Secret Indochina
A few decades ago, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were covered by endless forests, with the Indochinese tiger as their uncontested master. Known under various intriguing names such as Ong Cop (The Lord Tiger), he is the subject of many fears, superstitions and legends that are deeply entrenched within the collective imagination. The Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) is a sub-species of tiger that traditionally inhabited forests, savannas, swamplands, and forested plains. Today the Indochinese tiger is an endangered species, only found in Southeast Asia’s most remote forests.

For the Highland Proto-Indochinese peoples, the tiger is feared not just for his might, but also for his spiritual powers.  For some groups, he belongs to the Caa’ (the dark spirits) and is surrounded by mystery and fantasy. According to local legends, the tiger was introduced to the forests by local gods to protect the woods and to keep humans far away. When his drool falls on the earth, it forms venomous caterpillars, and his whiskers can create a type of poisonous snake used by sorcerers to bewitch their enemies. Victims of this poisonous creature face not only death, but damnation, with their souls destined to wander on the back of the Lord Tiger until the next victim. The Hmong of northern Indochina believe in metempsychosis – the concept that upon death, the soul is transferred into another body, either human or animal – and legends tell how old men have been seen becoming wolves or tigers.

Indochina’s tiger population was decimated during the Vietnam Wars, then further reduced by heavy deforestation and traffic for Chinese traditional medicine. In 2018, the remaining tigers can be found in remote forests of Laos (Phu Den Di, Nam Et and Xe Xap); in the Cardamom mountains of Cambodia; and in some southern Highland forests of Vietnam.  There have been some successful efforts to reintroduce and protect the Indochinese tiger, notably by the Laotian National Parks




Cardamom Tented Camp is an eco-camp of nine comfortable safari-style tents located inside Botum Sakor National Park in western Cambodia’s Koh Kong Province. The camp that promotes sustainable tourism practices is settled in country’s largest park, a peninsula projecting southwest from the Cardamom Mountains, which shelters a pristine biodiversity comprising of gently sloping lowlands covered by evergreen wood and grasslands, and coastal habitats that is home to some of the world’s most endangered species.

Journey to the Cardamom Tented Camp, which supports the conservation efforts of Wildlife Alliance in cooperation with the local community – enabling guests to participate in conservation-related activities that protect the area’s rich, varied flora and fauna. Learn about the sustainable operations and join a patrol with Rangers trekking through dense jungle along abandoned poaching and logging trails. Visit the Rangers Station and view the equipment confiscated from poachers, including traps and improvised hunting rifles. Finish your trip by kayaking on the Preak Tachan River, where you will have a chance to observe rare wildlife such as macaque, gibbon, and hornbill





Laurent Séverac is a freelance aroma hunter who has spent over 20 years seeking rare plants and spices in Vietnam and Laos. He is an adventurer who tracks volatile scents through the forests of Asia – an exceptional botanical reserve that has fascinated him since childhood. Laurent has developed an expertise in essential oils that he shares with local farmers and ethnic minorities and sells through his Aromasia brand. His pure natural extracts are grown at his own biodynamic plantation, distilled at his craft distillery, and sold to international perfumers, including some in Grasse, France’s perfume capital. Laurent has also developed a range of spices with renowned French chef Didier Corlou, Aromasia Cuisine by Didier Corlou, that is used by the world’s most prestigious restaurants.

Meet the aroma hunter at his house in Hanoi, which also serves as a laboratory. Discover his perfume organ that includes a diverse range of essential oils such as cinnamon bark, agarwood, gum benzoin, anise water, and black ginger. Learn about the history of recipes used for luxury perfumes and get a glimpse of Laurent’s 100% natural perfume product lines, homemade soaps, and balms. Then, enjoy a two-hour olfactory initiation to create a perfume based on essential oils before tasting unique handmade honey, chocolate, whipped cream and liqueurs




March 11, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the most notorious episodes of the Secret War in Laos: the fall of the mythical Phu Pha Thi mountain, also known as Lima Site 85 or The Rock. Located in the Houaphanh province of northeastern Laos, Phu Pha Thi mountain reaches heights of 1,786 meters, appearing as a giant monolith extending from the heart of the Nam Et massif.

Oriented on a north-southeastern axis and eight kilometers long, the mountain is a limestone fortress bordered by high cliffs to the north and east, dense forests with tigers and panthers to the west, and the Nam Et National Park to the south. In ancient times, Phu Pha Thi was a holy place for the ethnic Khmus, Hmongs, and Dao peoples, who believed the mountain was inhabited by spirits known as Phis. With its strange shape and religious connections, Phu Pha Thi resembles the infamous Cathar fortress of Montsegur in southwestern France.

During the Secret War in Laos, the Central Intelligence Agency used Phu Pha Thi as a top-secret base, transforming it into an impregnable fortress overlooking the Sam Neua region, which was controlled by the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). In August 1966, the US Air Force built a Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) station on the mountain to support the escalating air war in the northern regions of Vietnam and Laos. Because international agreements restricted the US from openly conducting military operations in Laos, the secret war was primarily driven by the CIA.




In 1967, a Combat Skyspot ground-directed bombing system (AN/TSQ-81) was added. Dubbed Operation Commando Club, the system provided radar information and assistance to USAF bombing runs in northern Laos, North Vietnam, and the Hanoi area, as well as to Operations Rolling Thunder and Barrel Roll (bombing of the Ho chi Minh Trail).

Phu Pha Thi was defended by 800 Hmongs from the Hmong Secret Army and by 300 Thai mercenaries. Nonetheless, in January 1968 the North Vietnamese – angered by the presence of a US base in Communist-controlled territory – launched an initial aerial attack on the mountain with two Antonov An-2 aircrafts. When the aerial attack failed, the NVA sent ground troops to surround the sacred mountain. The battle for Phu Pha Thi raged until March 10, when a unit of North Vietnamese special forces and Red Hmongs managed to scale the cliffs. The US base fell on March 11, 1968 and was destroyed by aerial sorties over a period of two months.

On the American side, Lima Site 85 was classified until 1983. The government of Laos forbade access to the highly sensitive site until 2018, when it is scheduled to be reopened. Secret Indochina production department has studied the area for more than two decades, organizing a pre-survey in 2013 and a survey of the top and western slope of the legendary mountain in 2018. The summit and base are now accessible by 1,000 stairs from an ancient southern outpost, and there is potential to organize hiking on the western and eastern sides of the mountain along the Nam Et river

© Photo credit: Keith Woodcock "An Air Combat First"
Secret Indochina
Secret Indochina was established in 2011, following the encounter of two professionals, Tran Quang Hieu and Nicolas Vidal, passionate about authentic travel. Secret Indochina, DMC branch of Amica JSC, strives to lead travellers to outstanding sites, magical places, and little-known ethnic communities


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