Battlefield and a cave
Published/Last edited or updated: 4th August, 2018
During the Secret War, the nondescript village of Muang Soui was intensely fought over by the communist Pathet Lao and the People’s Army of Vietnam against the neutralists, the Royal Lao Army and the US CIA-backed operation that included Hmong fighters. The airfield was known as Lima Site 108 (LS108), the location of the runway still obvious today.
Located at the edge of the area known to the military as the Plaine des Jarres, the high plateau airfield was strategically important to the Lao government. As recounted in the book Tragic Mountains by Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Hmong commander General Vang Pao grew zealous in trying to retake it, even if it meant sacrificing the life of legendary pilot Ly Lue.
Today Muang Soui (also Sui, Souy) is called Nong Tang—look for this name on road signs. There’s little visible evidence of the war, but the main draw should be the scenery along the way and a cave. Whether by tuk tuk or motorbike, it’s an excellent day trip from Phonsavan, especially when combined with Phou Khout. If travelling independently by bicycle/motorbike between Phonsavan and Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng, both are worth checking out en route and a good way to break up the journey.
It’s a straightforward 50 kilometre drive on Route 7 in the direction of Phoukhoun/Route 13. Nong Tang lake, a pretty little body of water surrounded by limestone rock, announces the arrival into town.
At the sharp bend in the road, instead of following the road right, go straight on the dirt road for two kilometres to reach Tham Pha Buddha Cave. In the 19th Century, while under invasion by the Haw Chinese bandits, locals hid hundreds of Buddha statues inside. There’s no longer hundreds but there is one large golden Buddha at the entrance of the labyrinthian cave, which was used during the war as a hospital and shelter.
The path inside leads every which way and it is fun to explore the maze, spotting formations and little Buddhas perched inside nooks. Although there’s the occasional fluorescent bulb to light the way, a torch would be handy. Admission is 10,000 kip.
To see where Lima Site 108 was, back on Route 7 take the sharp bend, look for a sign for Nong Tang Secondary and turn right, following the long flat strip of land running past the hill and school. A little imagination and it’s easy to see how it was once an airstrip.
If you’ve got stamina and time, on the way back to Phonsavan add on Phou Khout.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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