Victoria and Tim explore North America via RV (and sometimes the world ;)
Crossing into Laos and exploring the caves of Viang Xai
The road from Mai Chau was challenging at times for two people and two backpacks on one motorbike, especially after a good rain. There was one spot in particular that halted us in our journey. In rural Vietnam, a nice paved road turned into a gravel road which the turned into a huge mud puddle. After having driven nearly an hour all we could do was stare at it, both of us pondering our next action. It was then a miracle happened. A local on a motorbike, fully loaded with a mountain of stuff (chickens, plastic bottles, etc.) passed us by and with full confidence maneuvered his bike through the giant puddle with no complications. Maybe it was the shot of whiskey a local man gave me before leaving Mai Chau that day or maybe it was something else, but I said “Go for it!” Obviously we made it through but just warning, it can get a little hairy here and there. That was by far the worst spot. We stayed one night in Quan Son before heading the border the next day.
The Na Meo border crossing was very relaxed and easy. It was a Sunday and we were the only people there. The Vietnamese officer gave us a few tips on how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in Laotian. It costs 200,000 VMD or ($10) to export the bike. Once we got to the Laos side it was $3 to import the bike and $40 each for our 30 day visa. The road on the Laos side isn’t all that great but not too bad. A little bumpy and pot-holish (that’s a word now). Nothing a little Paracetamol (Asian Tylenol) won’t fix. We passed little villages where people will either stare at you in utter surprise (like they haven’t seen a white person before) or warmly wave and welcome you with a resounding “HELLO!!!” It’s heartwarming when the village kids run down the steps of their huts to wave at us as we pass.
Our first night in Laos was in Viang Xai. We stayed at Chitchareune Hotel for only 100,000 kip ($12.50) a night. It was a good deal. We had a huge comfy king size bed, flat screen smart tv, and air conditioning. Ohhhh happy dayyy. There isn’t really much to this town, in fact it seems like a post-apocalyptic ghost town when you arrive. There is however some very interesting history regarding the impact the Vietnamese War had on the people. Like the people living in the tunnels in Vietnam the Laotian people sought refuge in the many caves that surround the area.
Tim and I decided to take the audio tour of the caves which is 60,000 kip ($7). It sounds cheesy but it turned out to be pretty cool. First of all we were the only people on the tour which includes a (very little) English-speaking guide. The audio tour had good music, real interviews from survivors and the narrator sounded kind of like a British Morgan Freeman so it was easy to pay attention. I’m not a big history buff, so I had no clue about this “secret” war that the US had going on with Laos during the Vietnam War. So here’s the Readers Digest version The U.S. bombed Laos because they wanted to stop communism and Laos was believed to play a part in its expansion. Planes bombed Laos everyday from 1964 to 1973. Thousands of people belonging to the communist faction sought refuge in the caves from the bombs. The people had to learn life without being seen by the planes, spending most of the lives in the caves. Interesting facts – 1) They only had one hour to cook, 0500-0600, all the meals of the day so smoke wouldn’t be seen. 2) All the clothing they had that was white they rolled in mud to dye it brown. 3) They had ducks and chickens but if one was born white or red they would kill it. They learned this from a captured pilot who told them that he was told to look for chickens. There are many caves in the area but we were only allowed to go into 7 on the tour. Some caves were natural and some were a mix of natural and man-made (via dynamite). Some caves, that housed the bigwigs in the communist movement, had airtight bomb shelters within them that had these really awesome oxygen pumps (provided by the Russian’s). One of them still worked and you could feel the air coming out with manual cranking.
One story stood out to me from the tour. We ascended a steep staircase to the mouth of a cave where the anti-aircraft artillery would attempt to shoot down the planes. We listened to a survivor tell us his story about when he shot one down. The people ran out to the plane to try and capture the pilot but he wouldn’t come out. Suddenly another plane came and started shooting at the people so they had to run back to the caves. Lucky for him, the pilot was rescued. It seemed like a scene from a movie. Standing where the Laotians were shooting down planes in the valley and imagining the scene of them running out to the plane. It felt very real. Viang Xai wasn’t even named until after the war was over, it means “City of Victory.”
Hello, I’m Victoria. I was born and raised in Savannah, Ga. I am a traveling nurse that specializes in critical care. My husband Tim and I purchased a fifth wheel RV and live on it full time. In between jobs, we will adventure within and outside of the U.S. I hope you enjoy reading about our travels and hope our posts help people out with theirs.