Lao authorities plan to develop the town of Vienxay into a historical tourist attraction showcasing the revolutionary battles and hiding places of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party leaders during the Indochina war, with the hope that it will attract hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists to visit the caves annually.
Mr. Somphong Mongkhonvilay, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office and President of the Lao Tourism Authority, announced that his agency will develop Viengxay as a historical tourist destination exhibiting the story of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party leaders and members’ as well as their hideouts as they fought during Indochina War. The development of this tourist site is aimed not only to pass on to both domestic and foreign tourists the astonishing revolutionary story of the communist leaders who lived in the caves, but also to reduce the poverty of the multi-ethnic people in the Viengxay district and others in Houaphanh Province.According to Mr. Mongkhonvialy, the outstanding backgrounds of the Viengxay caves, especially the 10 caves where the Lao revolutionary leaders lived for almost ten years, which cannot be found anywhere in world history, make them a potential tourist
development source in Houaphanh Province. After being completely developed, these historical tourist sites will be able to attract a large number of tourists, and tourism experts have estimated that there will be at least a hundred thousand tourists descending on the district to visit the caves, he added.
The Vienxay district, which was the stronghold of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party of the Pathet Lao during 1960s and 1970s, abounds in natural caves. The revolutionary leaders drilled and expanded a total of 28 caves to turn into offices, meeting rooms and shelters for themselves and their party’s members. Lao authorities have so far opened only seven caves to local and foreign tourists, including the living quarters of key leaders such as Mr. Kaysone Phomvihane, Prince Souphanouvong, Mr. Phoumy Vongvichit, Mr. Nouhak Phoumsavanh, and Mr. Khamtay Siphandone. The Lao Tourism Authority hopes to comprehensively develop all 28 caves to serve tourists in the near future.
A major obstacle to developing Viengxay District into a tourist site is transportation constraints. Currently, travelling from Vientiane to Viengxay by car takes at least 13 hours, while small planes are available only on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, to serve passengers who prefer to travel by air. In addition, flights are often cancelled due to either bad weather or not enough passengers to fly to cover the cost of the service. Consequently, only ten thousand foreign tourists visited Houaphanh province and Vienxay District throughout 2008.
As a result, Houaphanh Province received minimal income from tourism, while over 50% of its population of more three hundred thousand people have an average income of less than US$1 per day.
Songrit Pongern reported in Lao on June 13, 2009. For more details in Lao, listen to his report or read our Lao version. (English translation by Buasawan Simmala and Dara Baccam)