Laos has opened for tourism a "cave city" that sheltered about 23,000 people during nine years of US aerial bombing in the Vietnam war, the National Tourism Administration said Tuesday.
The Viengxay caves, 55 kilometres (35 miles) from the Vietnamese border, was the war-time hideout of leaders and troops of the communist Phathet Lao and included a hospital, school, government office, bakery, shop and theatre.
The Lao government is hoping to promote the caves as a tourism destination, similar to war heritage sites such as the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and the Killing Fields Memorial near Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
The communist country has asked the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Netherlands Development Agency and Asian Development Bank to help develop the site for international visitors, the administration said in a statement.
"The Lao vision is to recreate the caves and tell the people's story," the UNWTO's Harsh Varma said.
"Viengxay was a triumph of ingenuity and comradeship in the face of what many historians believe was the longest and most intensive aerial bombardment in world history."
The system of some 480 caves is located in the northeastern Viengxay district in Houaphanh province, a rugged region of scenic mountains populated by ethnic minority groups.
The tourism administration warns that travel to the caves is arduous. Accommodation is limited and the nearest airport with regular flights to the capital Vientiane is Xieng Khouang, a six-hour drive away.