Where: Hills of Northeast Laos, Asia
Best Season: Spring/summer to avoid the monsoon season
Best Sights: Amazing trogolodyte cave city
Remember to bring: leech socks and tobacco juice.
Watch out for: Leeches and unexploded bombs
Our Journey Path (As Featured on Wild World)
Zay Harding visits the beautiful area of Vieng Xai in Northeastern Laos to explore caves where Pathet Lao hid during the secret war and learns trekking tips about UXO’s from war
Vieng Xai Cave City
Vieng Xai in Northeast Laos is a striking valley of verdant hills and limestone cliffs riddled with caves. In fact, there are 800 known caves. These caves were the headquarters of the communist revolutionaries, the Pathet Lao, during the “secret war”. After the war, the King and his wife were banished here until their reported death a few years ago. The trogolodyte city was highly organised. Specific caves were designated as shops, banks, factories, printing presses and hospitals. The cave of the communist chief extends 500 ft into a cliffside that was scaled by a rope before steps were added. Its various rooms included a political party centre, reception room, meeting room and library. The caves are located in the heart of Hua Pan, Laos’ ‘revolutionary province’.
Did You Know?
– The Lao communist party was formed in Sam Nua in 1955, and compared to the rest of Laos, communist ideals are still very much in evidence. Loud speakers blast propaganda from 6 o’clock in the morning.
– From 1964 to 1973 the Americans waged an undeclared ‘secret war’ against the communists in Laos as part of their struggle against the Vietnamese. A group of German bomb disposal experts are cleaning up what was left behind. An estimated 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped in the region – more than in the whole of WW II.
– The caves were like complete underground cities, which were finished by the 1960’s and housed thousands.
Each cave is named after the people who lived in them. They also had multiple exits. Russian oxygen pumps were installed to provide air and in the case of chemical attack.
– Some people lived in the caves for 9 years or more, never venturing above the ground. They were dug by Laotian, North Korean and Russian comrades.
– Laos has been a dumping ground for other people’s bombs and a battleground for other peoples wars for the last 100 years resulting in the dubious distinction of being per capita the most bombed country on earth. Trekkers should always use a guide and never kick or pick up man-made metal objects as unexploded bombs litter the countryside and claim the lives of hundreds of locals every year. It is wise to stick to the pathways.
– Leeches can also pose a problem for the squeamish and travellers in the wet season should protect themselves with leech socks and tobacco juice.
– Until a few years ago the area was off-limits to tourists and the caves treated as something of a military secret. Permits can take months to obtain. The trek into the caves is approximately 15 miles (28km) and journeys through one of the poorest and most isolated areas of Laos.
Hotel Phou Vao
Luang Brabang, laos
Tel: 00 33 1 422 754 31
Fax: 00 33 1422 754 34
Po Box 50
Novotel – Accor Vientiane
Unit 9, Samsenthai Road
PO Box 585, Vientiane, LAO PDR
Tel: 00 856 21 213 570
Fax: 00 856 21 213 572
Villa Santi Hotel and Resort
PO Box 861
Luang Prabang, Laos
Tel: 00 856 71 21 2267
Fax: 00 856 71 25 2158
A daredevil airline, which you will need to use if you want to fly to remote areas.
By Xanthe Apostolos