During our trip to Vientiane we visited the COPE Visitor Center, which is partly a museum, but also provides insight into the work that COPE does in Laos. Visiting the center wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we ended up with enough time during our tour of the city to fit it in. The country of Laos has many unexploded cluster bombs (referred to as bombies) from the Vietnam war that are still causing injuries throughout the country. COPE is an organization that is attempting to find and defuse all of the bombs as well as provide medical attention and supplies to those that get injured.
An actual cluster bomb is a large bomb shell that opens up as it nears the ground and disperses hundreds of tiny bombs that are about the shape and size of a baseball. Many of them are buried in the ground and farmers come across them when plowing their fields. Sometimes they are above ground and children pick them up and play with them. When you first enter the center, you are directed to a room to view a movie on how the millions of bombs came to litter the entire country. After watching the movie, we walked through the exhibits, which can be quite sobering and somber.
Going through the COPE Visitor Center is certainly an experience that will impact you in a powerful way. Although it is an important message, the images can be quite disturbing, so families with children should take that into consideration before visiting the center. Overall, visiting the center takes about an hour or less with most of the time spent watching the film.