Bourdain’s Field Notes

LAOS, May 2017—Laos appears, when looking at it from the seat of a motorbike, like an enchanted land. A heavily forested nation of mountains, karsts, and valleys that are often covered in mist in the early morning. The food is terrific; you see and taste ethnic Lao influences in parts of both neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. The people are lovely.
It is, however, a difficult place to get people to speak freely.

Communist governments tend towards paranoia, imagining the CIA around every corner and in this case—though many years have passed—that fear has at least a historical basis.

From the late 1950s until the last days of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, CIA intelligence and paramilitary officers worked from remote mountain villages and secret airstrips throughout Laos, recruiting and training Hmong tribesmen to fight the North Vietnamese, and the Laotian Pathet Lao, as well as controlling a vast secret air war. The undeclared and largely unknown war on this tiny Southeast Asian nation continued for nearly two decades—and in the end, more high explosives had been dropped on the country than on Germany and Japan during all of World War II.

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“The war in Laos was secret; the Russians knew about it, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Laotians certainly knew. The only people who didn’t were the American public and Congress.”

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