Cave Life During The Secret War In Laos.
Above Photo: The sign reads: “Financial office”. The bamboo supports were for sandbags which protected the cave against blast damage from US air strikes.
While I was in Nong Khiaw in northern Laos, I searched for a cave that had once been the central bank of the Communist Pathet Lao, who were fighting the US and their allies in Laos during the Vietnam War.
This was most definitely part of the ‘Secret War’ because nobody on the US side knew anything about the banking operation going on inside this cave.
During the War, the US-backed (official) Laotian government ran their northern operations out of the magnificent Royal city of Luang Prabang, while the Communists were buried deep in this cave complex in the same region, running a central bank and printing money from the bowels of the earth.
We set off walking through some magnificent limestone mountain scenery that had seen much bombing during the war.
The mountain hosting the bank cave had been carefully chosen, as it was protected from direct attack by US planes by a mountain right in front of it.
We climbed uphill, finally arrived at the bank cave, via an ill-defined path through the jungle.
The first thing I noticed was scorch marks around the cave mouth and inside the cave from direct hits of napalm or other incendiary ordnance from US planes, even with the protection of the mountain.
Then we headed into a claustrophobic, hot, narrow passage that led steeply down into the cave.
It wasn’t a pleasant walk inside the cave by any means, but we had flashlights. I’d hate to think how we’d have got out if the batteries had failed.
Just inside the cave was the area for the ‘Bank Office’, a heavily-sandbagged hollow in the rock (the bamboo supports for the sandbags were still in place)
Travelling further into the mountain, and by squeezing through very tight passageways, we finally arrived at the bank managers cave.
I was, as usual, slightly disappointed by the lack of care and management of this historically important cave. No attempt has been made to preserve the contents, which were lying strewn around in various nooks and crannies.
Unfortunately the history of all these important sites from the Secret War in Laos is poorly signposted and explained. Unless the Laos government does something drastic to preserve its war heritage, much of Laos’ oral history of the war will soon be lost, as the only people with detailed knowledge of these places continue to die off.
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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