Secret Places of Wartime Survival in Northern Laos
Often we’re being asked what there is to do in Laos for clients interested in the country’s culture and history. Northern Laos is one of those places off the tourist map, despite hiding natural beauty and a history that can still be witnessed today.
The 1960s was a key decade in the western world. It was a decade of revolution against the establishment. Many issues divided people, but nothing as much as the Vietnam War. It was so extensively covered in the media that to this day the story is imprinted in our collective minds.
Unfortunately the story we all know so well was never fully told. In an attempt to destroy the Vietnamese enemy, supply routes along the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail and to prevent the Pathet Lao (Lao Nationalists) from helping them, the American CIA raged a secret war against Laos. This mainly resulted in heavy carpet-bombing of large areas of the country. These bombardments continued for nine years, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. This war affects everyone in Laos to this day.
At the start of the bombings the Pathet Lao were based in the area of the Plain of Jars, but when the intensity increased, they needed a safer place to continue their work. They retreated to hide in caves in Houaphan Province (now Viengxay) in northern Laos while still being under constant attack.
Today it is difficult to imagine the heavy bombings in this tranquil karst landscape. However at times there was a bomb dropped every eight minutes. This extensive network of limestone caves was vital to the survival of the civilians and the Lao fighters. Up to 23,000 displaced people lived in the Viengxay caves where the Pathet Lao created dormitories, barracks, offices, a bakery, hospitals, and even a theatre so that there were still things to do for Laos’ civilians.
The USA eventually had to halt the attacks, and the terrible bombing finally stopped. It was a great victory of resistance for the Pathet Lao and a couple of years later the secret caves were renamed Viengxay, which means City of Victory.
Very few travelers visit this extraordinary site. However, Khiri Travel Laos likes to raise awareness about this historical area in northern Laos by showing what people can do there and by recounting the survival stories from that time. With the help of a local guide, we would like to show your travelers some of these caves in Viengxay and how they remain preserved as a revolutionary base and their significance to the modern history of Laos.