Vieng Xai war caves
South-East Asia’s limestone landscape makes for some spectacular cave systems - some stretch for tens of miles below ground and feature beautiful natural phenomena. Many are sacred places, but Vieng Xai’s vast network of caves & tunnels took on a far starker role during the 20th century, when it protected some 20,000 local people from American anti-communist carpet-bombing. Entire villages, complete with schools and temples, were relocated inside the tunnels, and evidence of this subterranean life remains surprisingly intact, with a number of the 480 caves open to visitors.
What to expect at the Vieng Xai War Caves...
Close to Sam Nuea near the Laos-Vietnam border, Vieng Xai's position made it vulnerable to American pilots discharging leftover bombs before their long flight back to base after raids on North Vietnam.
It’s a beautiful mountain village, surrounded by sharp limestone peaks clad in drifting mist, and broad river valleys full of rich green forest - no visitor today would be able to distinguish the place from any other remote Laotian mountain village, ripe for adventure travel and relaxation.
Both are most definitely possible here, but beneath the surface lies a vast network of caves and tunnels that played a key role what most of us know as the Vietnam War, although its other name - the Second Indochina War - reminds us that several South-East Asian countries were involved.
The revolutionary Pathet Laos set up their base in the caves early in the 20th century - the discreet location and its proximity to Vietnam were ideal from a strategic point of view. Once the bombing started, the natural protection offered by the caves became equally ideal for protecting all the civilians caught up in the war. Entire villages decamped inside, with between 20-23 thousand people occupying the 480 caves.
You’ll visit several important military caves, including the Artillery Cave, which has impressive views over the surrounding countryside. After plenty of time to explore the caves, head into the sleepy village above ground to meet the present-day inhabitants, and share delicious local delicacies by their beautiful lake.
An easy day trip from nearby Sam Neua, Vieng Xai is a fascinating opportunity to learn more about the not-so-distant history of a people intimately affected by war, even though we now associate them with a laid-back spiritual lifestyle.
Location: North-East Laos
Duration: one day
Accommodation: your choice of northern Laos or Vietnam hotel
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'The landscape around Vieng Xai is superbly scenic, and is tempting for a few days trekking and getting back to nature.'
Good to know...
Vieng Xai is most commonly visited as part of an overland journey between Laos and Vietnam - it fits really well if you go on to spend a few days in Mai Chau before travelling onwards to Hanoi.