The caves around the village of Vieng Xai were home to the Pathet Lao leadership and thousands of civilians for almost a decade during the ‘Secret War’ that the United States of America waged on Laos between 1964 to 1973. Hidden amongst a spectacular range of limestone cliffs is a complex network of caves, some which which have recently been opened to the public. The caves were like underground cities, with hospitals, schools and even theatres. After the war the caves were used as re-education camps for about 40,000 officials and soldiers of the former government. Among them was King Savang Vatthana, who died in the caves. Since 1997 the complex is open to visitors. The Lao government is hoping to turn this place into a tourist attraction, something like the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh city, in Vietnam
It is a collection of about 100 caves, which are difficult to reach and sometimes even difficult to see. It gave shelter to 23,000 people, and there was a hospital with an operating theatre. But there were also schools, factories, sports areas and even a nightclub. Some of the rooms could be made airtight, so that a gas attack could be survived.
A number of important relics remain and the caves have been well maintained, with plans to gradually open more of them to visitors. It’s currently possible to visit the caves and small rooms where the likes of Prince Souvannaphoum and Kaysone (the founding father of modern Laos) lived during these years. Most senior leaders also built themselves houses in front of the caves after the bombing had ceased and it is possible to walk around these.
The tour is an interesting insight into the war years and helps to understand how Loas developed subsequently, as most key players in the recent history resided there during the war.
The surrounding area is one of extreme beauty and driving along the quiet mountain roads is highly enjoyable. It is possible to visit the caves en-route to the land border with Vietnam.
Source and photos : Experience Travel