Hippie Culture in Laos – during the Vietnam War.
Culture Clash: Air America Hippie fancy dress party in Vientiane, 1970 (© Terry Wofford, uwdc.library.wisc.edu)
I find it interesting in a city like Vientiane in a country like Laos that was in some ways the epicenter of the Vietnam War (or the Secret War in Laos), that hippies should have been wandering the streets mixing with the various belligerents and war-related groups who were also roaming the sidewalks of downtown Vientiane in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
At that time, CIA, US Army personnel and Air America staff on official business in Vientiane were rubbing shoulders with North Vietnamese Army officers, Viet Cong and the Communist Pathet Laos forces, as well as various bands of Russian and Chinese meddlers in the city. Chuck in the Hmong fighters of Vang Pao, the plucky Thais and the Royal Laos Government forces and you could have fought both wars on the streets of Vientiane and just seen who was left standing.
The Secret War in Laos wasn’t that secret in Vientiane, where everyone who shouldn’t have been there and who denied being there to the world’s press was constantly bumping into each other in hotels, bars and restaurants.
The next day, out in the jungles and mountains of Laos, they’d all be trying to kill each other again, but Vientiane seemed to have been accepted as necessarily neutral ground.
Of course, hippies were in Vientiane for the opium and marijuana, and not for any war-protest reasons.
Even if they were there to protest, they might have found themselves conflicted about exactly who to protest against, because in Laos, as well as the secret US bombing, the NVA and the Viet Cong were committing serious human rights violations and war crimes, and the North Vietnamese and the Chinese had illegally invaded this neutral country and were occupying great swathes of it into the bargain, whilst the Russians trafficked arms to the Viets and helped them in their illegal occupation of Laos.
Whatever the reason they were there, there certainly appeared to be a thriving hippie scene in Vientiane during the war, with psychedelic nightclubs catering to the hippie trade. The nightclub pictured below, the Third Eye, provides an interesting contrast to the knocking shop nightclub culture of Wartime Vientiane.
The Third Eye nightclub was located on Dong Palang in Vientiane and was run by international hippies who were paid $1.00 a day. When you compare that to the jobs usually offered to modern-day backpackers in such places as Vang Vieng (eg: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-1/sex-drugs-death-and-backpackers-in-vang-vieng-laos/), Sihanoukville or the southern islands of Thailand, not much seems to have changed.
I recently came across the rarely-seen photographs accompanying this article in the Terry and Robert Wofford Collection, housed in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.
There are some amazing images of the Vietnam War period tucked away in nooks and crannies of the internet, and I am grateful for Terry Wofford’s permission to use these and other photos from their collection in future articles on this website.
For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War, POWs/MIAs and Adventure Backpackers trekking into the war-ravaged jungles of Asia, see the trailer for our latest film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil:
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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