Vieng Xay in northeastern Laos lies in a pretty spectacular valley of green hills and limestone cliffs. It’s the caves that litter those cliffs, however, that draw the most visitors. Used as shelter by the Pathet Lao from the US bombing campaign that made Laos the most heavily bombed country in history, these caves supported around 20,000 people. Living underground for nine years of near-constant bombings, they established whole hidden cities with schools, hospitals, markets, government ministries, a radio station, a theater and military barracks.
Best Time to Go
The wet season runs from April or May to October and the best time to visit is directly after it ends, as the rice fields will be a lush green. The rest of the dry season from November to March and the hot season from March to April/May are fine too, but the farther removed from October, the browner the fields get.
Getting to Vieng Xay
Songthaew make the 30 km trip from Xam Neua all day long. As a foreigner, you will be charged a bit more, but shouldn’t pay more than 25,000 Kip (you’ll probably be able to get them to 20,000). Alternatively, you could rent a motorbike in Xam Neua for 50,000 Kip. That will take some bargaining, too.
If you arrived by motorbike, use that. If not, you will probably want bikes to see the caves. Standard bicycles cost 10,000 Kip per tour or 20,000 Kip per day; mountain bikes are 15,000 Kip per tour or 30,000 Kip per day. The town itself is small enough to walk around.
You’ll find a handful of guesthouses in town with rooms from 50,000 Kip. They are all pretty similar, i.e. pretty basic. None of them are really busy and you’ll have no trouble finding a place to sleep. If you prefer to book ahead, the Naxai II Guesthouse has the best location.
Eating & Drinking
Nothing exciting, but having a Beer Lao on an outdoor terrace overlooking the lake is a nice way to spend an evening
The guesthouses all serve food and you’ll find some restaurants with outdoor terraces by the lake. For the cheapest meals, head to the market for simple rice or noodle dishes.
Things to Do
The caves are the thing to do and the Vieng Xai Caves Visitor Centre (open all week, 8:00-12:00 and 13:30-16:30; tel: 064 314321) is the jumping off point. English tours to the caves are offered every day at 9:00 and 13:00 for 60,000 Kip. You can go anytime during the day, but you’ll have to pay an extra 50,000 outside those two times. The visitor center also offers tourist information for the town and the region.