By the time Mr. Ken was born, the city of Muang Khoune was little more than a memory. Of Muang Khoune’s 62 stupas and centuries of development, only one piece, the badly damaged Buddha image of Wat Phiavat, remains; all other remnants of the city, its great culture, and centuries of history, were destroyed.
It was because of the destruction of Muang Khoune, and the dangers of remaining UXO, that the young city of Phonsavan was born—the current capital of Xiengkhouang Province.
Of the over 270 million bombs dropped by the United States on the Lao people, roughly 81 million (around 30%) are believed to have failed to detonate. And as mentioned, only around 1% have been cleared. So ubiquitous and unrelenting was the American bombing campaign in the region that, today, deactivated and repurposed bombs can be seen in the unlikeliest of places: canoes, planters, doorstops, or even as load-bearing supports for traditional-style Lao homes—typically built on wooden stilts.
However, the most common usage of UXO in Laos, by far, is in the making of handicrafts.
Not far from Plain of Jars Site 3 sits Ban Na Pia: better known as spoon village. There, families once targeted by American bombs take the deactivated UXO, melt them down, and mold them into a variety of trinkets and goods—spoons, keychains, bottle openers, and bracelets, just to name a few.
For the price of 20,000₭—around $1.15 USD—little by little, bombs that had once cost U.S. taxpayers over a billion dollars, as well as the lives of thousands of Lao people, are being turned into useful objects and souvenirs, and sold back to visitors from the West.