You’ll find a string of caves with specific wartime purposes from Cave City and on Route 6 between Xam Neua Town and the Vietnamese border.
Viengxay Cave City
Viengxay’s “Cave City” housed some 20,000 people, when it served as Pathet Lao revolutionary movement’s command centre from 1964-1975. They designated individual caverns for specific purposes: government offices, factories, temple, market, school, hospital, and even entertainment.
Start your tour in the garden of the Cave’s Visitor Centre. Be sure to grab a guidebook and jump on the audio tour for the 15-plus caves and sites you’ll see.
Kaysone Phomvihane’s House: Stand in the peaceful garden in front of the house of Laos’ first President Kaysone Phomvihane.
Kaysone Phomvihane’s Cave Office: Enter President Kaysone’s office in the complex’s largest cave, and learn about his vision for Laos. The museum-like cavern, near his house, displays foreign gifts, such as a statue of Lenin, and the president’s collection of books.
Politburo Meeting Room: Step inside the Politburo Meeting Cave, where the leaders debated policies and made major decisions. You’ll see the table where the politburo held meetings, while learning how they created solidarity among the people.
Nouhak Phoumsavan’s House: When peace came, leaders built homes in the pastoral setting in front of their caves. Explore the area around the house and cave of Nouhak Phoumsavan, one of Pathet Lao’s founding fathers.
Prince Souphanouvong’s House & Garden: Known as the revolutionary “Red Prince”, Prince Souphanouvong also loved gardening. You can walk among the trees, flowers, grapefruit, and bougainvillea he planted around his house, and that he used for his morning exercise regime. The grounds also holds the stupa that Prince Souphanouvong erected to hold the remains of his son, Ariya Thammasin. The prince couldn’t cremate the body, as the smoke would attract the enemy’s attention.
Prince Souphanouvong’s Cave: Inside the prince’s cave, learn about the intense bombardment unleashed by Air America’s “Ravens”, and how locals learned to distinguish among spotter, bomber, and fighter planes.
Nouhak Phoumsavan’s Cave: Finding and cooking food was risky during bombardments, with smoke revealing the Lao people’s position. Inside this cave, you’ll learn how locals grew, cooked, and distributed food.
Phoumi Vongvichid’s Cave: Education played a prominent role during the war years, and respected politician and historian Phoumi Vongvichid’s created the curriculum and school system. Teachers held classes in the cave named for him.
Sithone Kommadam’s Cave: Sithone Kommadam was a key figure in the Pathet Lao, and known as a fierce warrior. Inside the cave, you’ll find out about his hardships during the early war years.
Small Hospital Cave: Get the doctors, nurses, and residents’ perspective of wartime medical care in the caves staffed by Lao, Vietnamese, and Cubans. It was also called the “Friendship Hospital”.
General Khamtay Siphandone’s House: Khamtay Siphandone was the Commander in Chief of the Lao People’s Liberation Army and a member of the Politburo. At his house, you’ll hear how he motivated young students to move to the caves.
General Khamtay Siphandone’s Cave: Listen to locals describe the importance of military communications, which were based in this cave network, and overseen by General Khamtay Siphandone.
Soldiers’ Cave Barracks: Ex-soldiers tell the story of life in this large cave barracks. Learn how they prepared for battle, taught farming, protected the village, and entertained other troops in these caves.
Artillery Cave: Residents paint a picture of the well-positioned Artillery Cave, where the Lao revolutionary troops manned heavy anti-aircraft artillery and scanned the skies for enemy planes.
Xanglot Cave: Even soldiers and war victims need entertainment and a place to observe special occasions like weddings and festivals. Locals describe how they celebrated during wartime, though on a smaller scale.
Route 6 Caves
Hop on a motorbike and inspect the many caves that dot Route 6 between Viengxay and Vietnam. The road meanders through the mountain scenery during a 50-km one-way ride.
Lao-Cuba Cave: Start at the Lao-Cuba Friendship Hospital Cave, one of the most impressive grottoes in the entire cave complex. The hospital cave, near Xam Neua, houses one ward for men, one for women, and another for intensive care patients.
Sewing Cave: To streamline clothes and uniform production, the Sewing Cave was set up in 1969 at Ban Som Village, about 500 metres from the south side of the main road. In 1973, a factory was constructed outside the cave, which operated around the clock with 200 workers until 1986. Textiles can still be purchased directly from local people.
Textile Cave: Established in 1966, to meet the demand for clothes and uniforms, the Pathet Lao opened the Textile Cave. It sits about 1 km off the main road some 1.5 km east of the Sewing Cave and Ban Som Village. In 1972, the USSR outfitted the cave with equipment to produce large quantities of cotton materials, towels, and mosquito nets. The cave ceased production in 1986. Access requires a local guide.
Steel Cave: The Steel Cave began manufacturing and selling shovels, hoes, picks, watering cans, knives, nuts, and bolts in 1968. By the early 1970s, the USSR had delivered production machinery, and at its peak, the cave employed 250 workers, before closing in 1989. It is near the Vietnam border in Ban Xieng, about 50 km east of Viengxay and about 2.5 km northeast of the main road.