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Undiscovered Laos: Xaysomboun Province

| Words by Antony Giblin |

Exciting news from Laos: after nearly 40 years, Xaysomboun Province will officially open to tourists at the end of this year. Previously referred to as the ‘Xaysomboun Special Zone’, its opening means that some of the country’s most spectacular scenery is now accessible to travellers, who will be able to experience a corner of Laos hitherto untouched by tourism.

1. Scale the highest peak in Laos

Xaysomboun is one of the country’s largest provinces, and its opening means that its famed rugged landscapes will now be accessible to visitors. Xaysomboun is home to the country’s highest peak, Phu Bia, which is 3,000 metres high and will be reachable for adventurous types who want to scale it and admire the incredible views from its summit. It also has an interesting site at its foot: Chao Anouvong Cave, the site of battles between Pathet Lao and royalist forces in the 1970s and a former hideout of the last monarch of Vientiane during the Laotian Rebellion of 1826-1829.

The peaks of northern Laos

2. A secret city unveiled

Another place of great interest in Xaysomboun is Long Chieng city, set in a valley surrounded by limestone karsts; it was the country’s second biggest city until the mid-1970s. It’s hard to believe it now, but its airport was once the busiest in the world. Once at the centre of a guerilla-led clandestine war on communism that was backed by a secretive group of CIA operatives, Long Chieng has been referred to as “the most secret place on Earth”.

Anecdotal experience reveals that those who’ve tried to gain access to this city over the years have been turned away by officials at the city’s outskirts, even after arduous and muddy journeys through the jungle to get to it. The American presence in Long Chieng vanished in 1975 when the city was taken over by Pathet Lao and Vietnamese forces, apparently leaving behind saloon bars, steakhouses and other trappings of American society. It will be fascinating to see what’s left when the city opens its doors to tourists, the whole city being an important reminder of the country’s more recent history.

3. What does this mean for you?

At Insider Journeys, we’re keen to incorporate Xaysomboun into our Laos itineraries so that travellers can visit the province along with existing exciting stops such as Vientiane, Vang Vieng and the Plain of Jars. According to local news in Laos, work is underway to put in place the infrastructure required to support tourism to this previously isolated province; proper paved roads are being built and hotels are being constructed. What’s more, we hear that the large Hmong minority population in the province is getting ready to show off waterfalls, spectacular views, and even homestays.

Visiting rural communities in Laos

We will let you know as soon as we’re able to take you to this most intriguing of provinces. Meantime, why not take a look at our small group tours to Laos.