North East Laos -
Journey into the Heartland
Essay on the Archeology, History, and Revival of Laos
Written and photographed by Xaixana Champanakone
Beginning in 1964 an epic battle for the independence of Laos raged across the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang province in upper central Laos and Samneua and Viengxay to the northeast in Houaphan province near the Vietnamese border. The ‘Pathet Lao’, which would eventually establish the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), fought from their headquarters in the Caves of Viengxay until their final victory in 1973.
This region is bisected by Route 7 and Route 6, along which we traveled to record (in five parts) the changes in the intervening 38 years. I made the same journey 10 years ago in the company of SEA-Write Award winning author Mr. Chanthy Deuansavanh who chronicled the Making of Modern Laos while living, and starting his family, in the Caves of Viengxay. Over a period of nine years the cave dwelling population of some 23,000 people was subjected to daily, at times non-stop, aerial bombardment which saw the highest tonnage of bombs per square kilometer dropped on Laos in world history. Peace has returned; scars still run deep today - wherever we go.
On this return journey I am accompanied by my close friends Inpome, Mr. Chanthy’s second oldest son, and Toh, a Green Discovery staffer sent on this history study tour (for both, this would become an eye-opening journey back into recent history), and our very personable driver Chai with a car kindly put at our disposal by Europcar to get us safely there and back. Chai proved to be a most competent driver and guide. To shorten the trip you might as well take Lao Airlines’ flight to Phonsavanh four times per week.