North Vietnamese Caves On The Plain Of Jars, from Laos’ Secret War.
Above Photo: A view over the Plain of Jars from the track leading to Phou Kheng Mountain.
I picked the worst time of the day to visit a recently-opened war site up a mountain overlooking the Plain of jars. It’s called called Phou Keng, and by the time I’d arrived it was early in the afternoon, baking hot, and I had 1,000 steep steps to climb, with no shade from the sun, and the walk along the track approaching the mountain was blisteringly hot.
In the above black and white photograph you can see the South Vietnamese Army (SVA) hunkered down in a field, and just above the (standing) commander’s left elbow, you can see a thin limestone path, leading up to the mountain. The below photograph is the same track today.
At the bottom of the mountain I stopped to explore a quarry which had produced the jars on the Plain of Jars, still a considerable distance away. Many had been left in situ by the craftsmen who’d been sculpting them when rock had shattered as they worked.
A little way up the path, the broken jars were replaced by much bigger holes in the mountain, the result of B-52 strikes aimed at dislodging the NVA during the Secret War in Laos. I was warned not to stray too far off the path, “just in case…”
As I got to the top, the number of bomb craters increased and the bare rock showed signs of having been blasted in the many bombardments the mountain had been subjected to.
Still, that steep, tiring climb made me even more impressed with what the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had managed to do at the top, under constant bombardment from artillery and from the air, when US-backed forces constantly tussled with them for control of the strategically-located mountain.
Whilst the mountain changed hands many time during the war, finally, once the NVA had dug in, they’d proved impossible to dislodge, and I was amazed at the work that must have gone on to building long tunnels through bare rock, many of them reinforced with concrete and iron, and protected by blast doors to withstand B-52 strikes.
Other long tunnels ran through the mountain between anti-aircraft and artillery firing positions, which overlooked the Plain of jars.
As I got to the very top, I could see what all the fighting was about. The views were stunning, and, in wartime, strategically important if you wanted to harass your enemy on the Plain below by taking pot shots at him with a veritable arsenal of well-dug-in, long-range weaponry.
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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