Story

The Man Who Survived a Million Bombs

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Lung Ki explores Thong Lor cave as he did when he was a child and teenager—through the light of a torch. Image by Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

Lung Ki explores Thong Lor cave as he did when he was a child and teenager—through the light of a torch. Image by Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

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Lung Ki perches on a rock with Thong Lor Cave in the background. Image by Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

Lung Ki perches on a rock with Thong Lor Cave in the background. Image by Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

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Lung Ki sits on the muddy road that leads to his village. Image By Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

Lung Ki sits on the muddy road that leads to his village. Image By Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

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 Lung Ki waits on a rock while the documentary crew sets up. Image By Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

Lung Ki waits on a rock while the documentary crew sets up. Image By Erin McGoff. Laos, 2017.

As we lug cameras, tripods, lights, reflectors, and microphone gear through a muddy jungle and up an eerie mountainside, Mr. Lung Ki steadily walks alongside us, as this path is far too familiar to him. We trudge through a manmade route, through the thick Lao jungle and up to a cave, where Lung Ki and his village of more than 30 families lived for nine years.

He perches on a rock in front of an enormous pitch black cave called Thong Lor, now completely empty except for some bats and butterflies. But 40 years ago, this cave was his home. We are in Ban Nongboua, a village along the eastern border of Laos, next to Vietnam. The United States dropped 270 million bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Lung Ki’s village is in one of the most bombed regions of Laos, and if you do the math, his region encountered at least a million bombs over the course of nine years.

“It smelled like blood and feces,” he remarks casually, as he elaborates on other graphic details. People gave birth in the cave, people got married in the cave, people starved in the cave, and people died in this cave. He insinuates a strange relationship with the cave—it gave him security during a time of brutal warfare, but also reminds him of his traumatic childhood. He points to a large boulder on the ground and explains that during an especially heavy bombing campaign, a boulder like this fell and killed his father.

To stand and explore the narrow, deep cave was eerie enough, but to imagine living in it while the mountain trembled was absolutely terrifying. Lung Ki’s story unfortunately isn’t unique: Most Laotians had their village cave of refuge during the bombings.

You can hear Lung Ki’s full story and watch as he explores the cave in our documentary This Little Land of Mines, for which we are currently fundraising to complete the second half of production.