sign in a cave in Laos

29 January 2008

LAOS 2008 caving expedition Vieng Xai, Pt 1

                                                           looking towards Vieng Xai

In Jan 2007 we first visited the Vieng Xia area of Houa Phanh province of NE Laos. The Vietnamese border is only about 40 km away and there are extensive cave systems there.

Vieng Xai's claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Lao PDR (Peoples Democratic Republic). Lao gained independence from France in 1949, this was followed by a civil war, and then the communist Pathet Lao came to power in 1975. Around this time, Vieng Xai got caught up in a secret war and became the site of an unprecedented but little known episode in world history.

In the early 1960s the Pathet Lao moved their headquarters from Vientiane to Houa Phanh province. As the United States of America tried to halt what it saw as the expansion of communism after World War 2, Laos became caught up in this secret war. The US set out to destroy the Lao revolutionary movement whilst denying any military involvement in the country.

In an attempt to destroy the Pathot Lao's new command centre at Vieng Xai, the US embarked on a devastating aerial bombing campaign that would last for nine years (1964-1973). More than two million tonnes of ordnance were dropped on Laos over this period - more bombs than were dropped on Europe during the Second World War. This total is equivalent to one planeload of bombs every 8 minutes for 9 years. However this fact is little known in world history!

For 9 years the people lived in caves. The government leaders and their families set up base in caves, and these caves have today become a tourist attraction. In 2007 we were given permission to explore and survey these caves, working with the local tourism body as well as the SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation). We also explored some natural caves.

The 2007 expedition was very successful so a further expedition took place in 2008. These are some of the many photos I took during our time in Laos 2008.

At Ban Navit. Being filmed for TV

 making roofing material

 headman's house


 Hospital Cave

 UXO sign

bamboo bridge
for the spirits
 Tham Minh
 broken stal

On the way to another cave, but we had to stick to the known path due to the danger from UXO.

 shrapnel marks
bomb crater
 another bomb crater
 My shoe fell apart
Caught a big fish
rat trap

 lunch time
 Tham Luak Maat

unusual to see flies in a cave but something had died here
 more ampoules, aleady calcited over

cave used as military hospital

Ammunition Cave -

 bomb head
View from cave

 Looking up at the entrance

 a solitary bat is caught for dinner
Guesthouse cave -

 View to Vieng Xai

 looking for bats

 cave with bunker (above)
Resurgence -

 Francois taking water samples
Fish traps
concrete secure building inside cave -

Roadside cave


© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission