Arriving in VIENG XAI (“City of Victory”), you wouldn’t know the Pathet Lao and their communist allies in Vietnam had won the Second Indochina War. Sprawled across a valley surrounded by the cave-riddled karst formations used by the Pathet Lao as their wartime headquarters, Vieng Xai was cobbled together by comrades from Russia, North Korea and Vietnam as well as labourers from Hua Phan’s notorious re-education camps. In 1973, at the end of the war, there were plans to make Vieng Xai the heart of the newly socialist nation, but in the end Laos’s socialist friends could not be convinced to foot the bill to turn a backwater into a gleaming new capital, and so the Pathet Lao leadership decamped to Vientiane. With time, Vieng Xai couldn’t even compete with nearby Sam Neua as a provincial hub. People moved out and many buildings fell into a state of crumbling decay. These days, the town has a slow, dusty charm, complemented by its stunning backdrop of limestone karsts.

Very few travellers stay in Vieng Xai, most preferring to do the caves as a day-trip from Sam Neua, which has much better food and accommodation. However, for those who can afford the time, the scenic countryside and ambience around Vieng Xai reward further exploration, evoking Guilin in China. In fact, if you want to know what Vang Vieng was like before it was overrun with trippy backpackers, Vieng Xai is the place for you.

 

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Laos features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Off the tourist trail in Southeast Asia: 5 underrated cities

Off the tourist trail in Southeast Asia: 5 underrated cities

Modern Bangkok, historical Hanoi and tourism-boom town Siem Reap — home to the world-famous Angkor Wat temples — are some of Southeast Asia's best drawcards…

21 Nov 2017 • Marco Ferrarese insert_drive_file Article
A postcard from Laos: exploring the curious Plain of Jars

A postcard from Laos: exploring the curious Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars, in northern Laos, remains one of Southeast Asia's great mysteries. Shafik Meghji journeys here to uncover the secrets of this little-tourist…

31 Oct 2017 • Shafik Meghji insert_drive_file Article
Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook