Laos is beautiful on its surface. There is a very calm atmosphere that surrounds the country. The old capital cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang don’t even count 250.000 inhabitants together. However, they charm every visitor with their French colonial architecture, colourful temples and tasty butter croissants while creating an enormous peaceful and calm atmosphere.

In addition to that, art and handicrafts are present wherever you look. May it be a silk weaving workshop, a pottery class or an alluring gallery with exquisite class. Even Luang Prabang’s vivid night market offers more than just food. Paintings, clothes and other handmade goods can be found along the, it seems to be, never ending night market street. If you pay attention you might even find a free traditional Lao movie pass or a music presentation in one of the hotels around town. You are surrounded by art.

Personally, I most enjoyed the art of coffee brewing in one of the numerous cafés and patisseries I found on my journey across Laos. Simply reading a book and watching the calm and steady daily life of friendly and relaxed Laotians is a beautiful thing itself. Did you know, by the way, that Laos is only called so by mistake? When the French colonialists came in 1893 they mistook Lao for Laos and consequently named it Laos.

A further impression apart from the French charm is present in Laos. Communism! Mainly through flags and Che Guevara pictures on almost every motorbike or Tuktuk. Lao people seem to be attached to their communist past, even though, communism in Laos is now becoming more and more nostalgia then reality. If you have had enough of the cities, Laos nature and ethnic diversity of the country  (more than a 100 groups) make the country beautiful and colourful.

When I mean nature, I don’t want to talk about the horrible fact that the country with the originally highest elephant population in Asia uses them as a riding attraction for tourists. I also definitely want to spare the experience of a bunch of desperate backpackers in Vang Vieng going “tubing” down the Mekong river. Having nothing in mind than the next drink, they miss out on the dramatic mountain scenery that surrounds the river. Vang Vieng might be the horrifying example of how tourism can destroy a village and its people.

However, riding the bicycle or hiking through the landscape of evergreen mountains that pop up like finger huts from the ground or witnessing the different shades of red that appear in the shadows of the mountains after sunset, is just beautiful. Not to mention the waterfalls, caves or blue lagoons which are there to be explored all around the country.

Maybe I have convinced you by now. Laos on the surface is beautiful and definitely a stunning destination to travel.

What lies underneath the earth of this beautiful country has its roots in the time of the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975) and still today causes dramatic suffering all across the country. During the so-called Secret War, between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped over 270 million tons of cluster bombs in Laos. The country was on their way to Vietnam through the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This makes Laos the most bombed country in the world. The U.S. bombed Laos to support the Royal Lao government against the communist political movement and to interdict traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

One third of the bombs thrown on Laos during this nine year period didn’t explode. They lie hidden and ready to explode under the earth. Due to these unexploded cluster bombs, more than 20.000 people have been killed. 40% of them children, playing in the fields, villages or in the forest. By now, regardless increasing effort by the Lao government in cooperation with many countries, only 1% of the unexploded UXOs (Unexploded Ordnance) has been found. Under the surface of Laos, relicts of a war that never happened are a constant threat to children, farmers who want to harvest their fields and all population.

So when visiting Laos keep the current struggles of the country in mind, visit one of the excellent UXO visitor centres in Luang Prabang or Vientiane and never forget that war is never the right option. Not here, not anywhere.