Explore the fantastic Viengxay complex of caves where the rebellious Pathet Lao escaped heavy American bombing for a decade before giving birth to the current Lao People Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). History, Nature and excitement combined.
What to Experience?
Viengxay is a small town located in the northern part of Laos, just 52km from the Vietnamese border. Off the beaten track, Houaphanh province offers a remarkable landscape of limestone mountains, inside which a vast labyrinth of caves unfolds. From 1964 to 1973, some 400 caves hosted more than 20,000 Lao nationalists and provided the perfect hideout to escape from the heaviest bombing ever carried out in history. More bombs were dropped on Laos by the Americans than were dropped on all of Europe in WWII. The Pathet Lao people developed an underground city complete with a hospital, school, shops, government offices, a bakery and even a theatre. It is considered the birthplace and spiritual home of the Lao PDR. To get a comprehensive understanding on the history of the site, and consequently of the Country, listen to the cave audio tour, the first of its kind in Laos, in which Lao people tell you their story of Viengxay during the war.
Today, Viengxay is a peaceful place waiting to unveil its charms and beauty to the traveller. Apart from the cave that you should not miss, explore the charming town of Viengxay by bicycle or motorbike, the nearby hot springs and the surrounding villages, home to several ethnic groups (Tai daeng, Yao, Kamu, Hmong) and some of the finest silk and cotton weavers. Simple accommodation at a family-owned guesthouse comes with a friendly local welcome.
How Does it Help?
Houaphanh Province is now opening up to the world, the ‘hidden city’ of Viengxay is the centrepiece of an inspired project undertaken by the government with European donor assistance to bring development to this very poor and remote region through sensitive tourism development.
The audio tour developed and managed by a private Australian company ends with these words:
“The war is still having its effect on children born decades after the conflict ended. UXO –explosive ordnance that didn’t detonate when fired or dropped – contaminates the whole country and prevents people from using land. UXO might be hidden under a school playing field or a house, or in fields…. When they are disturbed, by digging or often by children picking them up and playing with them, they explode.” It is estimated that UXO kills and injures one person a day, every day in Laos and that it will take another 20 years to clear them.
The price paid for your tour funds guide training, research and conservation of the caves and the artefacts. This ensures that the local young people with a passion for their area’s history can stay and work in their hometown and gain professional skills. By visiting the caves you contribute to the historical conservation of this stunning site, and to get the people of Houaphanh out of poverty.
The cave visitor centre is open every day 0800-1200 and 1330-1630. Tel: +856 (0) 64 314 321; +856 (0) 20 2266 9022
For further information on the caves, other attractions in the province and suggested travel itineraries for the ‘Northern Heritage Route’ see www.ecotourismlaos.com