Thursday, Feb. 18th (Vieng Xai to Sam Neua)

  • Local Laos radio woke us up at 7am, blaring from 4 loudspeakers attached to an antenna tower at the edge of town.
  • We tried to sleep through it but to no avail.
  • Finally we woke up and made some instant coffee (we now carry single serving packages with us everywhere) before walking to the Vieng Xai Visitor Center at the other end of town.
  • We had to climb the gate of the guesthouse on our way out because no one was awake yet.  By the condition of the main room, it looked like the owners may have had a late night.
  • We paid 60K Kip ($7.41) at the Visitor Center for a tour of The Caves of Vieng Xai.
  • Similar to the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, The Caves of Vieng Xai is an immersive look into the Laos struggle during “The Secret War” – the name given to the Laos resistance in the greater Vietnam War.
  • The tour includes a remarkably well produced audio guide as well as a local tour guide who led us from cave to cave.
  • The focus was on the Pathet Laos, the resistance force, including leadership, soldiers, families, and civilians, that housed themselves in the caves for protection against the American bombing raids.
  • We walked through caves featuring accommodation, strategic headquarters, kitchens, schools, barracks, and performance theaters – all showcasing much of the original furniture, accessories, and utilities.
  • Hearing stories through our headphones and seeing the living conditions first hand, it was hard not to feel anger at the invasiveness of the conflict.  Particularly from the Laos perspective, a people who never fully understood why they were being attacked or how they had been drawn into the conflict in the first place.
  • We had lunch on our way back to our guesthouse then packed up and hit the road.
  • It was only a short 30km drive to Sam Nuea and it passed without incident.
  • We checked into Khamxam Guesthouse when we arrived in Sam Nuea and immediately set off to do a quick walking tour of the town.
  • On our loop, we passed a group of 5 teenagers sitting around a small outdoor table, drinking and playing guitar.
  • We said hello, they said hello, then they invited us to join.
  • We sat down on a mat on the concrete floor and accepted a shot of rice wine by way of introduction… the seed of our destruction.
  • Before we knew what hit us, we were singing, trading rough translations via Google Translate, and eating a home-cooked dinner while Cory took a few turns on the guitar.
  • Unfortunately, we didn’t last much longer.  
  • We WAY underestimated the strength of the rice wine and the contents of our stomachs.  Less than an hour later, we were down for the count and had to be taken home – thankfully, by a group of friends with no intentions other than showing their guests a good time.
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