Pathet Lao History Lesson
The organization under this name first appeared in 1950, when it was adopted by Lao forces under Prince Souphanouvong who was of the royal family of Lao, who joined the Viet Minh's revolt against the colonial French authorities in Indochina during the First Indochina War.
Prince Souphanouvong, who had spent seven years in NhaTrang, Vietnam where he met Ho Chi Minh(The northern Vietnam leader from the Vietnam war).
In August, 1950, Souphanouvong had joined the Viet Minh in their headquarters north of Hanoi, Vietnam, and become the head of the Pathet Lao, along with its political arm dubbed Neo Lao Hak Sat (Lao Patriotic Front). This was an attempt to give a false front of authority to the Lao communist movement by claiming to represent a united non-partisan effort. Two of its most important founders were members of the Indochinese Communist Party, which advocated overthrow of the monarchy as well as expulsion of the French. That other person was Kaysone Phomvihane. Other Pathet Lao leaders include Phoumi Vongvichit, Nouhak Phoumsavanh and Khamtay Siphandone.
In 1953, Pathet Lao fighters accompanied an invasion of Laos from Vietnam led by Viet Minh forces; they established a government at Viengxayin Houaphan province in northeast Laos. (courtesy of Wikipedia.com)
The Vieng Xai War Bunkers
Deciding What To Do
We rode into town after a lovely night's sleep in our new digs in Vieng Xai. We exchanged some Vietnamese Dong for some Lao Kip and ate breakfast at a place and a pretty good bowl or noodle soup (Pho... pronounced Fuh) We met a kid named Noy at the restaurant who invited us to karaoke with him at the restaurant, but politely declined by letting him know we would need about 10 beers each to sing karaoke, and it was far too early in the morning to start drinking. He recommended we go to the caves where the Pathet Lao revolutionaries stayed during the Vietnam War bombing runs by the U.S. (who according to the U.S., were never there)
The Vieng Xai Pathet Lao Headquarters
The Vieng Xai Caves and Pathet Lao
We arrived at the tourism office at 1pm and by 1:30pm they showed up to take our 37,500 Kip each for the tour. 30,000 for the tour with a guide of at least 3 caves, and 12,000 for a bicycle to get to the caves. The bikes were less than up to par for my weight and Shelly's height so we asked if it was ok if we followed on our motorbike. They agreed. We rode a short distance to the first cave complex. It was the home of Kaysone Phomvihane. He was one of the founders of the communist movement in Lao, and a local hero. We were given headsets with buttons to push depending on where we were on the tour. We listened to a british guy narrate the war between the US and Lao/Vietnam complete with sound effects and personal commentary by the revolutionaries and people who lived in the area at the time.
Large Crater from the Bombings
The Emergency Room
Most Heavily Bombarded Area In the World
The area is to this day, is one of the most heavily bombarded areas in the history of the world! Twice as many bombs fell on Laos than they have people. In this city in particular 4-8 bombing runs were made daily. The city is encased in large limestone karsts that were dug out into caves (bunkers) and some natural caves turned into bunkers. We arrived at the home of Keysone and climbed up the stairs to the cave entrance. The inside was about 6-7 feet in height and stucco walls. We toured the individual rooms including sleeping quarters of Keysone and his family, a main dining area, a kitchen that was bombed and then moved to another part of the cave. They had to cook outside, but careful to keep hidden as the smoke from the fires would alert the US bombing campaigns of their position.
There was also an "emergency room" that had a large steel door and another foot or so of concrete. This room was about 15 x 20 feet and had a soviet air pump with a filter that stillworks that when cranked, would put fresh air into the room. Apparently there were also chemical bombs used and at times they would have to hide in the room to survive. There was also a Politburo room where the council of the communist party would meet and plan. The office of Keysone had a bust of Lenin given to him from the Soviet Union and many original communist books and ideology texts. It was immensely interesting and informative. The caves had a similar smell to the room in Quan Son, musty and moldy. It must have been very hard living conditions for so many years.
The Memorial Gardens
Memorial Garden of Prince Souphanouvong
We then left Keysone's cave and went to Prince Souphanouvong's (the Red Prince's) cave. There was also a house built with a carport which housed his original soviet jeep. The cave was quite a bit smaller and perched on a hill where there was a spectacular view of the city below. Much of the same as Keysone's cave. There was also a garden that he built which was a memorial to his son who was killed by a bomb. There was also a HUGE crater between the house and the cave which was about 20-30 yards in diameter from a bomb dropped there in the 60s.
In Laos there are still thousands of unexploded ordinances (UXOs). Hundreds to thousands die each year still in Lao from the bombs. We even saw many villages in this area that had old bombs as lawn ornaments. Pretty sobering actually that something that happened 40 years ago still kills people today. Talk about cause and effect.
View From the Prince's Bunker
Ending the Tour Early
After this stop we decided to end our tour. There were 400 kids they're making a lot of noise that made it hard to hear our audio guide, and they all stood and stared at me with my tank top and tattoos, snickering and jeering. It made me pretty uncomfortable for some reason. I don't mind a group of kids looking, staring and pointing, but 400 was bit much. Besides we really got the gist of the rest of the tour, and it would just be more man-made bunker caves and at this point we were really feeling sad with the stories of war. It was sobering being an American somewhere that was so heavily bombed by our country.
They said in the taped presentation that they caught an American pilot who divulged that they looked for white, or any color, and didn't have specific bombing targets. So the Lao had to kill all their white ducks and red chickens, as the pilot said they were directed to look for white or red birds as a target. The farmers had to farm at night. All cooking had to be at night and done by 6am. They also had to dye any colored shirts with mud. They got canned meat from neighboring countries and made soup so that it could go further, but also said in the 1o years of bombing... no one died from starvation.
The Fake Iphone and Local Market
Hitting The Town
That evening we drove around a little and then bought a fake Iphone from the local market in town. Pretty basic phone but, we were told that our Vietnam phone was not a phone we can use in any country (GSM phone) and we had to buy another. Only cost us about 50 dollars. But doesn't have 3G and thus no apps. I think we paid too much, but it works fine and we can use it on our travels from here on out.
After all that, we had dinner at our favorite Lao BBQ place, but this time we each got a plate of meat of our own and extra helping of the Dio Suki. Great day overall, and really great that we didn't have to travel.
Change In Perspective
Change in Perspective
I felt bad for these people. They believed in something that is really not all that horrible. I understand why the US was in a war with Vietnam, and the cold war with Russia and the US is what caused the effect that was given to Lao. I just felt for these humble people who really are a good people even if they are communist/socialist. War is such a terrible thing, and I can't even imagine how horrible life was for the people of Vieng Xai. We felt embarrassed to be US citizens and told everyone we were Canadian. Not because we don't come from a great country, but that we were from a country that bombed such a humble people in the name of war.
War is like this. The innocent are affected by the government they have no control over. Whatever the reason, the senseless bombing of a people for power, oil, ideological reasons, or any other "justification" is simply beyond my comprehension level. Hearing the tapes of people who lived the bombings in Vieng Xai was something we will never forget. It's a reminder of how decent we need to be to people. I doubt that through our travels we will go to places that remind us of this. Not to brush it under a rug, but the feeling we get inside from hearing the stories first hand damage us in a way. A way we would rather not carry with us for the rest of our lives. We can't even imagine how the people who actually fight wars around the world feel inside. Our hearts go out to those who have sacrificed this aspect of their mental well-being.