Viengxiay Caves

Trip Start Jul 12, 2010
Trip End Jul 09, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Houaphan,
Monday, April 18, 2011

The journey to Xam Nua took the best part of a day and started with the boat out of Muang Ngoy.  We happened to be sat next to an old Aussie who took great delight in telling us how much he hated Vietnam, which really cheered us up as we were headed there in a couple of days!  From the port we caught a bus 1.5km up the road to the bus station.  Laos buses are very funny in that they stop randomly all the time so we were very amused when the guy driving the bus stopped at a shop for 10 minutes on an errand.  It was a 1.5km journey!  Couldn't he have done it after he'd dropped us off!!!!  At the bus station we were told the bus to Xam Nua would be with us in 20 minutes.  1.5 hours later a ram packed truck/mini bus rolled up.  The driver quickly ensured that we were popular with our fellow passengers by forcing them to move and sit on each others laps to accommodate us!  There were supposed to be 25 passengers on board and at its peak we counted 40!!!

I had some very lovely fellow passengers next to me - one lady who shared her corn on the cob with me and one girl who slept on my knee for about 20 minutes!  Michael was sat up front with the Buddhist monks for a while and had a good chat.  The scenery through the mountains was lovely and our driver was one of the safest we'd had yet.  12 hours later we got to our destination with a few new friends and big grins on our faces.

The reason for heading to Xam Nua was to visit the Viengxiay caves.  These are a network of 480 caves that the communist leaders of Laos hid in during the Vietnam war.  America bombed the heck out of Laos during the war to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail and to suppress the chances of a Communist uprising in Laos.  Up to 23,000 people lived in the caves over the course of 8 or 9 years.  They were incredibly sophisticated and included a school, printing shop, army barracks, hospital, morgue and (my personal favourite) a theatre space that could hold an audience of 3,000.  Performers from Russia and China travelled to the theatre in the caves to cheer up the troops.  After the bombing stopped the Communist leaders built houses outside their caves.  One particular highlight was a swimming pool that had been made from a bomb crater!  The audio guide that accompanied the tour was really professional and added a lot to our experience.  We cycled in between caves with our guide Mr Ung who was a very nice man.  So nice in fact that he went and personally negotiated a much cheaper tuk tuk to take us back to Xam Nua.

The caves were a really amazing trip and we were so glad that we had been to see them.  It was quite an inspirational but at times sad experience.  The saddest part was the fact that a lot of locals didn't even know who was bombing them or why it was being done - the Geneva Convention had declared Laos a neutral territory.  In order to try and comply with this American soldiers didn't wear uniforms when bombing Laos and it seems that a lot of the dirty work was done by Air America.  Air America was supposed to be some sort of logistics company but it turned out that this was just a front and they were owned by the CIA, hence they were dropping bombs instead of delivering parcels.

We had a great day in the caves - it was nice to learn a bit of history and test our brains out again!
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Sally Pethybridge on

Fascinating stuff Lizi and Michael. Very very interesting.

blep on

keep it coming lizi! looking forward to seeing you both

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