Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai – Stray Travel Bus Tour Day 3

Stray Travel’s Bus Tour – Long Thaang Pass – Day 3: Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai
Depart: 8:00am – Vieng Thong; Depart: 1:15pm – Hintang Archaeological Park; Depart: Sam Neua – 3:15pm Arrive: 4:00pm – Vieng Xai
Check out the remote Hintang Archaeological Park, stop for lunch at a waterfall, drive through Sam Neua, and get to Vieng Xai in time for some communist cave viewing.

On to day 3 of Stray Travel's Long Thaang Bus Tour, and we were both tired. Very tired. A crappy nights sleep in a room that had no electricity which meant no fan. Our mosquito net decided to come apart at the wall, so I had to tie it up with dental floss. Dental floss is a traveller's best friend after all! Apart from all that, yet again we had a cold wash, and we were tired of the bus. We aren't really used to this quick travelling. We are used to travelling, then stopping in one place for at least a week, then moving again.

As we were leaving very early this morning, at 8:00am (ish), we met at the restaurant for breakfast. We had to order our breakfast the night before, and our lunch for the day. There was no bread to be found. Just rice or noodles. Which is fine generally, but not when you have already eaten from that restaurant twice already.

This morning we had vegetable fried rice, lao coffee and a large bottle of water. As a treat, we bought a box of butter cakes for the bus ride. We needed something sweet to keep us going.

The lunch we ordered came packed in plastic with travel chopsticks. This time, vegetable fried noodles. Just for a change.

A last minute toilet stop in our room, and we checked out. Our room at the guest house in Vieng Thong came to a grand total of 50,000 Kip for the night.

A few hours of driving later, we arrived at the Hintang Archaeological Park. Funnily enough, the park is just behind a local village. And we had to have a local tour guide take us. Fair enough, we may get lost. However, the local guide spoke a different Lao dialect to our Lao tour guide, Noi. Kind of annoying, but hey, he seemed nice enough.

After we each chipped in 10,000 Kip for entry and the guide we headed off into the hills. On our walk up to the Hintang Archaeological Park was surrounded by beauty. Hiking up steep hills, smelling Lao native flowers, and smoking locally made tobacco rollies. Well, I think it was tobacco. It was rolled up in a piece of note paper with Lao writing on it. I enjoyed the walk.

The Hintang are essentially just roughly cut slabs of rock. They are cut from a type of rock that isn't found locally. Someone, possibly as early as 1000 BC, carved out these bits of rock then transported them here. Their purpose isn't entirely clear. Likely they're grave markers. These things were put here between 500 and 1000 years before the extremely antique plain of jars so its easy to imagine why figuring out their purpose is tough.

Scattered among the upright stones are wide flat stone discs covering deep holes. The holes contained human remains and jewellery. Many of them have been opened and their contents transported to museums for safe keeping.

The walk was do-able by anyone who is reasonably mobile. It is however a 20 to 30 minute walk that's pretty much all uphill. Then all down hill on the way back.

Back in the bus again. We certainly enjoyed being out of the bus, walking and breathing in dusty fresh air. Another hour or two later and we stopped at a lovely waterfall named Saleuy Waterfall. This is where we ate our lunch, the noodles we had ordered last night. Surprisingly, they tasted ok.

The last time Simon took this tour, his group was in the larger Stray Travel Bus. Apparently the bus takes a lot longer to travel this route, so even though it feels like we are always in the bus (which we are), we are actually spending a lot less time in there. Nice to know.

Our bums are getting sore now. And to be honest, I am starting to get the feeling of being herded around. I don't like this feeling. Perhaps I am just having a bad “on tour” day. People have them all the time. It is just my turn today.

We reach Sam Neua. This town is only 35kms from the border of Vietnam. People are able to jump off and / or join Stray Travel's Long Thaang Pass Bus Tour here. As it is a hop-on hop-off bus company, people can get off at Sam Neua, head into Vietnam for awhile, and then check on the VIP part of Stray Travel's website and then book themselves back on to finish the bus tour. Handy.

We breezed through Sam Neua very quickly, and headed straight to Vieng Xai. Translated, Vieng Xai means “Victory City”.

During the early 1960s the US began bombing Laos attempting to destroy supplies (and people) headed for the Vietnam war. They also used bombing to try and support Laotian royalists in their civil war against the Pathet Laos, the Laotian communists. Vieng Xai was chosen to be their headquarters by the Pathet Laos because of the 486 caves around the area that could be used to shelter from the bombing.

Entry into the caves, a guide and the use of an audio guide was 60,000 Kip each. We were running a bit late so there was an additional charge of 5000 Kip each to keep the office open late so we would be able to hand our audio guides back in when we were done.

The audio guide was extremely well done with effective voice acting and sound effects attempting to recreate the experience of being bombed.

Over the years the bombing grew increasingly intense. Laos is still the world's most heavily bombed country per person. The bombing seems to have had the opposite effect from what was desired and drove Laotians to join the Pathet Laos on mass. In some cases villagers had never heard of the US until they began to be bombed. Some walked for as long as one year to reach Vieng Xai to join the Pathet Laos.

Eventually, 23,000 people came to live permanently in the caves. Their lives were entirely dominated by bombing. The people mostly became nocturnal, sleeping in the caves during the day and only going outside at night. The dead would be buried rather than cremated, as is traditional in Laos, as smoke would attract more frequent bombing.

Despite the crowded and extremely basic living conditions people were able to carry on with their lives. Eventually the caves contained all sorts of facilities necessary for people to live their indefinitely. There was even a cinema. Apparently the documentary “17th Parallel: Vietnam in War” released in 1968 was a particular favourite.

We left the Communist Caves a little hurried. Both Andrew and I would have liked to see and experience a lot more of the Vieng Xai caves. Unfortunately, we would be leaving very early in the morning, so no more caves. Bah.

We dined at a restaurant on the man-made lake of Vieng Xai. Here, we got to see a lovely sunset while everyone sat shivering. It was weird to be feeling so chilly. We've been so used to sweating all the time that the first sign of cool air, we need our sweaters!

On the way back to our bungalow, we met up with Noi and our driver at another restaurant. We ended up sitting with them and an unexploded ordnance clearance team of guys. What a hoot of a time. The evening consisted of drinking a lot of Lao Lao and enjoying the finer meats in life – Bamboo Rat. Again, we were told that we could not not take a drink of Lao Lao, so everyone got quite drunk quickly.

We all had a great time.

Total Expenditure For The Day:
Vieng Thong Guest House – 50,000 Kip

2 x Fried Rice (10k each) 20,000 Kip
Lao Coffee – 5000 Kip
Large Water – 5000 Kip

Box of Butter Cakes 8000 Kip

Hintang Archaeological Park Entry (10,000 each) – 20,000 Kip

Lunch to take with us:
2 x Vegetable Fried Noodles (10k each) 20,000 Kip

Vieng Xai Communist Caves –
Cost – 60,000 Kip each – 120,000 Kip
Keep the tourist office open (5000 each) – 10,000

Dinner: Vegetable soup, tom yum gai, rice, fries, pepsi, 2 teas – 65,000 Kip

Total Expenditure For The Day = 253,000 Kip

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Bonus video. A review of Naxay 2 guesthouse in Vieng Xai

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