Cave City: Serving as the Pathet Lao revolutionary movement’s command centre from 1964-1975, Viengxay’s “Cave City” housed some 20,000 people, government offices, temples, markets, schools, hospitals, theatres, and factories. You can take a tour of the caves. Start your tour in the garden of the Cave’s Visitor Centre, and be sure to grab a guidebook for the 15-plus-cave audio tour of the sites you’ll see.
The first stop is the house of Laos’ first President Kaysone Phomvihane. While standing in his peaceful garden, listen to the cave’s early residents tell how Viengxay became the centre for liberation and describe early air attacks. Next, you’ll enter Kaysone’s Cave Office, the complex’s largest cavern. View foreign gifts such as a statue of Lenin and collection of books, while learning about Kaysone’s vision for Laos. Step inside the Politburo Meeting Cave, where the leaders debated policies and major decisions. You’ll see the table where the politburo set policy, while hearing how they created solidarity among the people.
When peace came, leaders built homes in front of their caves. Villagers tell you about the area around Nouhak Phoumsavan’s House and Cave, where one of Pathet Lao’s founding fathers lived. At Prince Souphanouvong’s House & Garden, you’ll hear about the “Red Prince’s” love of planting trees, flowers, grapefruit, and bougainvillea, and his morning exercise regime. Unable to cremate the dead because the smoke could attract enemy attention, Prince Souphanouvong built a stupa to place the remains of his son, Ariya Thammasin. Inside the prince’s cave, you’ll learn about the intense US bombardment, and how locals learned to distinguish among spotter, bomber, and fighter planes.
Education played a prominent role during the war years, and the school was in Phoumi Vongvichid’s Cave, where you’ll hear about politician and historian Phoumi Vongvichid’s curriculum and school system. At the Small Hospital Cave, doctors, nurses, and residents explain what medical care was like in the caves during the war.
A stop at Khamtay Siphandone’s House will teach you about the Pathet Lao’s Commander in Chief and how he motivated young students to move to the caves. Inside Khamtay’s Cave, locals describe the military communications, which were based in the cave network, and overseen by General Khamtay.
Visit the Soldiers’ Cave Barracks, where ex-soldiers tell of life in the caves, which included preparing for battle, teaching farming, protecting the village, and entertaining the troops. At the Artillery Cave, you’ll see where the Lao revolutionary troops manned heavy anti-aircraft artillery and scanned the skies for enemy planes. For special events like weddings and festivals, soldiers and locals headed to Xanglot Cave to celebrate.
Location: Cave City is located in Viengxay, about 15 km northeast of Xam Neua on Route 6.
Hintang Archaeological Park: Travel to a Bronze Age burial grounds with “Standing Stones” that predate the Plain of Jars. Start your journey into the past on a 6-km dirt road to San Kong Phan Village and Hintang’s easy-to-access group, with scores of the rock-shard gravestones along a 12-km mountain ridge. Ponder the 1,500-year-old “Menhirs” – long blades of cut schist placed upright in clusters, with the tallest in the middle – that mark ancient burial chambers. These interspersed cemetery plots unveil massive stone disks that cover chimneys drilled deep in the bedrock. The final resting places sit at the bottom, and were accessed by ladders. The origin of these ancient remains are unknown, but a few artefacts from a 1931 expedition uncovered ceramic urns and crude bronze bracelets.
The Legend of Hintang tells the tale of Ba Hat, the ruler at the time of the Menhirs. He had amazing powers and magical tools including an iron axe that could cut rock as easily as wood. Water spurted wherever he hit the ground with his iron staff. Ba Hat and his people used these tools to start building a stone city on a ridge. However, the Luang Prabang King felt threatened, as Hintang would be bigger, so he sent a spy to infiltrate the growing city. He earned Ba Hat’s confidence through hard work, and Ba Hat gave the spy his sister’s hand in marriage. The deceiver then convinced Ba Hat to build a tower from which, he claimed, people could see Luang Prabang. Many ascended the tower, including Ba Hat’s sister, and the spy then burned it down, killing all the climbers.
Ba Hat took his magic tools and moved to build a new city in Pha Te. Upon arriving, he sat on a stone, and struck it with his staff. This opened a rift into which Ba Hat fell. Others dove in after him and also died, except the last women jumper who survived. She clambered from the hole, walked to Luang Prabang and told the story to the French, who recorded it.
Location: To reach Hintang Archaeological Park, travel south of Xam Neua on Route 6A past the turn off to Houameuang District centre to Ban Phao. A sign will point you to a 6-km dirt road to San Kong Phan and the Hintang burial sites.
Independence Monument: Have a look at the Independence Monument built on a hilltop in the town’s northwest in 1978, a testimonial to Laos’ liberation a few years earlier.
Location: You can walk or cycle to the monument in Xam Neua Town. It is located north of town on the left hand side of Pathi Road after the twin stupas.