I woke up early under my warm blankets. It was freezing cold, and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I forced myself up, and packed up. It was really hard to start my motorbike in the cold. It’s about 0 C. It took about ten minutes of using the kick starter.

I rode around for a while. I was afraid to turn the bike off. There was nowhere to go for coffee. This is not Vietnam, so there are no little cafes. I rode directly to the caves visitor center.

The town has more limestone cliffs than buildings.
The town has more limestone cliffs than buildings.

The tour was good. Or at least the audio tour was. It explained the history of American’s secret war and the caves in great detail. The guide only led me around.

This is a really shameful episode of American history. It’s crazy that one of the richest countries in the world bombed one of the poorest for 9 years. The peasants being killed didn’t even know what America was, or why it was trying to kill them. Seeing the caves really made the history come alive.

The people built concrete buildings inside the caves to keep water from dripping on them. There were reinforced room with air pumps for the leaders, in case the Americans used gas.

Sleeping quarters inside one of the caves.
Sleeping quarters inside one of the caves.

The tour talked about how the people had to do all their farming at night when there was no moon. They had do their cooking before dawn, because the pilots would target smoke. Pilots were also instructed to drop their bombs where they saw farm animals, so the people had to keep all their animals inside the caves.

The tour involved riding from cave to cave on my motorbike. Unfortunately it was raining, so it was not a very comfortable tour.

After the tour I hit the road. I didn’t want to spend another night here. I figured I’d drive to Sam Neua, which is only 30 km away. It seems like there’s nowhere else to stay after that for 150 km. The ride was freezing cold. My hands started losing feeling. After about 10 km of only going 40 kph I saw a fire outside a shop. I stopped and warmed my fingers, which had turned pink and lost feeling.

After they won, the government built official buildings outside the cave.
After they won, the government built official buildings outside the cave.

I felt better, and rode on. I went up another mountain pass, and it got really cold. I’d be enjoying the views more if it wasn’t so miserable. I wore both my low-quality Chinese gloves on my right hand, which I had to keep on the throttle, and kept my left in my pocket. I went 40 kph until I got to Sam Neua. My hand was starting to get numb again.

Vieng Xai wasn’t a charming town, but it was easy to get a handle on where stuff was because it was so small. Sam Neua is not big, but it is very spread out. There doesn’t seem to be a downtown.

I checked into a nice Vietnamese guesthouse and got under the covers. It’s freezing in my unheated room, but at least there’s a roof and walls to keep the rain off.

Views of Vieng Xai from the caves.
Views of Vieng Xai from the caves.

Later I walked next door to the restaurant, which is the tourist restaurant in town. They had a fire, which was luxurious. I met a strange British guy who didn’t have any warm clothes.

After that I wanted to find better gloves. But I could not start my bike. I tried walking around, but the town is too spread out for walking. I tried to start my bike again. A guy took pity on my and showed me how to start it in the cold.

It's hard to believe this beautiful landscape was at the center of a huge war.
It’s hard to believe this beautiful landscape was at the center of a huge war.
Sam Neua is so small, it's hard to believe it's the provincial capitol.
Sam Neua is so small, it’s hard to believe it’s the provincial capitol.
Sam Neua's distinctive Independence Monument.
Sam Neua’s distinctive Independence Monument.
Terry
I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

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