblets" or "bombies" didn't detonate and litter the countryside to this day.
The photo above is our tent, set up under a fruit stall in northern Laos. Although it was just two feet away from the road, the villagers indicated that this would be a safe place to sleep. We agreed. We had encountered only six or seven vehicles a day on this narrow highway.
A large crowd gathered as we assembled our dome. I juggled for the kids, who hung around for hours. But they finally got bored of the foreign travelers and wandered home across the road.
We bolted up at 2 a.m. when bright lights and what sounded like a fast approaching hurricane sent our pulses skyrocketing. It was a logging truck. The truckers prefer this time of night because they don't have to dodge villagers and farm animals.
Don't let the above description turn you off to traveling in Laos. If you talk to others who have cycled in southeast Asia, many will list Laos as their favorite. We agree.
To learn more about the issue of unexploded ordinance in Laos and other countries throughout the world, and what you can do to help, visit the MAG (Mine Advisory Group) website.
Photos by Willie Weir
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at http://yellowtentadventures.com.