Though Salavan’s forests hide prehistoric sites including stone caskets and cave paintings, little is known about the province’s history except its wartime past. Historians suggest the area was an outpost of the Champasak Kingdom in the early 19th century. Newspaper reports from 1940 discuss Thai troops clashing with “Indochinese” forces in Salavan, including bombing raids by French planes.
From then until Laos’ liberation in 1975, the province was caught up in a tug-of-war between Western-backed forces and Lao independence fighters, and the renowned Ho Chi Minh Trail passed through Salavan’s eastern mountains, attracting some of the most intensive bombing the world has ever seen.
Western news archives expose America’s “Secret War” in Laos was not well kept. In 1959, Laos’ colonial government leveled charges that Vietnamese-trained revolutionaries were active in Salavan, and in 1962, a Royal Lao Military spokesman claimed pro-independence troops were operating in Salavan Town.
Reports in 1967 mention an American reconnaissance jet “disappeared” over Salavan Province, and in 1968, Lao revolutionaries clashed with the Royal Lao Army in remote pockets of Salavan. The following year, a US fighter jet was shot down about 20 miles northeast of Salavan Town, and in June 1970, The New York Times reported that Pathet Lao troops took Salavan Town, but Western-backed forces arrived to find it deserted.
1971 newspapers tell of US Air Force and Navy jets openly bombarding the province, and several were shot down. Battles in Salavan continued to rage in 1972, resulting in the razing of Salavan Town.