One of the most spectacular is the Konglor Cave in central Laos, Khammouane Province. There is a river flowing all the way through this huge 7.5 km long cave and you can ride a small boat right through it. The limestone forest in Khammouane has the highest concentrations of caves in Laos, and in, Tham Pa Fa, 229 Buddha images were discovered in 2004. If you want to explore off-the-beaten path caves, the Pha Laem trek near Tha Khaek is a good option. Vang Vieng, just north of Vientiane is also well-known for karst mountains and caves. In Luang Nam Tha's Vieng Phoukha, visit easily accessible but little known Phou Prasat or Tham Kao Rao. The most famous caves in Laos are way up in Houaphan Province's Vieng Xay district. These fortress-like caves served as a base for the Lao Revolutionary Forces during the Second Indochina War. Other notable caves are the Tham Pa in Xieng Khouang and Tham Ting in Luang Prabang.

Kong Lor Cave entrance from Ban Kong Lor

The Past:

The events leading to the conflict in Laos during the 1960s and early 1970s were the result of history and politics - the history of Laos and the Indochina region during the colonial era, and the global political situation after the Second World War. In one way or another, this conflict affected everyone living in Laos.

Some of the most significant sites of the years of conflict are still hidden inside the mountains that circle Viengxay. The Lao Patriotic Front - also known as the Pathet Lao - and some neutralist politicians made their headquarters there, inside networks of caves, and it became the left-wing revolutionary heartland of Laos.

The people who came to join the command centre of the resistance, and the local population, sheltered here from US bombing for nine years, from 1964 to 1973.

Before the war years there was no such place as Viengxay. But even before the first bombing of the area in 1964, when the headquarters of the Lao Patriotic Front - known as the Pathet Lao - was based in Xieng Xeu village, the leaders knew they would have to find a safer base. When the first US planes bombed the area they moved quickly into caves they had surveyed in what was then called Nakai, where four small villages were sheltered by limestone peaks surrounding a plain.

From here, the leaders of the revolutionary movement planned and controlled the campaign that would finally achieve an independent, socialist Laos.

In 1970 the area was named Viengxay or 'City of Victory'. Today, Viengxay is known as the birthplace of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

A Secret War: 

Unlike the war in Vietnam, the battle for Laos was to be kept secret. While the world saw the Vietnam War, and the protests against it, on their television screens every day, the 'Special War' in Laos was being fought unseen and often unrecorded. Although the US Army and Air Force operated within Laos from 1964, and US, and US-controlled planes were bombing villages all over Laos for many years, the American people themselves were not allowed to know.

Years of bombing leave a deadly legacy:

Laos holds the sad record of being the most heavily bombed nation, per person, in history. From 1964 until 1973, a period of nine years, over two million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos - about 20 tons of bombs per square kilometre, or two tons of bombs per person.

This bombing continue to affect the lives of people in Laos today in the form of deadly Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) that contaminates large areas of the country. This deadly threat prevents families from using land to grow food, and makes it difficult and expensive to build public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, as land has first to be cleared of UXO. Every year around 300 people are killed or injured in UXO accidents.


Photos by Oh! Magazine