Air America helicopters land on top of Phou Pha Thi mountain during the US’ ‘secret war’ in Laos.
“Half a century after North Vietnamese sappers scaled sheer 200-meter cliffs in the dead of night to overrun a strategic US Air Force radar installation on the western rim of Phou Pha Thi, the Lao government is finally opening the towering limestone massif to domestic and apparently foreign tourists. Once locked in remote jungle fastness, northeast Laos’ tallest peak is a scenic attraction itself, but the official opening of a steel staircase to allow visitors access to its eastern ridge-line is expected to come on the 50th anniversary of the one of the North Vietnamese Army’s (PAVN) greatest feat of arms. Construction crews have still not finished carving a 60-kilometer all-weather road through rugged country from the wartime Pathet Lao headquarters of Sam Neua to Houayma, a Hmong tribal settlement at the eastern end of the seven-kilometer-long escarpment. But a secondary road has replaced the dirt track from Houayma to the foot of Phou Pha Thi, where a new information center marks the beginning of the new staircase, winding several hundred meters up a steep slope to an army post on a small plateau. From there, officialdom permitting, it will be a tough slog along the mountain to reach the site of the US’ former ‘Project Heavy Green’ radar installation, which was obliterated by concerted US airstrikes after falling into Vietnamese hands in the surprise pre-dawn assault. It is not clear who paid for the staircase, but in apparent competition with the Chinese, Hanoi is funding new roads stretching 58 kilometers west from Houayma to Mueang Xon, then north to the Vietnamese border, allegedly for use by logging trucks. As a so-called revolutionary monument, Houaphan province officials have long been keen to add Phou Pha Thi to the province’s other big tourist attraction, the Viengxa caves, 20 kilometers west of Sam Neua, which were home to 20,000 Pathet Lao soldiers during the Indochina conflict. Up until now, the few foreign motorcycle adventurers who have sought to approach Phou Pha Thai have been turned away by Lao government soldiers for security reasons, perhaps because of unexploded ordnance littering its lower slopes. …”
NYBooks: A Special Supplement: A Visit to Laos – Noam Chomsky (July 23, 1970 Issue)