Vieng Xai Historical Cave Eco-tourism Project

By Chun Li

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About

Vieng Xai Historical Cave Eco-Tourism Project

Project 2014-12-05 23:48:05 +1300

The Project

From 1964 to 1973, the Laos government and thousands of Laotians escaping collateral bombing from the Vietnam War, based in an extensive network of caves in the mountains of Vieng Xai. All government ministries ran from caves like the one pictured, shared with thousands of people escaping the bombings, running bakeries, banks, theatres, barracks and living their lives as best as they could under horrendous circumstances. Now, in times of peace, a Vieng Xai based organisation is attempting to record all the experiences of the residents of the caves during this time and translating them into other languages so that they can be shared with the world. 

What we are doing

In Phase 1 of this project, through Pledgeme, we are raising funds to translate the documented histories of the lives of people living in the caves of Vieng Xai between 1964 and 1973. This will serve both as historic documents and as educational materials for foreign visitors. This being our first goal, Phase 2 will be to collaborate with local operators to start an ecotourism venture to bring visitors from New Zealand and all over the world to see the Caves of Vieng Xai, and learn about the history of Laos as well as experience the stunning landscape, culture, wildlife and history of this unique place in a responsible and respectful manner.

The "Ministry of Finance" Cave at Vieng Xai

Who we are

We are three NZ women who travelled through South East Asia in mid-2014 and were touched by the story of Vieng Xai, the tenacity of the Lao people and moved by the need to document and share this little known part of history. We are working with a local startup tour operator hoping to run tours and raise awareness about the caves. Between us, we have experience in international community development and aid, ecotourism, education, outdoor education and project management. 

Our team, Shelley, Grace and Fi, traversing stairs linking some of the Vieng Xai Caves

Our plan

Through Phase 1, we have budgeted to raise enough funds to have existing documents translated from Lao to English and to format, print and disseminate the translated documents. Once more awareness is raised about the project and marketing resources are available, we will discuss with our partners, the ecotourism operator in Vieng Xai on Phase 2 of starting the ecotourism venture. 

Comments

Updates 1

A day in the caves

17/12/2014 at 8:00 PM

"This is Ministry of Finance Cave", our guide Mr. Yord announces, matter-of-factly. Until a few weeks ago, we only vaguely knew about Laos' tragic military history, that its exiled government ran the country for nine years from damp caves, while an average of one B-52 bomb-load was dropped every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. We gazed around in awe, trying to imagine banks, bakeries, printing presses, ministerial offices going about their business in these now empty, echoy limestone caverns in this sleepy town of Vieng Xai in Western Laos. Now these caves are only inhabited by bats, spiders, weta-like cave crickets and visited by the occasional backpacker, trying get get off the beaten track in South East Asia, and their guides. Locals also use them for shelter from the sweltering heat when working in the nearby fields.

 

"The President, his wife and sometimes their children, lived in this cave from 1964 to 1975, after which they moved to Vientiane." Mr. Neua tells us. He is part of a project attempting to document the stories of some 3,000 Laotians who lived in these cluster of caves, some connected by man-made tunnels, some not connected at all, so we imagined trying to stay hidden from bomber planes flying overhead getting from the Ministry of Finance Cave to the Presidential Cave. Usually an irreverent and cacophanous trio, on our cave tour, we stayed quiet and lay low. Mr. Neau works for the Vieng Xai Ministry of Tourism and has been working for many years to document the stories from the caves and encouraging tourism in Vieng Xai, allowing travellers to learn about Laos' history while taking in the stunning landscape. We had already taken the official tour, which was both informative and heartbreaking, and left us wanting to see and know more. 

 

I had found the Ministry of Tourism office of Vieng Xai the day before. We had read on the local noticeboard that the Ministry offered jungle/cave treks. I followed the vague directions to the MInistry office, walked up and down the main road, to no avail, then finally peered into a dimly lit, unmarked concrete building to ask for directions. "Tourist office?" I asked? "Yes!" an enthusiastic young man replied.  Through a combination of his broken English, my even more broken Laotian, hand gestures, tea and an obligatory welcoming Beerlao, we figured out that, the Tourism Office was closed for the season, but they were trialing some new trails, and would we like to be their guinea pigs tomorrow? Never to turn down the possibility of adventure, we agreed to come back at 8:30am the next day, hoping that we had understood correctly, 

 

We arrived the next morning for one of the most memorable days of our one month trip in South East Asia. For the next four hours, our guides, Mr Yord lead us through the corn fields, dense forest and sheer cliffs, through the series of caves that were both the homes of thousands of Laotians escaping the onslaught of American bombs during the Vietnam War and also the seat of exiled government for nine years. One of my most vivid memories is the entertainment cave, a particularly deep and wide cave big enough to accomodate several hundred people. A stage had been carved out of the limestone for theatre, music and film, on the rare occasion when electricity was available. On occasion, weddings would take place in this cave. I have been a development and aid worker in Timor Leste, West Papua and Chiapas, Mexico. I am constantly floored by the atrocities that humans can commit against each other and the planet. But I am also constantly floored by the tenacity of the human spirit, to still experience joy and love in the face of such atrocities. To this day, the United States has not been held accountable for the war crimes that it committed on the people of Laos from 1964-1973 and the people of Lao are still being maimed by undetonated cluster munitions from the era. Given current resources, it will take an estimated hundred years before the country is clear of undetonated munitions. 

 

Apart from the Presidential cave and a few of the other main caves, there is little to tell us the rich history of these stark, empty limestone caves, were it not for our guides. In his soft-spoken voice, Mr Yord tells us that the occupants of the caves, many of whom moved to Vientiane after the war, are aging and many will be gone soon, with many stories still untold and undocumented. Of the Ministers in office during the cave years, only one is still alive, in Vientiane. 

 

Flying into Laos, the landscape was lush green jungle as far as I could see. It was a world my idealistic Westernised eyes can usually only fantasise about. But things have been changing for many years now, a train line will soon be built from China, making this beautiful country a lot more accessible and it is Mr Yord and his community’s hope, and our hope as well, that responsible, eco-conscious tourism can be established in Vieng Xai. There are already a handful of eco-tourism outfits there, hopefully, the Historical and Cultural trek will add to the sustainable development of this charming historical town. 

 

As we finished our tour, we were greeted by children yelling "Sabaidee!" at us before diving into a beautiful lake in the glittering sun which we soon realised to be a bomb crater which had filled with rain water in the years after the war. This image was a perfect crystalisation of the resilience of the Lao people and their quiet determination to build something empowering and beautiful out of their tragic past. We invite you to be a part of this. 

 

Through Pledgeme, we are raising funds to translate the documented histories of the lives of people living in the caves of Vieng Xai between 1964 and 1973. This will serve both as historic documents and as educational materials for foregn visitors. This being our first goal, we are also planning to start an eco-tourism venture to bring visitors from New Zealand and all over the world to see the Caves of Vieng Xai, and learn about the history of Laos as well as experience the stunning landscape, culture, wildlife and history of this unique place in a responsible and respectful manner

 

 

 

    Pledgers 1

    Amelia Mason
    2014-12-17 08:58:20 +1300

    Followers

    Followers of Vieng Xai Historical Cave Eco-tourism Project

    Vieng Xai Historical Cave Eco-Tourism Project

    Project 2014-12-05 23:48:05 +1300

    The Project

    From 1964 to 1973, the Laos government and thousands of Laotians escaping collateral bombing from the Vietnam War, based in an extensive network of caves in the mountains of Vieng Xai. All government ministries ran from caves like the one pictured, shared with thousands of people escaping the bombings, running bakeries, banks, theatres, barracks and living their lives as best as they could under horrendous circumstances. Now, in times of peace, a Vieng Xai based organisation is attempting to record all the experiences of the residents of the caves during this time and translating them into other languages so that they can be shared with the world. 

    What we are doing

    In Phase 1 of this project, through Pledgeme, we are raising funds to translate the documented histories of the lives of people living in the caves of Vieng Xai between 1964 and 1973. This will serve both as historic documents and as educational materials for foreign visitors. This being our first goal, Phase 2 will be to collaborate with local operators to start an ecotourism venture to bring visitors from New Zealand and all over the world to see the Caves of Vieng Xai, and learn about the history of Laos as well as experience the stunning landscape, culture, wildlife and history of this unique place in a responsible and respectful manner.

    The "Ministry of Finance" Cave at Vieng Xai

    Who we are

    We are three NZ women who travelled through South East Asia in mid-2014 and were touched by the story of Vieng Xai, the tenacity of the Lao people and moved by the need to document and share this little known part of history. We are working with a local startup tour operator hoping to run tours and raise awareness about the caves. Between us, we have experience in international community development and aid, ecotourism, education, outdoor education and project management. 

    Our team, Shelley, Grace and Fi, traversing stairs linking some of the Vieng Xai Caves

    Our plan

    Through Phase 1, we have budgeted to raise enough funds to have existing documents translated from Lao to English and to format, print and disseminate the translated documents. Once more awareness is raised about the project and marketing resources are available, we will discuss with our partners, the ecotourism operator in Vieng Xai on Phase 2 of starting the ecotourism venture. 

    Comments

    A day in the caves

    17/12/2014 at 8:00 PM

    "This is Ministry of Finance Cave", our guide Mr. Yord announces, matter-of-factly. Until a few weeks ago, we only vaguely knew about Laos' tragic military history, that its exiled government ran the country for nine years from damp caves, while an average of one B-52 bomb-load was dropped every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. We gazed around in awe, trying to imagine banks, bakeries, printing presses, ministerial offices going about their business in these now empty, echoy limestone caverns in this sleepy town of Vieng Xai in Western Laos. Now these caves are only inhabited by bats, spiders, weta-like cave crickets and visited by the occasional backpacker, trying get get off the beaten track in South East Asia, and their guides. Locals also use them for shelter from the sweltering heat when working in the nearby fields.

     

    "The President, his wife and sometimes their children, lived in this cave from 1964 to 1975, after which they moved to Vientiane." Mr. Neua tells us. He is part of a project attempting to document the stories of some 3,000 Laotians who lived in these cluster of caves, some connected by man-made tunnels, some not connected at all, so we imagined trying to stay hidden from bomber planes flying overhead getting from the Ministry of Finance Cave to the Presidential Cave. Usually an irreverent and cacophanous trio, on our cave tour, we stayed quiet and lay low. Mr. Neau works for the Vieng Xai Ministry of Tourism and has been working for many years to document the stories from the caves and encouraging tourism in Vieng Xai, allowing travellers to learn about Laos' history while taking in the stunning landscape. We had already taken the official tour, which was both informative and heartbreaking, and left us wanting to see and know more. 

     

    I had found the Ministry of Tourism office of Vieng Xai the day before. We had read on the local noticeboard that the Ministry offered jungle/cave treks. I followed the vague directions to the MInistry office, walked up and down the main road, to no avail, then finally peered into a dimly lit, unmarked concrete building to ask for directions. "Tourist office?" I asked? "Yes!" an enthusiastic young man replied.  Through a combination of his broken English, my even more broken Laotian, hand gestures, tea and an obligatory welcoming Beerlao, we figured out that, the Tourism Office was closed for the season, but they were trialing some new trails, and would we like to be their guinea pigs tomorrow? Never to turn down the possibility of adventure, we agreed to come back at 8:30am the next day, hoping that we had understood correctly, 

     

    We arrived the next morning for one of the most memorable days of our one month trip in South East Asia. For the next four hours, our guides, Mr Yord lead us through the corn fields, dense forest and sheer cliffs, through the series of caves that were both the homes of thousands of Laotians escaping the onslaught of American bombs during the Vietnam War and also the seat of exiled government for nine years. One of my most vivid memories is the entertainment cave, a particularly deep and wide cave big enough to accomodate several hundred people. A stage had been carved out of the limestone for theatre, music and film, on the rare occasion when electricity was available. On occasion, weddings would take place in this cave. I have been a development and aid worker in Timor Leste, West Papua and Chiapas, Mexico. I am constantly floored by the atrocities that humans can commit against each other and the planet. But I am also constantly floored by the tenacity of the human spirit, to still experience joy and love in the face of such atrocities. To this day, the United States has not been held accountable for the war crimes that it committed on the people of Laos from 1964-1973 and the people of Lao are still being maimed by undetonated cluster munitions from the era. Given current resources, it will take an estimated hundred years before the country is clear of undetonated munitions. 

     

    Apart from the Presidential cave and a few of the other main caves, there is little to tell us the rich history of these stark, empty limestone caves, were it not for our guides. In his soft-spoken voice, Mr Yord tells us that the occupants of the caves, many of whom moved to Vientiane after the war, are aging and many will be gone soon, with many stories still untold and undocumented. Of the Ministers in office during the cave years, only one is still alive, in Vientiane. 

     

    Flying into Laos, the landscape was lush green jungle as far as I could see. It was a world my idealistic Westernised eyes can usually only fantasise about. But things have been changing for many years now, a train line will soon be built from China, making this beautiful country a lot more accessible and it is Mr Yord and his community’s hope, and our hope as well, that responsible, eco-conscious tourism can be established in Vieng Xai. There are already a handful of eco-tourism outfits there, hopefully, the Historical and Cultural trek will add to the sustainable development of this charming historical town. 

     

    As we finished our tour, we were greeted by children yelling "Sabaidee!" at us before diving into a beautiful lake in the glittering sun which we soon realised to be a bomb crater which had filled with rain water in the years after the war. This image was a perfect crystalisation of the resilience of the Lao people and their quiet determination to build something empowering and beautiful out of their tragic past. We invite you to be a part of this. 

     

    Through Pledgeme, we are raising funds to translate the documented histories of the lives of people living in the caves of Vieng Xai between 1964 and 1973. This will serve both as historic documents and as educational materials for foregn visitors. This being our first goal, we are also planning to start an eco-tourism venture to bring visitors from New Zealand and all over the world to see the Caves of Vieng Xai, and learn about the history of Laos as well as experience the stunning landscape, culture, wildlife and history of this unique place in a responsible and respectful manner

     

     

     

      Amelia Mason
      2014-12-17 08:58:20 +1300

      Followers of Vieng Xai Historical Cave Eco-tourism Project

      This campaign was unsuccessful and finished on 17/12/2014 at 8:58 AM.