22nd September 2016
If dawn beside Kong Lor Cave is my favourite place to wake up in Laos, my favourite place to fall sleep would be Vieng Xai, nestled among the towering limestone karsts, surrounded by the secret cave city that plotted the revolution. For nine years bombs rained down on the north eastern, central and southern provinces of Laos. The regions natural beauty of green and emerald surroundings juxtaposed with the blood and sacrifice of the people never fails to move me.
That sacrifice became even more real when our recce trip arrived in Ban Nonbua, at the northern end of the Ho Chi Minh trail. The US military tried everything from bombs to soap (to turn the trail to mud) to block this key supply Vietnamese communist supply line, but amid huge sacrifice the resolve of the people held strong.
Sitting just outside a cave on the edge of his village, Mr Lung Ky drew heavily on a local cheroot, and explained how he and his friend Mr Nyaa survived in the cave behind as bombs rained down on them - for 9 years. We listened intently as the two elderly friends recounted the stories of their struggle. The fields around us were littered with craters from the intense US bombing of the trail. Mr Lum Ky fiddled with a casing marked ‘eject’ and ‘safe’. He explained it was from a parachuted floodlight that the US sent down to illuminate the trail and identify targets. He explained about the many paths in the area that were used as supply lines for Vietnamese troops. We learnt the Vietnamese brought food and even entertainment to the caves, with traveling artists and film shows.
Mr Lum Ky laughed when we asked if anyone was born in the caves and said yes, of course – there were even wedding ceremonies held in the cave. Inevitably there were deaths; he spoke of his father, a cave sentry being killed in 1969 when he ventured outside when Lum Ky was just 6 years old. He told us that the Vietnamese troops were sometimes chained to their anti aircraft guns to prevent them deserting their posts.
I asked the two survivors what they thought of America now and they said they had no problem – that was war and things were different. I told them President Obama is visiting Laos in September – hopefully to announce a major increase in funding to clear up the remnants of war.
Later, we shared food together, silently, reflecting on the sacrifices people make amid their determination to survive - and how powerful the spirit of forgiveness is.
This is not currently a Wild Frontiers tour, however we could arrange it as private group travel, led by Mark, should there be interest.