Take Laos Trekking To New DepthsTake Laos Trekking To New Depths

If you visit Laos, you may well struggle to believe that the peaceful and pristine environment you see was once at the centre of a violent and revolutionary war. Today, tranquil village life, the fascinating culture and the impressive natural scenery of the country makes it high up on many people's list of must-see holiday destinations. But if history is one of the main things pulling you towards Laos, trekking under the ground rather than over it might prove to be of extra interest to you.

The Viengxai Cave Memorial

The Viengxai Kaysone Phomvihane cave memorial lies hidden from the untrained eye, surrounded by the forests and limestone mountains of the Houaphanh province. Only opened to tourists and the general public in November 2009, these caves are not something that you will have seen if you've been to Laos trekking previously.

The History of the Caves

Whilst you're in Laos, trekking through the towns will lead you into the path of many relics and reminders of what will always be remembered as a particularly tumultuous time for the country. The Royalist regime began in 1964 and with it came a violent period of civil unrest which lasted into the mid 1970s. America backed the regime, and as bombs were consistently dropped upon Laos by US aircrafts on behalf of the Royal Lao Government, many were forced to take shelter, including leaders and members of the communist Pathet Lao Party, who were considered the revolutionaries of the time. The leaders of the Pathet Lao remained underground living in the network of caves for almost ten years before emerging moving Vientiane in 1974 to form the Lao PDR government. To this day, the Viengxai caves are seen by many as the spiritual birthplace of Lao's government. The vast network of underground caverns that comprise the Viengxai caves became home to many people during that period, with over 400 caves housing and sheltering at least 20,000 people.

Inside the Caves

Now open to tourists, it is possible for those interested in Laos trekking to also venture underground and see the myriad of tunnels and caverns for themselves. Within the caves, there was once a school, bakery, shops, meeting rooms, sleeping quarters, and even a larger cavern which was turned into a natural amphitheatre, complete with pit for the orchestra. Visitors can wander through the caves, with only their imaginations to help them try and visualise what it would have been like to liver underground for almost ten years. However, English speaking guides will escort visitors through the caves as part of a local tourism development project, helping you to build up a better picture, and sharing all they know about the nine years that the Pathet Lao spent inside the caves.

The Viengxai caves not only offer an insight into the deep and fascinating history of the country, but provide a very interesting alternative to the usual activities you might partake in in Laos. Trekking beneath the ground can be just as rewarding as it is above the ground in this instance.
by Jude Limburn Turner
References and Bibliography
Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who run Laos Trekking holidays. They now offer treks and tours worldwide, including destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central and South East Asia.
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