VIENGXAY, LAOS — A new audio tour launched November 18th in a remote corner of Indochina brings alive the story of America’s secret war in Laos. Between 1964 and 1973 America, which was at war with North Vietnam, secretly dropped more bombs on neighboring Laos than were dropped on Europe in the whole of World War II.
Over 20,000 people in Viengxay in northeast Laos survived by living in an elaborate network of caves which are now open to the public. Many of the caves had specialist functions such as hospital, bakery, school, shop, theater or government office. A new audio tour of the caves is now available to tourists visiting Viengxay, which is a scenic mix of abrupt limestone mountains and green valleys with rice paddies and hamlets.
The 90-minute audio tour combines eye witness accounts and a narrative that explains the wider conflict of the Vietnam War. Throughout the 1960s and 70s as the cold war dominated geo-political thinking around the world, the ‘domino theory’ compelled decision makers in Washington DC who were trying to contain communism in Indochina. The consequences were dire for Laotian villagers, most of whom were subsistence farmers.
The audio tour, priced at US$6.50 per person, covers events from late 1950s to the end of the bombing raids in 1973 when peace accords were signed in Geneva. The audio tour also explains the legacy of unexploded war bombs in the fields of Laos today. The Laotian government says unexploded ordnance kills about one person a day in Laos. Many of the casualties were farmers, or their children playing in the fields.
The extensive research, interviewing and translation of the interviews, ¬ which are also covered in a new Viengxay website ¬(http://www.visit-Viengxay.com¬), required international sponsorship. The United Nations World Tourism Organization, the PATA Foundation, SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation), the Australian Embassy in Laos, and private companies in the country all contributed funds or support in kind.
Flights from Vientiane are now available three times per week to Xam Nua, a 45-minute drive from Viengxay. The nearest airport with daily flights from Vientiane is Xieng Khouang, a six-hour drive from Viengxay.
An increasing number of budget travelers have been finding their way to Viengxay from both Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang on Laos’ public bus system. Some tourists prefer to be driven in from the Vietnamese border, 55 kms away. Visas on arrival are now available at Nam Meo, the nearest Vietnam border point to Viengxay. The caves are a 300-km, eight-hour drive from Hanoi. A growing number of tour operators take groups through the region, many passing from Laos into Vietnam and onto Hanoi.
The audio tour has been developed to broaden Viengxay’s appeal. A comprehensive Viengxay website ¬ http://www.visit-viengxay.com has also been developed to mark the launch of the audio tour. The site offers dozens of archive photographs and excerpts of the audio tour.
Paul Rogers, Narrowcasters
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