Laos Opens Wartime 'Cave City' to Visitors

Jamie Wetherbe A collection of dramatic caves that provided shelter to 23,000 Laotians during nine years of aerial bombardment in the Indochina War, has now been opened to the public. Between 1964 and 1973, Laos became caught up in a secret war that remains largely ignored in world history. Up to 480

By: Jamie Wetherbe

A collection of dramatic caves that provided shelter to 23,000 Laotians during nine years of aerial bombardment in the Indochina War, has now been opened to the public.

Between 1964 and 1973, Laos became caught up in a secret war that remains largely ignored in world history. Up to 480 caves in Viengxay district in Houaphanh province were transformed into a de facto cave city. The caves were used to house leaders and fighters of the Phathet Lao army. Many caves had specialist functions, such as hospital, shop, school, printing house, government office, bakery and theatre.

Today, five of the caves are open to the public, and more caves will open soon.

"At the height of the bombing it was impossible to imagine that tourists would one day wish to visit this place to learn about our experience," said Phonekeo Latsachanh, who lived in one of the caves in Viengxay from 1964 to 1973.

At the time he worked as an official in the cave designated as a trade office.

"It's important that Lao people can now tell foreigners their story," he said.

The Lao government has asked the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Netherlands Development Agency (SNV) and the Asian Development Bank to develop the location as a tourist destination and world peace site that focuses upon poverty reduction and the needs of local people.

However, visitors to this remote corner of northeast Laos must not expect an easy journey the nearest airport with scheduled flights to Vientiane is Xieng Khouang, a six-hour drive from Viengxay.

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