Exploring a Mysterious North Vietnamese Army Cave in Northern Laos.
Inside Pranoi Cave, Muang Noi, Northern Laos.
I’d heard there were a few caves near Muang Noi in northern Laos, not far from the Chinese border, so I decided to go and take a look – I’ve learned in Laos that where there’s a cave there’s usually a Secret War site worth seeing.
This meant travelling on a small boat along the Nam Ou river, passing stunning jungle-clad karst mountains, brilliantly lit in the morning sun.
When we got to Muang Noi, I discovered there was no internet, no roads in or out, and just two dirt tracks cutting through the small riverside hamlet. Apparently its remoteness meant, in former times, it was an ideal opium-smoking Hippie hangout.
I was surprised to see so many cluster bomb casings lying around the village, which told me the cave would be worth visiting, if this remote place had received so much US bombing attention during the Vietnam War.
So I set off on a hot hike through the jungle and up a steep limestone cliff to visit Pranoi Cave and a viewpoint over the surrounding countryside.
I met an old Laotian villager who said Pranoi cave had been used as a bomb shelter for the villagers during the Vietnam War, although there was a larger one, where he sheltered with his family and most of the other villagers, which lay in a different direction.
He said Pranoi Cave had been pasted by bombs and napalm by US planes during the Secret War in Laos, and the mountain had been stripped of vegetation by defoliants, because the US believed the North Vietnamese army had used it as a base.
I asked had they used it as a base, and he said no, although I’m well aware that Laotians don’t really know much about the war, even when it’s on their own doorstep, so I decided to check it out anyway.
After a short but steep walk, I arrived at the deceptively small cave mouth and entered by squeezing over rocks. Once inside, I was surprised to discover the cave was huge, and it went back for hundreds of metres.
I had come well equipped with flashlights, and spent a long time walking through the cave looking at stalactites and stalagmites, and of course, I found a lot of war junk.
I saw the same morphine bottles, rations’ cans and rusting metal remains I’ve seen in other Vietnam War caves used by the North Vietnamese Army as hospitals in Laos, and I also saw bones, which may have been human remains.
I walked for half an hour and still didn’t get to the end of the cave, at which point I decided to turn back, having seen enough evidence for me to conclude that this had indeed been used by the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War.
On the way out I noticed the roof of the cave was scorched, probably from direct hits by exploding napalm ordnance and shattered rocks from rocket attacks.
See the trailer for 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.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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