Photo: Mountain views.


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Lying 30 kilometres east of Sam Neua close to the Vietnam border, Vieng Xai is one of the hardest to reach corners of Laos and is also home to one of the country’s most important historic sites, the Vieng Xai caves.

A tiny town set on a plain guarded by hulking limestone karst, Vieng Xai’s peaceful landscape and sleepy demeanour belies its powerful role during the Secret War as the command centre of the Pathet Lao. Those karst contain hundreds of caves and from 1964 to 1973, as bombs rained down, 20,000 soldiers and civilians survived in a hidden city.

Vieng Xai is not really a boom town. Photo taken in or around Vieng Xai, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Vieng Xai is not really a boom town. Photo: Cindy Fan

The caves are the main reason for visiting Hua Phan Province. The principal caves are open to the public, only accessible via a three hour tour paired with an excellent 18-point audio guide. The tour includes the leadership quarters, barracks, meeting room, emergency safe rooms, cooking areas, artillery caves and a giant theatre. Meanwhile, the audio paints a picture of what it was like living in the damp, dark underground, the narration layered with survivors’ stories. Vieng Xai is a truly remarkable part of the country and makes a compelling case to journey to this remote frontier.

In 1973, a ceasefire was signed between the Pathet Lao and Royal Lao Government. On December 2, 1975, the Pathet Lao took control of the country; they were victorious and Lao PDR was born. They bestowed their heartland with a new name, Vieng Xai or “city of victory”. Leader Kaysone Phomvihane became the first Prime Minister, serving from 1975 until just before his death in 1992. That’s him on all the currency.

The karst landscape provided plenty of caves. Photo taken in or around Vieng Xai, Laos by Cindy Fan.

The karst landscape provided plenty of caves. Photo: Cindy Fan

Vieng Xai (sometimes spelled Viengxay) has a handful of basic, decent guesthouses meaning travellers can comfortably stay overnight, though aside from the caves, there’s not a whole lot to do in this outpost 55 kilometres from the Namsoi-Nameo border. Ride around country roads admiring the peaks and rural setting, perhaps stop at Nam Nouan waterfall and the larger than life Kaysone Phomvihane statue on Route 6. We were told that the sizeable building under construction beside the monument will be the Hua Phan Museum, slated to open in 2019.

The most reliable option in town for food is Sabaidee Odisha located next to the bus station on the main road. It’s the best Indian restaurant in Hua Phan—ok, it’s the only one, a surprising find given how remote Vieng Xai is. The spices are right and the owner speaks English, is helpful with transport questions and can do money exchange. The food is made to order and takes time, worth it for the authentic chai which several travellers we met on the road raved about. Look forward to tasty 12,000 kip samosa and vegetarian dishes like vegetable curry, dal or paneer (the cheese substituted with tofu) for 15,000 to 18,000 kip. Meat dishes are pricier at 35,000 kip. There are also Lao dishes on the menu like basic noodle soup, which one diner described to us as so-so. Stick with the Indian food. Open Mon-Sun, 07:00-21:00.

The falls are multi-tiered and impressive. Photo taken in or around Vieng Xai, Laos by Cindy Fan.

The falls are multi-tiered and impressive. Photo: Cindy Fan

Xamtai in Hua Phan province is renowned in the textile world for weaving, specifically the women’s traditional skirt (sinh) and sash featuring complex designs. Handicraft lovers can find them in the Vieng Xai and Sam Neua market.

If Vieng Xai sounds too quiet, travellers can also base themselves in Sam Neua which has more food options, a bustling market and is more convenient for onward transport. Whichever you decide, congratulate yourself on making it here. Few travellers do.

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There is a BCEL bank ATM on the main road in front of Chitchareune Hotel.

Hua Phan is heavily contaminated with unexploded ordinances. Stay on the beaten path.


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Vieng Xai.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Vieng Xai.
 Read up on how to get to Vieng Xai.
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