When Mark Watson and his partner Hana Black set off on a dream long-distance bicycling trip through Southeast Asia, they weren’t quite prepared for what they would find in Laos and Vietnam. Evidence of the Vietnam War was vividly apparent—in everything from the landscape to people’s farms, home decor, and innovations created from former weapons of war from decades past.
As a journalist, photographer, adventurer, and military history enthusiast, Watson is no stranger to harsh environments and former battlefields, but what he experienced on his journey caught him off guard. He was especially surprised by what he saw in Laos. “It’s remarkable how you can visit a place and be so blown away by what you’re seeing. As an adult who’s grown up reading books, watching the news and filling my mind with history, I could still go to a place like this in 2011 and witness something that’s far greater than anyone can imagine in terms of the impact it’s had on the land and people’s lives,” Watson told Vietnam magazine in an interview. “The country is so much living under the shadow of this carnage, and yet it’s not something you really hear about.”
Traveling from China into Laos, and from there into Vietnam, Cambodia, and eventually into Thailand, Watson rode along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and explored villages, noticing traces of UXO (unexploded ordnance) and documenting it in his photography. “It was an amazing adventure,” he said. “After I experienced this, I longed to go back, because there is just so much there to see.”
“Since I was a boy I’ve had more than a passing interest in war history, so I was very aware of what took place in Vietnam during the war, but not so much in regard to Laos,” said Watson. “I had no idea there was still so much evidence of what took place there during the ’60s and ’70s.”