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January 25th 2019
Published: January 25th 2019
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Sam Neua to Vieng Xai

This morning we visit the Vieng Xai caves. We are sharing a taxi with three other travellers that we met yesterday on the bus. It’s a bit of a squeeze in the back but I am fortunate - for once it pays to be the fattest as I get the front seat!

Our driver takes us through the mist covered karsts, along half made roads and up and down through the mountainous countryside. It takes 50 minutes and now we have arrived at the visitor centre.

The Vieng Xai caves were the headquarters of the Pathe Lao Liberation Army between 1964 and 1973, the years when the American Air Force daily dropped tons of bombs in an effort to destroy the political leadership. Here, we see the massive war shelter cave complex. The area’s geology comprises large limestone outcrops called karsts which had natural caves. These were expanded using dynamite and muscle power into useful sized caves. Concrete blast walls were added to protect from near misses, and wooden internal walls added. They even added air-tight bunkers complete with air filters in case of gas attack.

From here the Politburo directed the Laos efforts in their war, aided with support from Russia, China and Vietnam. Once the threat of air attack had disappeared with the removal of American forces in 1973, the Laos then built a pleasant village on the site where the politburo continued to direct the independence activities until they moved back to Vientiane in 1975. Interestingly, the original seven members of the Politburo all survived to old age.

We are taken to seven different caves which comprise: living accommodation, a school, a hospital, military barracks and an entertainment centre. We finish the tour after climbing high up to an anti aircraft position which gives us wonderful views of the, now peaceful, countryside. We are each given a fantastic audio guide with realistic sound effects such as bombing raids overhead and interviews with survivors.

It’s 1pm and we have arrived back in Sam Neua. We buy our onward bus tickets for tomorrow and then go for a late lunch of noodle soup.

This afternoon we visit the large fruit and meat market in town. Here, all manner of weird and wonderful fruit and veg, along with some odd meat selections are on sale. Large vats hold live frogs and eels, and there is also rat or squirrel on the menu! We content ourselves with buying a bunch of bananas!

That just leaves us with the task of booking our accommodation for tomorrow - we’re unlikely to arrive before 8pm so we want to know where we will be sleeping - and dinner at the restaurant next door.

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