Oct 202013
 

Well it has been an incredible season for LaosGPSmap as we have surveyed cities, villages jungle trails and of course our favorite area for exploring, Ho Chi Minh trail which comprises the border areas of the Southern third of  of Laos, often referred to during the war days, as the “Dragons Tail”.

Ho-chi-minh-trail-missile

Sam Missile on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Our research on the Ho Chi Minh trail has taken us to the National Archives in Washington DC, Defence Mapping Agency, and the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally for Vietnam Vets. We interviewed fighter pilots who got shot down in Laos. Worked with the JPAC team on recovering lost crash sites of fighter planes from the Vietnam war near Dak Cheung Southern Laos. ( link) Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally for Vietnam Vets

 

Ho Chi Minh trail Mission card

Ho Chi Minh trail Mission card

Roads

We have added an incredible 6,300 km new roads, jungle tracks and trails in our quest to produce the most complete and accurate map of Laos in existence today. (Link) Great motorcycle roads of Laos

 

 

Houay Xai Red Roads LaosGPSmap

Houay Xai Red Roads LaosGPSmap

 

Vientiane Boom, Rapid development

Vientiane Boom, Rapid development

Points of Interest

Thousands of new businesses, schools, shopping centers, restaurants, factories, gold and coal mines, plantations the list is endless as Laos continues to grow and develop.(Link) City Development

 Surveys

 

Road 4 At Thadua on the Mekong river

Road 4 At Thadua on the Mekong river

 Bridges

Bridges The 4 new bridges spanning the Mekong river, Xiengkok, Houay Xai, Pakbeng, Paklay, and Don Khong bridges. (link) Bridges of the Mekong.

(Link) bridges of the Mekong Laos Myanmar bridge

 

 

 

 

Phou Kham mine articulated dump truck

Phou Kham mine articulated dump truck

Mining

Mining sites, Phou Kham, Houay Xia gold and copper, Phonsak Gold mine, Xekong power coal mine, MMG “Xepon” gold and copper mine.

 

LaosGPSmap Nam Khan damsite

LaosGPSmap Nam Khan damsite

Hydroelectric Projects

Hydroelectric projects, Nam Ngiap 1 and 2, Xekaman 1, 2, and 3, Nam Khan 1 and 2 Nam Kong 1,2, and 3. Sayabury “Mekong” dam, Nam Ou 1 and 2 damsites. Xepian, Houay Lamphang Yai, Nam Ngum 5 and 3 damsites. (Link) Damsites

 

Tunnel Headquarters Lamson, 559 Transport division

Tunnel Headquarters Lamson, 559 Transport division

 Ho Chi Minh Trail, War Sites

 

Ho Chi Minh Tail, more exciting discoveries as we managed to find the Amazing caves of the 559 Transport division headquarters, and its associated fuel bunkers built inside a karst mountain! In addition an intact riverboat that was bound for the Xekong river was discovered in a hidden area of the trail.(Link) Ho Chi Minh Trail

 

 

 

Nov 062012
 
Terrieng villager Ban Bouang Kaleum

Terrieng villager Ban Bouang Kaleum

 

Sekhai Market just outside Vientiane

Sekhai Market just outside Vientiane

 

Kids pulling a handmade cart

 

Banana seller Lao Bao on Road 9

Banana seller Lao Bao on Road 9

 

fuel-lady

Pepsi bottle with Gasoline, No Smoking!

 

Xam Neua Northern Laos

Xam Neua Northern Laos

 

Kareum district home made toys

Kareum district home made toys

 

Akha Tribal Villager Muang Sing District

Akha Tribal Villager Muang Sing District

 

Sam Lien Thon Kham

Sam Lien Thon Kham

 

Hmong Festival Phou Khoun District Laos

Hmong Festival Phou Khoun District Laos

 

villager-on-the-trail1

 

Hmong festival

 

Brau-villager

Brau Ethnic People Southern Provinces of Laos

 

LS-108-pho

Support base, local girl eating noodle soup. Northern Laos

 

Tribal Villager Northern Laos selling Chinese beer

Tribal Villager Northern Laos selling Chinese beer

 

Villager Nong Fa Southern Laos

Villager Nong Fa Southern Laos

 

,

Tribal villager on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Tribal villager Ban La Hap, on the Ho Chi Minh trail

 

Hmong Festival and Phone

Hmong Festival and Phone

 

tribal villager sticky rice

tribal villager sticky rice

 

Katu Villager, tribal celebration

Katu Villager, tribal celebration

 

nongfakid

Riding a bike Nongfa Lake Attepeu Southern Laos

 

Hmong man with a freshly killed buffalo head

 

woman-pipe

Tribal villager and son gathering wood Lao Vietnam border

 

hill-tribe

Meo villager Phongsali district Northern Laos

 

marker-kids

Viengthong 53 km

 

Phongsali province young student reading

Phongsali province young student reading

 

Pou Noi villagers weaving at  young age

Pou Noi villagers weaving at young age

 

 

Ngai Villager Dak Cheung district Southern Laos

Ngai Villager Dak Cheung district Southern Laos

 

Villagers collecting wood high in the mountains  Phongsali province

Villagers collecting wood high in the mountains Phongsali province

 

old-woman-pipe-smoker

Tribal villager and son on the Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

 

jack-hammer

Jackhammer crew, on mountain cut Kasi District

 

monk-tattoo

Buddhist Monk Vientiane province

 

Local fisherman on the Tonle Repeu river border with Cambodia

Local fisherman on the Tonle Repeu river border with Cambodia

 

bkid-honda

Xam Neua province Big smile from kid on a scooter

 

Ta-Oy-villagers

Ethnic villagers along a remote section of the Ho Chi Minh trail.
What, never seen a foreigner before?

 

kid-coconut

Coconut Kid, a young tribal villager carrying water to the village

 

Laosgpsmap Kmu Village Luang Prabang Province

Laosgpsmap Kmu Village Luang Prabang Province

 

pushing-tuk-tuk

Red Mud and big smiles chugging a load of fresh cut timber.

 

ethnic-kids

Ethnic villagers smoking at a young age

 

young-face

Young child helping here family sell vegetables on the side of the road Hongsa

 

akha

Akha tribes people Oudomxay province Northern Laos

 

Dakcheung Province, crossbow hunting

 

LaosGPSmap-Cooking

LaosGPSmap-Cooking breakfast Kmu village

 

ban-bac

Ban Bac children posing for the camera

 

young-farmer

Children are encouraged to help out from an early age, as seen here in this Hmong village Nong Het district Northern Laos

 

plowman

Farmer carrying field plow, Phonsavan Northern Laos

 

small-girl

Hua Pan province, happy girl Houay Ma village

 

akha-vill

Akha hill tribe, Ban Boun Tai Northern Laos, blue dye on here hands is from working with weaving products.

 

chain-saw

Chain saw man, the saw is as big as the bike, Logging is a bustling trade with wood prices very high due to demand in China.

 

cowgirl

Cow girl getting the herd home before the storm hits.
Ponsavan, Northern Laos

 

Akha woman in the Jungle

 

grass-carry

Hmong Villager Muang Pek District Norhern Laos

 

gSeller

Motorcycle seller, Vientiane province

 

Goldpanner

Goldpanning Ban San Noi Northern Laos

 

gunmaker

Phongsali District man making gun from scratch

 

Kasi district Local kids taking a break from rice farming

 

red-miner

local villager mining gold, Nonghet district Northern laos

 

Hmong New Year Xieng Khouang Laos Plain of Jars

Hmong New Year Xieng Khouang Laos Plain of Jars

 

Village girl fishing Kamouane province

 

Kids in a cart in the rain, Gnomalat

 

Old woman with small fish for dinner..

 

Crossbow hunting

 

Village elder along the Ho Chi Minh trail

 

Ta Oy Villager

 

 

Ta Oy district

 

fountain-fun2

Kids swimming in a fountain Muang Xai District Northern Laos

 

Brau ethnic villager Attepue province

 

Dak Cheung district woman smoking a big cigar.

 

water-pipe-smoker

Ban Bang, Karuem district Ta Oy villager and her baby.

 

kids-fish-traps

Bouarapha district 3 kids posing with fish traps

 

fisherman

Catch of the day Saravanh Southern Laos

 

breakfast

Morning light the Mae Ban prepairing breakfast

 

Mounpalok District Southern Laos young girl going to school

Mounpalok District Southern Laos young girl going to school

 

Weaver in village Northern Laos

Weaver in village Northern Laos

Army Checkpoint and Cha Hawn

Army Checkpoint and Cha Hawn

Nov 022012
 

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival is held every year, starting from the 15th day in the 11th month in lunar calendar.

The actual race is held on the 16th day, with heats starting early in the morning. Over 20 dragon boats and rower/paddler teams line up for the race on the Mekong River. The entrants come from all around Laos to compete in this significant festival.

Fa Ngum road, the road along the Mekong River bank, and other streets leading to the river are lined with stalls days before the actual festival starts. These sell all kind of clothes, food (especially grilled chicken and sticky rice cooked in bamboo pipes), fruits, and drinks. There are also sideshows, such as pop-the-balloons, where small prizes can be won all over the place.
There are usually three categories of boats: sport for men; traditional for men; and traditional for women. Teams of rowers are usually sponsored either by big name companies, such as Beer Lao, and telecom companies or by ministries or organisations in Vientiane.

On the race day, the town comes alive with noise and festivity as the teams make their way to the river either by truck or walking, banging drums and singing. The streets to and along the Mekong River bank are very crowded as thousands of spectators cram along to cheer their teams.


 


Oct 222012
 

“in Laos stick to the main Route 13, which runs the length of the country from south to north.

It’s paved, in good shape and traffic is light. The few cars and trucks on the road go relatively slow and give cyclists plenty of space when passing.

Go off the main road and it’s a different story. Your back road will almost certainly be dirt and little more than one big mud puddle in wet season. It may not even exist. Triple check with locals before heading off onto a road that looks promising on your map. Just because it’s marked as a big red line doesn’t mean it’s at all suitable to cover on a bicycle or that construction has even been finished.

As an example of how misleading maps can be, we were planning to cover Route 23 in southern Laos until we met someone who had just come from that road. She had to walk for two days because there was nothing more than a forest path and this was an allegedly major road on our map. We later saw pictures of the road and it was just a rocky, sandy track.

Maps of Laos are almost impossible to find in the country. Bring one from home or just wing it.”

motorcycle tour laos

Ban Khockhao do, doodle do

Motorcycle Laos Nam Ngum Lake

Motorcycle Laos Nam Ngum Lake

 

Motorcycle laos road 1 D Nov, 2012

 

Motorcycle laos xepon valley, motorbike laos

 

Motorcycle Laos jungle track

 

Motorcycle Laos crossing Baily bridge near Muang Mok

 

Home made scooter in a Hmong village, Phongsali

 

Trail riding Plane of Jars (PDJ), just like a golf course. Motorbike Laos

Laos Proviincial road 4529 at 1900 meters elevation

 

Motorcycle tour up the Mekong river via local canoe

mud

Sometimes there’s no getting around it? Mud Mud Mud…

plain-of-jars

Plain of Jars at it’s best rain season 2012

Mekong river cruise, Laos style

motorbike Laos, river crossing Baja 250, crossing the Xe La Mang river Ta Oy district

 

motorbike Laos, small bridge what fun

 

motorbike Laos, deep mudhole

 

motorbike Laos, how to de water a bike after a deep river crossing

 

motorbike Laos
Jungle track on the road to Paravek

 

motorbike Laos
Hmong man with a fresh kill of water buffalo

 

Motorcycle art at local shop on the road, Laos Self guided tours, motorbike Laos

 

Motorcycle Laos, Nam Moen river ferry, full up.

 

 

Champasak Southern Laos, red dust and sunset

 

Motorcycle Laos, ridge-top road there is no better riding than this!

ho-chi-minh-trail-hill

Steep section of the Ho Chi Minh trail, 3 people will get her up this steep rocky hill.

Rainy season deep in the Ho Chi Minh trail, taking a breather from all the mud bogs.. Motorcycle Laos, at its best

 

Paksong Southern Laos, motorcycles under those plastic bags

 

breadman

Morning bread run, full up, Talat Sow Vientiane, morining market

 

bbiglogs-640x317

Big logs Longest dirt ride ever in Malaysia

Oct 192012
 

The Worst Motorcycle in Laos
by Christopher Tharp

It was the ride of his life.

It was a 100cc Chinese make ‘ a glorified scooter, actually’ the type of four speed bike that is ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia. The horn was burned out, along with the electric starter and both turning signals. The tires were bald. Neither the speedometer nor the gas gauge functioned. The silver-dollar sized mirrors looked as if they had been ripped from makeup compacts and attached to the bike with safety pins, spinning freely on their mounts like reflective whirly-gigs. The black paint job was ancient and covered in deep scratches. The hand brake didn’t work at all, and the foot brake felt as if it was attached with a worn out rubber band. Despite its many flaws, the bike held one advantage over the only other motorcycle to be had in town that day: It started.

FINDING IT
By the time I rolled into Tha Khaek I had been traveling for nearly twenty four hours: A night bus from Bangkok to Vientiane, an overpriced tuk-tuk to the bus station, followed by an eight-hour Lao local that dumped me off in this rotting ex-colonial town.I had come to Tha Khaek as part of my greater sweep through southern Laos. I had been to the northern part of the country the year before and this time wished to explore the quieter and less-visited southern half. I was seeking isolation, natural beauty, and adventure, and southern Laos seemed just the place to get it. And how would I find it? By motorcycle, of course.I had gotten the idea for a specific bike trip from a certain guide book, the same guide book that every western tourist clutches like a Gucci handbag, as they wander along the dusty streets of a new town like lost pets. The book mentions a three or four day motorcycle trip that some travelers do out of Tha Khaek, commonly referred to as “The Loop”. It says that the trip takes you through beautiful and remote country, and that it can be performed on a 100cc bike. But can you take one of these down a rocky dirt track and into the hills of southern Laos, through rural villages, across rutted tracks and rice paddies? The book recommended the trip, or at least mentions it as a possibility. But had the writer actually done it himself? Bleary-eyed and hungry enough to eat my own shoes, I staggered off of the local bus and had the rare pleasure of being left alone. No touts swarmed, no children hawked photocopied versions of the guide book, no cyclo drivers chased me down the street shouting “Mister! Mister! Where you go?” A woman and her children, sitting nearby, half-heartedly regarded me, but their attention was better held by the sticky rice and yellowish roast chicken on a stick in front of them. After a few minutes, a tuk-tuk came by, which proceeded to take me to the Tha Khaek Travel Lodge, a guest house that serves the smattering of tourists who pass through, not to be confused with the teddy-bear mascotted cheap motel chain back home, home to endless meth labs and Phish fans. This Travel Lodge was a compound of sorts, with a courtyard in front, complete with nightly bonfires. So I checked into the shockingly cheap hostel-like dormitory room and proceeded down to the fire, where I chatted with some fellow travelers, downed several bottles of ice-cold beer Lao, and feasted on laap, which is Lao’s national dish of ground beef, onions, and ass-searing chilis. After a lager-induced black sleep, I took a cold shower and made my way downstairs for breakfast, which consisted of a noodle soup that had to be ordered twice. This phantom-dish phenomenon plagued me the whole trip, but my patience always endured. It was Laos, after all, where time moves as if it’s encased in a thick gelatin. Laos is also a communist nation that has only recently opened up for visitors, and the people just aren’t used to capitalism, especially in the south, where the tourists are few. Food and drink orders are often met with a panicked look of utter confusion – the proverbial deer in the lights before it meets its end in the grill of a Mack truck. Bills are glacially tallied with looks of semi-despair, as if the people adding them up are working out impossible calculus equations or deciphering cuniform.

The colonial French had a famous saying:

“The Vietnamese plant the rice. The Cambodians watch it grow. The Lao listen to it grow.”

After my two hour noodle breakfast, I asked the guesthouse if there were any motorbikes available; I was informed that they were all rented out. So I slapped on some sunscreen and decided to walk into the town to try my luck.

Tha Khaek is a provincial capital, so there are some large administrative buildings in town, imposing and looking the part of bastions of communist authority. I walked down the main street towards the river, past pharmacies and dark garages, past women grilling chicken and selling boiled eggs, past young men lounging on their motorbikes and daring each other to try out their English on me. Most of the buildings were low, with faded paint that was cracked or peeling off. The closer I got to the river, the more dilapidated the buildings became, and the more the street became a mixture of paved parts and red dirt patches, as if the town itself was slowly falling into the brown waters of the Mekong. Chickens ran free, and dogs, some with sickeningly-severe mange, laid next to trash mounds and broken concrete on the roadside.

Acting on a tip from the guesthouse, I tracked down SV Rentals, a company that rents out all kinds of equipment for any need in Laos. The company was located in a massive garage near the riverside. Inside were numerous cars – including two brand new shiny Hummers, along with some construction equipment, and two sorry looking 100cc motorbikes. When I asked about the bikes, I was presented with a note, evidently from the guy responsible for renting them to foreigners. It became quickly apparent that this mystery man was the only person in the whole complex who spoke any English at all.

“Dear Sir or Madam,

Today I family out of the town the go. Rent motorbike to leave passport with man and taking key. Sorry to problem.

After choosing the one bike that ran, I handed over my passport and around $30 in Thai baht and was off, cruising down the cracked road of Tha Khaek and joining the locals, most of whom were riding much nicer-looking bikes. The first thing I did was stop into the nearest garage and have my mirco-mirrors tightened. Little did I know of how many more Lao mechanics’ garages I would see over the next few days. I would experience a real life Zen of motorcycle maintenance, emptying my mind while watching Buddhist after Buddhist labor over my sad machine.

DAY 1

The road heading west out of Tha Khaek was two-laned and mostly paved – a luxury in road-challenged Laos. I opened up the bike and took in the scenery. To my left a turquoise river snaked up the valley – deep cool pools tempted me to stop the bike and have a refreshing swim, but I had just begun the journey and wanted to get some kilometers under my wheels. The road wound through farmland – mainly rice paddies with bored looking water buffaloes or groups of malicious black goats. Huge limestone mountains shot up on both sides of me, looking as if they had been crammed through the Earth by massive hands. The scenery was both stunning and magical. I breathed deeply and took it in with joy, reminding myself that this was why I had come back to Laos.After about thirty minutes of riding, I came upon two other Westerners on 100cc bikes. Their names were Inga and Steve, a couple of Belgian backpackers who had decided to take on The Loop as well. I had actually met them over breakfast while waiting for my no-show noodles. Inga sported tattoos and dreadlocks, displaying a hard edge against Steve’s laid back and smiling demeanor. I would pass them several times on the trip, only to be overtaken by them when I was broken down on the side of the road or in a village. We became companions of sorts, both out to conquer this loop on woefully underequipped machines.It was in the town of Gnomalat, the first real settlement since I left Tha Khaek, where I experienced my initial setback. My foot brake barely worked in the first place, and I noticed it getting even weaker every time I used it. This was of great concern, of course, since it was the only thing which could save me from certain death by water buffalo collision or a nasty plunge into a ravine. As I was crossing a small bridge and leaving the town, it failed entirely. The pedal went straight into the dirt of the road. So I gingerly rode the bike back into the dusty town and stopped at the first mechanic I saw. He was located in a dirt-floored shack at the bottom of a steep embankment. It took both of us to roll the bike down the path and into his shaded shop. The place was littered with grease-covered motorcycle parts, tools, and cigarette buts.The mechanic did some adjusting on the brake pedal and replaced the actual disk while his compatriots stood around, smoked, and commented in sing-songy Lao. With authority he pushed down on the brake and smiled to me as the wheel actually stopped.

“Okay? Okay?” he said.

“Okay,” I responded.

Fifteen minutes and two dollars later, I was once again crossing the bridge and now blazing out of town, heading down a ruler-straight stretch of road which shot up to the Nakai Plateau. My day’s destination was the actual town of Nakai. So I stopped to check the guidebook map to see how far I had to go, and once satisfied that Nakai was only an hour or two off, I happily jumped down on the kick start to continue on my way.

Nothing.

Again.

Nothing.

Again. Again. Again.

The bike was refusing to start. I kicked down on the starter ten more times with no results. I then ran the bike along the road, hopped on, and attempted a pop start. Again, nothing. After several more tries to pop start it, I cursed the sky and began the long, sweaty push back into Gnomalat.

As I toiled underneath the afternoon sun, Inga and Steve – the Belgian duo – putted up. I informed them of my troubles and they shook their heads and rode on, with promises to see me up the road. A few minutes later a local man rode up and gave me a push by placing one of his feet on my passenger peg. I then popped the bike into gear and managed to get it started, albeit with greatly diminished compression and power. My helper smiled and rode away, and I crawled my bike back into the town. As I came upon the bridge, I pushed down on my footbrake, which failed exactly as it did before, in the same spot, even. The pedal went straight into the ground and then kicked back up, right into the flesh of my leg, leaving a nasty bruise and bleeding gash. The bike then died. Again.

Covered in sweat, dust, and annoyance, I was approached by three Westerners on proper dirt bikes.

“You are having some sort of problem?”

From the sound of his accent, I figured him to be French. Laos is full of French people, smoking, gesticulating, and checking up on state of their former colonial holding.

My savior was indeed French, as were his two companions, and he gave me a push back to the mechanic’s, where we immediately handed the bike back over for further work. As I talked to the French trio, I learned that they were living and working in the area. It seems that a massive dam was being constructed on the Nam Hin Bun, a large river in the area. The three were employed by a French company involved with the project. As we waited for the mechanic to replace my faulty sparkplug and once again take on the evil foot brake, one of the Gallic trio sped off on his bike, quickly returning with two cold and glistening bottles of beer Laos. We passed the bottles around and drank – the cold delicious beer a welcome addition in my parched mouth. One wonderful thing about the French is their ability to enjoy a good drink or bit of food, even in the most uninviting conditions.

Before I knew it, the French had departed, and I was back on my bike, which now ran with full force and gusto. I crossed the bridge for what would be the last time, and sped straight up towards the Nakai Plateau.

At one point the semi-paved road gave way to a rought dirt and rocks. According to the guide book and those I talked to, it would stay this way for the next 80 kilometers or so. This slowed my progress, as I had to watch out for large and sharp rocks protruding from the roadway. I had also entered a construction zone, since every two minutes a cement or dump truck, coming from or going to the dam site, would barrel by, kicking up enough dust to bury a small town. I wrapped my scarf around my face and firmly placed my sunglass around my head, braving the huge clouds of dust which regularly obscured my view and took over the whole road. A red and white sign warned me of the obvious hazard in Lao script and English:

“BEWARE THE TREUKS IN-OUT.”

I began to climb up to the plateau, switch backing through verdant jungle, punctuated by small farms growing tobacco and rice. Despite the onslaught of trucks I was making good progress and the bike was running well. Even the hated foot brake felt as if it may hold for the rest of the trip.

Eventually the road stopped winding and climbing and I rolled into a proper town, or what passes for one in remote areas of Laos. Was this Nakai? Had I reached my day’s goal? The roads were dirt and the whole place covered in reddish dust. It had the feel a frontier boomtown – a result of the work the dam project had brought, to be sure. As I entered the town I noticed a large billboard. In English it boldy welcomed me, but the name of the place wasn’t “Nakai.” I supposed that this was a town not accounted for on the map and decided to press on until I came to the real Nakai.

It wasn’t until it was after dark and a good twenty kilometers up the rough dirt road that I realized my mistake. The night before, around the campfire at the Travel Lodge, an American I met was loudly carrying on about his recent trip on The Loop. I was a bit drunk, more than exhausted, and not paying him the strict attention probably warranted.

“Once you get to the top of the plateau,” he said, “you’ll come to Nakai. Only the locals call it by another name. This happens a lot in Laos. The government has its official names, and the locals have theirs.”

So it was now dark and quite cold and I had overshot my town by over an hour. The next real settlement was at least sixty kilometers down a rocky and unforgiving stretch of road. I would have to turn back.

When I rode back into what I now thought to be Nakai, I was badly in need of some food, not to mention beer and a place to stay. I didn’t see any guesthouses in the town, though I had been told that there was one. What I did see, parked outside of a small restaurant, was a fully decked out 250cc Yamaha dirt bike. I quickly surmised that it did not belong to a local, most of whom prefer the small 100′s, like the one that was under me.

I parked my bike and walked into the restaurant and sat right down next to a Westerner decked out in dirt bike armor and typing away on an expensive-looking laptop. This was in place lit by a fluorescent light bulb with a dirt floor. The incongruity was stark, to say the least.

“Where’s Nakai?” I asked, not bothering to introduce myself.

“You’re in it, man. You’re here. Have a seat and grab a beer.”

His name was Don, and he was American. He was an expat, spending most of his time on his sailboat in Malaysia. Don was living the dream, of sorts, in that he had made enough money to pack it all up, wave goodbye to his friends, buy a boat, and sail halfway around the world. He was in his mid fifties and sported a dirty blond ponytail, which, with his dirt bike getup, took a good fifteen years off his appearance. I ordered a beer and Don immediately set out to show me his state-of-the-art laptop. Using Bluetooth sattelite technology, Don was able to log on to the internet in the most undeveloped areas of Laos, in places where some people have never even seen a computer. But the real reason Don brought such equipment with him had little to do with email or checking his stocks: Don was making maps. He spent four months of the year motorcycling around Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, all the while filling in the details on satellite maps. Every village on every dirt track was meticulously plotted, within thirty foot accuracy, according to him. He claimed to have the most comprehensive and accurate map of Cambodia in existence. He said that he had “finished” the country.

This was Don’s hobby, and he was passionate about it. He told me that it cost him a lot of money and time, and that he hoped to one day financially profit from it. But I could tell that money wasn’t a huge concern for Don, despite that fact that he kept bemoaning the weakness of the dollar versus the strength of the Thai baht.

But soon the conversation switched form cartography to my my own foolhardy quest. He shook his head and laughed.

“You’re gonna try to make it down the rest of this road, all the way to Lak Sao, on a 100cc scooter? You’ll never make it man! I’d turn my ass back if I was you.”

“I know I can do it. These little bikes are tougher than you may think,” I replied. I owned one back in Korea, where I lived, and it served me well.

“Listen man – that road is a construction zone. This dam project is a big deal, it’s being financed by the World Bank. The road is nothing but potholes and rocks and dirt and dump trucks roaring by every thirty seconds. And that guide book is telling backpackers to come ride up here? They’re out of their fucking minds.”

We let it rest at that and after a hearty dinner of rice, soup, and some sort of fried meat (Beef? Buffalo? Cat?), Don and I drank a couple more beers, and then he showed me the way to the guesthouse, a sprawling complex around the corner from the restaurant that was mainly being used to house workers on the dam project. I got a room and fell into a deep night’s sleep.

DAY 2

When I left the guesthouse in the morning, Don’s bike was already gone. He was probably halfway to the Vietnamese border, mapping dried riverbeds and counting chickens. I was hungry, so I stopped at a restaurant with a sign in English, usually a strong hint that their menu will be in the same tongue. I was lucky – I could indeed read the menu, so I ordered a bowl of noodle soup that did not take two hours to get to my table. It came right away, actually, as did the two cups of thick Lao coffee that charged me up for an uncertain day’s ride.Day two on The Loop started like day one, with breathtaking scenery, a happy motorbike, and the full body thrill that always comes with cruising down the road in an exotic country. I passed through more rice paddies and thick forests. The trees cast their cool shadows over the road and the truck traffic was minimal. The morning sun warmed my back and everything was bright and good.Of course this bliss was doomed to end, and it did so abruptly, in the form of a large rock in the middle of the road. Crack! My back tire hit it with full force, blasting out all of the air and kicking the rock straight up into the chain, which responded by jumping the sprocket. In less than a second, my peaceful morning cruise was transformed into a roadside stall-out in the middle of nowhere. So I did what I had learned to do the day before in such situations: I pushed.Within ten minutes I was pushing the bike into a small village called Ban Nongboham. The area was dotted with these villages, clusters of wooden huts with thatch roofs, surrounded by fields with crops. All of the buildings were built on stilts – the rainy season was evidently serious business in these parts. As I strained into the village, I came across an open-faced hut with a woman inside. In front of her was one dusty counter with a smattering of goods for sale – a few cans of orange Fanta, some pink rolls of toilet paper, bottles containing gasoline, and unidentifiable foodstuffs packed in plastic wrappers (Nuts? Dates? Insects?). The woman smiled and greeted me loudly with the all-purpose Lao greeting:

“Sabaidee!”

“Sabaidee!” I replied, as I always did. At every village I rode through, the people – adult and child alike – would briefly stop what they were doing, wave, and hit me with their best shout-out.

The woman immediately followed her greeting with a litany of Lao, a language that I could only say “hello” and “thank you” in. She seemed unconcerned with my incomprehension. Surely any foreigner who would ride a motorcycle into this part of the country would be at least semi-facile in the language, she seemed to assume.

I just pointed to the tire and then pointed to the chain, shaking my head as to indicate a problem. She understood at once, and shouted to a dirty-faced little boy who meekly took us in from the other side of the road. She then motioned to the little boy and told me to follow him. Even though I didn’t understand the words, the intent was clear, and for a moment I convinced myself that I could actually understand the language, a self-delusion that I commonly fall into when confused in Asia.

I followed the little boy deeper into the village, past a line of huts. Hairy black pigs rooted in the dirt. Chickens of all ages clucked and ran in terror as I approached. Trash littered the ground, along with half burnt pieces of wood and dried cakes of cow shit. This village was poor. It lacked both running water and electricity. It also seemed to lack men, as the only people observing me were women, the younger of whom held infants to their breasts. It then occurred to me that the men were probably out in the fields – either that or they had recently been rounded up by government troops, taken to a deep part of the forest, and shot. I began to harbor serious doubts that my motorbike could be fixed. These doubts were soon assuaged, however, by the arrival of The Mechanic.

The Mechanic was a man, though one unsuited for farm work. He was deformed, with shriveled and useless legs. He had matted long hair with bits of wood and grass in it and wore an old army jacket so filthy that I had an impulse to yank it off and burn it. He got around on his hands, which seem longer and broader than usual, but perhaps this was only a result of him ambling about on them for a lifetime. He looked like he was in his early 30′s, the perfect age for a prenatal victim of Agent Orange, which the U.S. government mercilessly sprayed over this part of Laos throughout the Indochina War. The Mechanic looked at me, flashed me a smile, lit a cigarette, and made his way to my bike for an inspection. By the look on his face I could tell that the fix would be no problem, and he was soon barking orders to the gang of bored looking boys who had gathered around us to take in the action. One boy scurried up a ladder and into a hut, reappearing with a burlap bag filled with some tools. The Mechanic quickly got to work, ripping off the tired and tube, locating the leak, and patching it up. At one point, when his kid helper couldn’t locate the extra tire patching, The Mechanic climbed up the ladder and into the hut, using only his arms and doing so with the confidence of an expert. He came back down with the patch tube and finished the job.

He easily re-railed the chain, even tightening it up a bit with his wrench. When the bike was ready to go I paid him his fee – one dollar – and went on my way.

The next stretch of road was the most isolated and beautiful on the Nakai Plateau. The villages disappeared, and soon I was riding through untouched forests and jungle. The traffic was light, and I made a steady but reasonable pace down the rocky road. My goal for the day was the town of Lak Sao, the last stop in Lao before the border with Vietnam. Within an hour I was crossing the Nam Hin Bun, which stretched out below me and reflected the noon sun. A new bridge was being built a half of kilometer up, and soon, within a year or two, the river would be dammed (Or should I say “damned?”) and much of what I had seen would be underwater. Ahhhh, progress. The words of Edward Abbey, whose “Desert Solitaire” I had completed just days before, rang in my head:

“Our modern industrial economy takes a mountain covered with trees, lakes, running streams and transforms it into a mountain of junk, garbage, slime pits, and debris.”

Soon I came upon two other riders covered in dust. It was Inga and Steve. They too had stayed in Nakai the night before, but they were at a different guesthouse. They were in good spirits and their bikes had held up for them well. They were incredulous when I told them about my troubles.

I rode with the Belgians for a while, but their pokey pace was a bit too slow for my liking, so I gave them a wave and cranked up the throttle.

The road began to wind down from the Nakai Plateau, and now the string of trucks making their way up and down was intolerable. I rode through Saharan dust clouds and was nearly forced off the road by coffee-jacked truck drivers rushing to make their deliveries in time. As I coughed up dirt and picked dust nuggets from my nose, I thought of a clean shower and hot meal awaiting me in Lak Sao. My fantasy was soon interrupted, however, by another flat tire. The Mechanic had just patched the tube. They had no new ones in the village to sell me. The stress of the road was evidently too much for the tire to bear, and the patch failed. So I pushed the bike down the road, soon passed by the Belgians, who could only laugh and look at me with sympathetic eyes.

Soon I was off of the plateau and into a village. This village was the most developed settlement since Nakai. It may have even had electricity. I pulled off at the first mechanic I spotted and he had a new tube on and inflated within ten minutes. This is the terrific thing about breaking down in Laos. Everyone rides 100cc bikes for transportation, so even the most primitive village has someone who can fix them. Let us give thanks to the invention of interchangeable parts.

After stopping for a brief swim in a cool river, I caught up with the Belgians and accompanied them into Lak Sao. Lak Sao is used as a stop over point on the way to and from Vietnam, so despite the rugged frontier feeling to the place, there are plenty of good places to stay. I got a huge room in a guesthouse in the shadow of and imposing mountain. It even had hot water, though the water was only truly hot at the lowest volume – which was nothing more than a trickle – so I spent the greater part of thirty minutes feeling like I was getting peed on.

I took a wander through the town, which is located at a crossroads with a main, paved route. The worst part of the journey appeared to be over. The rest would be on smooth, sealed roads. I wandered through the market, past stalls selling clothes and food. Meat sat out on tables, unrefrigerated, shining in the periodic bursts of sun. One stall featured several gutted rats and what appeared to be a guinea pig. Lak Sao is located in a mountainous and unspoiled part of the country, and much of the local wildlife was evidently available for consumption at this market, but in recent years there has been less and less to eat, as the hunt went on unchecked. Just rats and pets left, it seemed.

I joined Inga and Steve at the main restaurant in town, aptly named “The Only One.” The menu was vast, containing your usual fried rices and curries, along with a dish puzzlingly named, “Boiled the furniture of buffalo.”

We ordered the chicken and fish.

Soon a man rolled up on a big dirt bike. It was Don, my map making drinking buddy from the night before. He had been all the way up to the border, which is at a high elevation, and was too chilled to continue with his ride. An unnatural and frigid wind blew down from the mountains that day, making motorbike travel a balls-chilling affair. So he joined us and we ordered more food and more beers, continuing our impromptu party well into the night. We were eventually joined by three Aussies who rode in on dirt bikes, as well as a group of about 40 elderly Dutch people from a tour bus staying the night on its way to Vietnam. To see a true trailblazer such as Don and this herd of package tourists in the same room truly represented the two extremes of Southeast Asian travel. By the end, aided by countless bottles of beer, I had made friends with them all. And after nearly falling asleep at the table, I said my goodbyes and stumbled back to my room though the pitch black of the town.

DAY 3

The morning proved to be even more frigid than the night. The wind had intensified and I could see my breath, a phenomenon I hadn’t counted on for this trip to the “tropics.” I put on my pants, two t-shirts, two button-up shirts and my sweater, and proceeded to zip down the road, savoring the smooth surface and quick pace. The dirt track was behind me, and once again I was on smooth and sealed hard surface. Like the two previous days, the ride started out perfectly. I was winding through wide valleys, punctuated by huge mountains. It was dramatic country, reminiscent of scenery found in the American West. I made it about an hour down the road – which was pretty typical for the trip – before my I hit my first patch of trouble. There was a dip in the road and I was heading back up at a pretty steep grade. I had the bike opened up at a good speed, when the engine suddenly started making a terrible high pitch noise, as if it were wheezing. I lost compression and a lot of power, and then the bike just died. By now I had cleared the top of the hill and just coasted it down, pop starting it near the bottom. The engine fired up, but now it sounded weak and unwell, and I was only getting about half the power I was before. This was accompanied by a thick blue smoke belching out of the tail pipe. I was burning oil.I went up a big rise and began to coast it on the other side, spying a village below. I pulled into the gas/mechanic hut and had them get a wrench to check the oil. The cap was so encrusted with petrified dirt that it could not be unscrewed by hand. The mechanic, an ancient crease-faced man, undid the cap and peered into the smoking oil chamber, which was empty. He shook his head and pointed.”No,” he said, displaying the extent of his English.I bought a liter of oil which he poured back in. He then pushed down on the kick start with his hand to pump it through. As he did this, a full stream of oil oozed out of the engine casing. He did it again and looked closely. There was a crack in the casing. The bike had been leaking oil for a long time and I hadn’t spotted it. One of the men who now gathered around mimed a rock jumping up and hitting the casing, causing the crack. The mechanic threw up his arms and told me “No,” once again. Evidently, I was fucked.

I looked up the empty road to the small mountains in front of me. I estimated that I had seventy or eighty kilometers until the road back to Tha Khaek. From there it was another ninety to the town. But within twenty kilometers was the town of Ban Na Hin, which was the site of another dam and gateway to a seven kilomter-long limestone cave, a popular backpacker stop. Surely this town would have a more sophisticated garage. If I could get the bike there, I could get the leak patched and still possibly make it back to Tha Khaek.

So I bought five more liters of oil, started the bike, and putted it down the road and up the mountain, blowing fat ribbons of smoke out the back like the loser of a WWII dogfight. Once the smoke cleared up I knew my oil was gone, so I’d pull over and pour in another pint, praying that I had enough lube to get me to the next stop.

And I did. Soon, at the base of a large mountain, located in a lush valley, the town of Ban Na Hin appeared. I coasted down and wheeled it in the first mechanic I saw, who was a young man in his very early twenties. It took an hour for him to replace the casing, and it set me back $20, which is a small fortune in communist Laos.

Now my oil leak was fixed, though my fear that the engine was significantly damaged was confirmed, as I rode the bike out of the town, spewing smoke and feeling the bike struggle to do its job. As I rode down the level road, I was fine. The bike sounded bad but was still going. It was only when I tried to climb the mountain out of the town that the bike bogged down and died on me once again.

So I turned the bike around and coasted it down the base of the mountain. I had not gotten very far up, but enough to where I was picking up significant speed on the way back down. And it was here that I was revisited by a previous demon: my footbrake failed yet again, only now my wounded bike was shooting straight down the foot of a mountain.

Luckily, I did not die, nor was I even hurt. I got the bike down by putting into low into gear and zigzagging back and forth along the road. This managed to slow me down enough to reasonably pop start the thing. From there I slowly took it back into town back to my ace mechanic.

This mechanic was more enterprising than the first one who touched the brakes. He at once busted out the welder and went to work, fixing the brake problem once and for all. When I stomped down on it, it felt firm, made of titanium. I knew it would now hold.

So it was back out of town and up the mountain. This time I kept the bike in first the whole time and it did not die. It climbed up, even gaining speed. At the top of the mountain was a turnout, a scenic vista, denoted by a sign. I stopped and took in the view, which was of intricate rock formations on the surrounding mountains, at least from what I could make out. The view was marred, ruined even, by the thick haze of smoke that hung in the air. It was the dry season in Laos, the time when the farmers burn their fields. This was going on all over the country, layering the whole place under a blanket of smoke, stinging the eyes, burning the nostrils.

At this point I closed my eyes to the scenery. The surroundings became secondary to me, as all of my attention was centered on the health of the bike’s engine, which was growing worse by every kilometer. I was still moving forward, going, but I felt the power weaken and the engine’s croak intensify. At one point I even ran out of gas, but manage to push my rapidly dying machine into a village which sold gas. By the time I made it to the road to Tha Khaek, it was barely moving. Still, I took a left and opened up my throttle all the way, which, in fourth gear, added up to what must have been no more than fifteen kilometers an hour. And it was an hour that I got on the road back to town – exactly an hour before the bike finally died, this time for good.

The last eighty kilometers to Tha Khaek were covered in a Japanese pickup truck. I had stuck out my thumb and secured a ride from a Lao man whose name I never got. We loaded the husk of the bike into the back of his truck and rode together in silence. Even if we spoke each other’s language there was nothing to say. The look of defeat on my filthy sunburned face, combined with the uselessly immobile machine with me, said all that was needed.

They took the bike back at the rental agency with little hassle. The English speaking man was there in person this time – no note necessary – and though he looked shocked at the state of me and the machine, he handed over my passport and I handed over his keys. When I told him about the oil leak, he informed me that they had “fixed it before.”  I guess that I unfixed it.

Back at the Travel Lodge I related my war stories to those present at the campfire. I sipped my Beer Laos bottles and described gory detail after detail, delighting in the look of amazement on their faces that I could endure such an ordeal.

Late in the night, as I wobbled from the beer, Inga and Steve rolled in, looking defeated. I had not seen them on the road that day. They had evidently taken a dirt track out of Ban Na Hin that led to the limestone cave, thirty kilometers out. They had made it only ten when Steve got a flat tire. They pushed for an hour, but found no village, no mechanic, no rice paddy saviors. Eventually, they turned back toward the town and had it fixed there, choosing to then ride back to Tha Khaek.

When I tell people about the trip, about the plague of breakdowns, most lament my awful luck. What had I done to accrue such bad trip karma? But the mechanical failings, the problems, these forced me to stop along the way in places that I would have hardly given a glance to from the road. I got to spend time in these villages and get a glimpse into real Lao life – not what is packaged and sold to the Khaosan Road hordes. The problems on the trip made me relax, they made slow down. And Laos is a country best viewed in first gear.

Christopher Tharp is a writer who lives in Lacey, Washington. This story won the Gold Award for Men’s Travel in the Second Annual Solas Awards.

About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.

Sep 302012
 
Wood body truck rumbling off the Mekong ferry Champasak Laos

Wood body truck rumbling off the Mekong ferry Champasak Laos

 

Old style trucks, Xam Neua Laos 2006

 

40 year old bus plying the route Xiengkhouang-Paksan

PAZ-672, 40 year old bus plying the route Xiengkhouang-Paksan

PAZ-672

 

renault-bus-Lao-Bao

An old Pavlovsky Avtobusny Zavod, PAZ-672, bus probably 35 years old gets loaded one more tome Lao Bao Laos heading for Vietnam

 

 

Paksan bus station heading for Xiengkhouang!

 

Phonsavan Paksan bus with snorkel for deep water

 

Ban Boun Thai bus slides off of road

 

South bound bus route 13 with a story to tell…

 

goat-bus-xepon

Phonsavon to Pakse bus in the rainy season, what fun!

 

Phonsavon to Pakse bus in the rainy season, what fun!

 

 

laos-old-truck

Sam Nea, old style bus, these are still seen in the outlying provinces but are becoming more rare.

bus-in-the-mud

Heavy rain and slick road, causing problems for this Pongsali bound bus

LaosGPSmap floods

LaosGPSmap floods Nam Ngum river, buses and tuk tuks a low lying area near Thangon

 

Aug 142012
 

Ho-chi-Minh-trail-fuel-tanks Please ask, about our Ho Chi Minh Trail tours!

ho-chi-minh-trail-larry-chambers

Ho Chi Minh trail,
painting by Veteran Larry Chambers

The Legend of the Ho Chi Minh trail, there are few brand names to match that of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the secret, shifting, network of deep jungle tracks that led to the Victory for Vietnam war.

Ho Chi Minh Trail  Sam-missile

SA 2 Surface to Air missile, Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos,
Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail huey-1 ban Dong war museum

Huey helicopter used in the Lamson battle at the Ban Dong war museum

Well here I sit in Laos again, I have been putting around the place on and off for 10 years now. Mostly traveling by motorcycle, no surprise there. However I am now into offroading. This little hobby started around 1999 when I took my first backpacking trip after 15 years sailing around the globe on my sailboat Espritdemer. This land trip took in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. All countries I was able to rent bikes with the exception of Laos. And Laos, in those years was just opening up to tourism. Well so off to Singapore and buy a bike. Were I found a trusty ole Xl600 Honda. This good ole bike made many trips up through Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Borneo. To cut a long story short eventually I moved down to a smaller more nimble bike an XR400. In around 2003 I discovered the ancient Kymer Empire known as Ankor Wat. Cambodia at the time was just coming out of the Kymer Rouge era and the country was in a shambles with and dilapidated road network, which had more oxcarts than cars in the country. Well with the combination of great offroad riding and the lure of ancient temples in the Jungles. (Indiana Jones). I spent a few seasons with my GPS mapping, discovering many ancient temples and ancient road networks across the land. Wow great fun and memories, until development caught up with the place and it became a bit ordinary. The fantastic temples, surrounded by landmine signs with skull and crossbones that I would camp inside, would now have ticket gates guards and tourists!!

So my attention turned northwards towards Laos and in the theme of ancient roads, the Ho Chi Minh trails were the next target. Of course with all the GPS gear from the boat and a few navigation skills. I used the incredible US Military maps to find the old trails which were intact, lots of war junk along the trails and the main source of income for the locals was selling the metal to the Vietnamese which was then melted down in smelters.

So blah blah blah. After a few years of this great fun I continued to map the whole of the country and produce the LaosGPSmap which you can see on the web site. However the Ho Chi Minh trail continues to be a passion, In fact I am writing this from Xepon site of one of the biggest battles of war. The Lao and Vietnamese are have a huge celebration and dedication ceremony at the new war museum here at Ban Dong.

UXO Laos, Attepue province

UXO Laos, Attepue province

Ho Chi Minh Trail chinese built -tank

Chinese tank on road 96 Ho Chi Minh trail
appears to have toppled down the side of the hill and been buried, This tank lay underground until the ADB funded road was cut and an excavator uncovered this perfectly intact specimen, although a little dirty , live artillery shells and equipment were still inside the cockpit

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank turret

Tank turret Aimed at the Sihanouk trail Southern Laos, Ho Chi Minh trail
What a fantastic view from this road looking into the Attepue valley.

To me it was a dark, foreboding place where we knew the enemy was creeping up on us and we were shooting at ghosts, just every once in a while happening to hit something important. Not enough to stem the tide.

Ho Chi Minh Trail turret

Chinese built, T 58 tank with gun and turret, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail inside tank

Inside the cockpit when this tank was uncovered, the 2 squares in front of the driver, are prisms so the tank can be operated without opening the hatch, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank speedometer-and-black-box

speedometer and tachometer from Chinese built tank, One can only speculate that this tank fell off the side of the hill then was buried by a landslide? on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail-saved road

This section of “The trail” was “saved” When the Belgian Cooperation upgraded the road in 2008.
This road was heavily used during the war to transport guns and ammo, however the original construction was during the French era.

Ho Chi Minh Trail lookout

After a very long days exploring, many trees were blocking the road, lucky I had my saw with me. I managed to hack through the jungle and found myself on this perch overlooking Sepon.
This was the site of Anti Aircraft gun emplacements, remains of bunkers can be found along this ridge.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Lamson-battle-map

My bike. photo above, is on LZ Sophia overlooking the Xepon valley scene of the Battle of Lamson

Ho Chi Minh Trail Landing Zone sophia lamson

File Photo, March 1971 Lz Sophia,

Excerpt,”I participated in two invasions of Cambodia.The first was the U.S. invasion in the Spring of 1970. The second was in early 1971 (a couple of weeks before my tour of duty was over) when the South Vietnamese alone invaded Cambodia but were supported by U.S. gunship and medevac aircraft. During that second invasion, I never saw Cambodia during the day, as all of my medevac border crossings came at or after sunset.

One night while we were deep in Cambodia (North of Phnom Penh) we were hijacked by some ARVN’s (Army Republic of Vietnam) who were losing a battle. Because of the large number of casualties, the mission called for two Dustoff aircraft. I was the first bird in and CW2 was right behind us with his. Our landing site was to the center of a ring of tanks and and APC’s (armored personnel carriers) located on the top of a large bare (defoliated) hill top surrounded by thick jungle. All of the tanks and APC’s were outward and engaging with the enemy. The chaos reminded me of an old Western movie where the encircled wagon train was defending itself from Indian attacks from all sides.

When we “touched down” the ARVN’s abandoned their wounded and swarmed my aircraft. My medic and crewchief started to throw the unwounded off the aircraft when the ARVN’s pointed their weapons at us. I told my crew to get back on board and close the cargo doors when they could. I tried to pick our bird up to a hover, but with all the ARVNs on board, we were well over our Gross Max Weight limits and our rotor (RPM) would keep bleeding off. Since we were sitting ducks where we were, I decided to try a running take off and attempt to reach “translational lift” by running (sliding along on our skids) down the hillside.
I was surrounded by armored vehicles, so I looked for an opening between two vehicles that was large enough to fit, but ended up clipping off both of their FM whip antennas. Once outside of the circle of armored vehicles we started our run down the hillside with all lights out except our search light (the scan of which I controlled by my thumb on the cyclic). We slid and bounced toward the tree line, slowly gaining ground speed by nursing the rotor RPM, engine RPM and Torque settings gingerly to achieve lift off. As we cleared the the tree tops, I turned the search light off and began a slow climb and increase in airspeed. I radioed Stan to warn him what he was in for and asked my crew for a head count of ARVN’s on board. My crew chief said it was a “…pile of assholes and elbows and shit eating smiles…” that he estimated the count at 17-18 or more. Then my medic shouted that we had an ARVN hanging from the skids! I immediately reduced airspeed and power to begin a descent. I remember thinking,’”Man oh man, now what are you going to do? You’ve got a guy on the skids and a triple canopy jungle beneath you and it’s pitch black out there and you’re in the middle of bad guy country along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”. As I continued my descent, I decided to look for a road or clearing that would allow me enough room for a “run on landing” and a “run on take off”. Shortly thereafter my medic came on the intercom and said, “Never mind, we lost him.”.I immediately looked at my altimeter and saw that we were about 700 feet AGL (above ground level). I finally got through to Stan, but it was too late. They pulled weapons on him as well and I think he pulled out 18 ARVN’s as well. I radioed back to Tay Ninh for MP’s to meet us, but they were late arriving at the pad and all of the deserters disappeared into the night. ”
end quote

Ho Chi Minh Trail white cliffs truck

NVA truck remains, on “the trail” known as White Cliffs by the American pilots,
Ho Chi Minh Trail Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Xe Bangfai Ford

Xe Bangfai Ford
Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos,
This recently built ford (2012) will soon be a bridge as road upgrading takes place.

Bomb Boat Nose

Bomb Boat Nose

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Bac Ammo Dump

The infamous Ban Bac ammo dump.
My camp site was a few hundred meters to the North, I was quite surprised when I woke up from my campsite in the remote jungle, and found there were others camping in the area.
These guys were marooned here for 6 weeks as they had no fuel to get the trucks out. They told me the “company” did not have any money for fuel.

Ho Chi Minh trail jet-engine

Rusting jet engine from a crash site near Dak Cheung Southern Laos

crash-engine

Pratt and Whitney jet engine from a US warplane

Ho Chi Minh Trail-fuel-pod

Ho-chi-minh-trail, “Drop Tank” , Along road 12 Southern Laos, discarded during the Vietnam war.

Scrap metal yard Xekong Province Southern Laos

Scrap metal yard Xekong Province Southern Laos

Pt 76 hiding in the weeds along side the road Pou Khoud

Pt 76 hiding in the weeds along side the road Pou Khoud

Ho Chi Minh Trail-helmet

Helmet found along the trail Sekong

Ho Chi Minh Trail-helmet flower pot

Phanop Valley helmet is used as a planter in local village. Chinese or Russian perhaps.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Bombie-casings

Saravanh Southern Laos, a stack of Bombie casings waiting to be melted for scrap metal.

Russian Kamaz on the Old Ho Chi Minh Trail

Russian Kamaz on the Old Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail bomb-garden

Bombs in the garden, Xekong Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Bac Ammo Dump weapons cache

Weapons cache found along route 96 Ho Chi Minh trail. Weapons , fuel drums and artillery, were buried along the trail to protect it from the deadly bombs that rained down continuously.
Chinese 82mm mortar shell carrier for Type 67 Chi Com mortar

Ho Chi Minh Trail Fuel Pod, kids

Village kids examining a fuel pod being constructed as a boat Phanop valley Ho
chi Minh trail Southern Laos

,

Having a rest on a Gun Turret Ho Chi Minh Trail

Having a rest on a Gun Turret Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Kids in trough

Kids in a village Ta Oy District Southern Laos

LaosGPSmap Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh trail route 96 near Ta Oy southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail-Ta-Oy

Ho-chi-Minh-trail-Ta-Oy,
Just North of Ta Oy Southern Laos is an old section of the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail-Ta-Oy Samouy-village-scene

Samouay Southern Laos a village along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Navigators information for bombing mission

Navigators information for bombing mission

Fighter pilots Mission cards

Fighter pilots Mission cards

Ho Chi Minh Trail-Ta-Oy Samouy-tribal longhouse

Tribal Longhouse Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos

Map warning Danger

Map warning Danger

Howitzer left over from the Secret war Northern Laos

Howitzer left over from the Secret war Northern Laos

.

Ho Chi Minh trail bomb-waterfall

750 Pound bomb lying along the Ho Chi Minh trial in Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Dakpok Kao village-water-supply

Village of Dakpok Kao fresh clear stream feeds the outdoor bathing and water supply, on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ban Tagnong a "hot" place on the Ho Chi Minh trail The new generation living with the legacy of the war.  A baby sitting on the steps next to an artillery round and a section of the gasoline pipeline that ran the length of the trail

Ban Tagnong a “hot” place on the Ho Chi Minh trail The new generation living with the legacy of the war.
A baby sitting on the steps next to an artillery round and a section of the gasoline pipeline that ran the length of the trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Katu Villager

Deep into the Anamite mountain chain along the Ho Chi Minh trail, local villager and child gathering wood.

Ho Chi Minh Trail River boat

A forgotten area of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a farmer clears his land to discover a Vietnamese riverboat bound for the Xekong river at Ban Bac.

Ho Chi Minh trail Bamboo tunnel

Ho Chi Minh trail Bamboo tunnel

Ho Chi Minh Trail gun

Ho Chi Minh trail Laos, gun remains near Ta Oy

Ho Chi Minh Trail gun tank-barrel

Tank muzzle appears out of a pile of rocks amid flowers along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail tribal villager

Tribal woman smoking traditional cigar, Dak Cheung, Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail tribal cerimonial-house

Ceremonial house Xekong Southern Laos along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail amputee

Ta Oy villager who lost his arm while searching for UXO. White cliffs in the background

Ho Chi Minh Trail scrap metal hunters

After the war, the collection and sale of war debris turned into a valuable scrap metal industry for tribes’ people in Xieng Khouang province and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Bomb casings, aircraft fuel tanks and other bits and pieces that were not sold to Thailand have been put to every conceivable use in rural Laos. They are used as cattle troughs, fence posts, flower pots, stilts for houses, water carriers, temple bells, knives and ploughs.Kids with metal detectors are on scrap metal hunt the only source of income for many Laos, Collectors often spend weeks or even month on end in the thick jungle, dragging large pieces of Vietnam War-era scrap metal to the roadside, awaiting pickup by transport trucks …
Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail XML-mining-clearance

XML mining company Xepon Southern Laos, EOD technician clearing an area to be mined for Gold.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Tank Ban Dong

Remains M41 Walker BulldogBetween Aloui and Landing Zone Alpha, the armored column was ambushed at a stream crossing and four M41 tanks were abandoned in the middle of the stream isolating the 11th Armored Cavalry on the west bank. The airborne soldiers abandoned the cavalry and kept on marching east down QL 9. No reinforcements were sent and no recovery vehicles came to remove the abandoned tanks. The 11th fought on alone, and after three hours cleared a way across but had to leave seventeen disabled vehicles on the west side of the stream. The NVA used the vehicles as machine gun positions until the vehicles were destroyed on 25 March,Ban Dong, Laos, Ho chi Minh trailThe next day, the 1st Armored Brigade and a paratrooper battalion were ordered to go back and recover the 17 damaged tanks and APCs left behind by the 11th Cav. Once again American air cover had been promised and once again it was diverted. The brigade succeeded in picking up the vehicles and had the 17 vehicles in tow when, once again, they were ambushed crossing a river near Aloui. The four lead M-41 tanks were hit with RPGs blocking the route. For three hours the South Vietnamese fought to survive until the disabled tanks were pushed aside and the column could move. All the vehicles that were being towed as well as the four M41s were left behind and later destroyed by Cobras

Ho-Chi-Minh-road3

A forgotten area of jungle on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Ho Chi Minh trail bridge road 110

Near “The Falls Chokepoint” old Rt110 is a bridge used during the war still standing, A good place to hang your hammock for the night.

M 113 US Armored Personnel Carrier Laos Ho Chi Minh trail

M 113 US Armored Personnel Carrier Laos Ho Chi Minh trail

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Ho Chi Minh Trail logging-truck

The Old Ho Chi Minh trail used for Logging Attepue District

Ho Chi Minh Trail pysops-flyer

Psyops campaign
The US engaged in leaflet dropping from planes, however it is not known how the NVA distributed these flyers?
These were found by the author at the Ban Bac ammo dump buried in a pit with other war supplies and ammunition. 2006
The Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Psyops-Flyer

Psyops flyers from Ban Bac ammo dump, burried in a bunker. Found by the Author. 2006

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban La Hap road, 96

Ho Chi minh trail road South of Muang Nong Southern Laos. This is road number 96

Ho-Chi-Minh-tourism-photo

Tourism comes to the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail crash site wing

The Author,Don Duvall, with a wing from an undocumented (JPAC) F4 fighter lost near Dak Cheung Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombie-casings fenceHo Chi Minh Trail bombie-casings fence

Bombie casing, fence along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail PT 76 Russian Light Tank

PT-76 is a Soviet amphibious light tank, this is a good example of this old design, at a local army base.
In February 1968 the NVA brought PT-76 light tanks down the trail to attack the Lang Vei Special Forces camp.The camp was just inside the Vietnam border from Laos. Captain Frank Willoughby, Lang Vei camp Commander, had one sitting on top of his command bunker after the attack. Although I was not involved, my unit at Forward Operating Base-3, Khe Sanh Combat Base, organized and conducted the relief operation that rescued him and the other camp personnel.

Ho Chi Minh Trail russia-tank

Derelict Russian PT-76 tank Phonsavon Northern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Fac Plane remains

Fac plane used for spotting along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail T 28 fighte Plane remains

Wreck of T 28 fighter Savannakhet province Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombie-house

Stables held up with Bombie casings, Saravanh Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Bomb Bell

Old bombs make good bells, Xekong Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail dogtag

Dogtag found on the Laos Cambodian border

Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail Pick Axe

This young boy holding a Pick Axe found on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail S-75 Dvina Sam missile

S-75 Dvina Sam missile,this missile was better known by the NATO designation SA-2 Guideline, used to knock out B 52′s Attepue
Since its first deployment in 1957 it has become the most widely-deployed air defense missile in history.
The SA-2 missile had a solid fuel booster rocket that launched and accelerated it, then dropped off after about six seconds. While in boost stage, the missile did not guide. During the second stage, the SA-2 guided, and a liquid-fuel rocket propelled it to the target
TECHNICAL NOTES:
Range: Minimum 5 miles; maximum effective range about 19 miles; maximum slant range 27 miles
Ceiling: Up to 60,000 ft.
Warhead: 288-lb. blast-fragmentation
Speed: Mach 3.5
Weight: 4,850 lbs

Ho Chi Minh Trail  Sam-missile

Jan 2013 Pa am Village Southern Laos, sam missile

Ho Chi Minh Trail first-stage-sam

The remains of an unsuccessful launch of a SA-2 Sam Missile, Shown here is he solid rocket booster first stage which dropped off after 6 seconds
Xepon, Ho Chi Minh trail, Laos
The SA-2 did not operate alone, but as part of a complete system. A typical SA-2 site in North Vietnam had six missiles on launchers, control and support vans, a Spoon Rest acquisition radar, and a Fan Song guidance radar.

Ho Chi Minh Trail  Sam-missile 2

Saved from the Scrap-metal hunters by government decree.
Sam SA-2 is a popular tourist attraction outside of Attepue at Ban Paam on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Ho Chi Minh Trail sam-support-truck

Russian Zil truck used as radar control center for Sam Missile, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Sam radar-control

Mobile radar used in conjunction with the S-75 Dvna missile system, Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail radar-control-door

Gun rack on the door to the radar control room, maybe the operator was worried he would have to defend himself against his superiors if his missile shot missed!

Ho Chi Minh Trail radar-control-monitor

Fortunately I do some mapping work with the military here, and a friend allowed me access to some of this ancient but Magic stuff!
Radar and controls inside the command module, note the curtain to keep out the light for visibility on the CRT, just to the right of the radar control is a gun rack with weapons at the ready.
I wonder how many “kills” this one had? I looked around to see if there were anything like “a notch in the gun stock” , however I did not see any thing.

Ho Chi Minh Trail radar-control intructions

Radar command instructions and rows of buttons this is well before the days of integrated circuits and computers, the success rate of this system was low.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pysops-flyer

NVA propaganda flyer found at Ban Bac ammo dump by Don Duvall of LaosGPSmap. This Psyops flyer with racial implications!
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Anti Aircraft gun

37 mm automatic air defense gun
AAA gun emplacement, Sihanook trail Cambodia Pnom Bok

Ho Chi Minh Trail Gun Barrel

Rifliing inside a cannon at the Ban Dong war museum

Ho Chi Minh Trail scrap metal forge

Villagers using war scrap to fabricate Knives, Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail melting-war-scrap

Kamuane Province Laos, Villagers use homemade apparatus for smelting war scrap for making knives

Airplane door being used on a shed in Xam Thong village a relic from the secret war

Airplane door being used on a shed in Xam Thong village a relic from the secret war

anvil ho Chi Minh trail

Artillery shell used as an anvil Ban Phanop Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Ho Chi Minh trail bomb-carry

Villagers salvaging a partially exploded bomb from the Jungle along road 110 Southern Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Target Alpha scrap-metal hunters

Ho Chi Minh trail, Target Alpha, one of the heavily bomb “Choke Points” along the Ho Chi Minh trail. 2013 there is still plenty of UXO (unexploded ordinance) to be found. These scap metal hunters from Ban Ta Hua are on a mission.

War Era Maps of the Ho Chi Minh trail Published by the National Defense Mapping Agency Washington DC

Ban Laboy Ford, on the Nam Te Le river, Now known as the Xe Bangfi, War Era Maps of the Ho Chi Minh trail Published by the National Defense Mapping Agency Washington DC

Ban laboy Ford, I camped beside the river and was awoken by villagers ( 1:00 am) whom had walked over the mountain in search of scrap metal to sell at the market. That was a cold night.
This was the area of Harleys valley, and famous rescue attempt of Lance Peter Sijan.
F-4C was engulfed in a ball of fire, due to the bomb fuses malfunctioning and causing a premature detonation on their release. The fighter went down in a fireball and Sijan ejected into the jungle.He evaded enemy forces for 46 days (all the time scooting on his back down the rocky limestone karst on which he landed, causing more injuries). He was finally captured by the North Vietnamese on Christmas Day, 1967. When captured, he was sent to Hanoi. In his weakened state, he contracted pneumonia and died in Hoa Lo Prison (the notorious Hanoi Hilton).His courage was an inspiration to other American prisoners of war and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour
“Into the Mouth of the Cat” by Malcolm McConnell, is a great book describing this story.
Ban Laboy ford,“The target was near a junction of main vehicle infiltration routes on the part of the Trail the Americans had designated LOC 101. It lay in wild, uninhabited, triple-canopy forest, surrounded by sheer chimneys and towers of limestone called karsts that rose from the narrow jungle valleys.”
Bomber air crews continued to rotate between Anderson AFB, Kadena AB and U Tapao Royal Thai Airfield allowing for the maximum number of sorties
from the crew force. A major ongoing objective in September of 1968 was interdiction of the supply routes from North to South Vietnam to preempt a
logistics buildup and offensive campaign by the enemy. The B-52 effort was concentrated in the areas of Ban Karai and Mu Gia Passes and Ban Laboy Ford.
From mid-May through mid-September, it was estimated that over 1,800 trucks moving supplies South crossed the Ban Laboy Ford. The ford consisted of a
prepared ford, a cable bridge and a cable ferry/pontoon bridge across the Nam Ta Le River. On 18 September, 18 B-52s and 12 F-105s attacked the
Ban Laboy Ford destroying the pontoon bridge and damaging the cable bridge. The main ford, however, remained intact.
From 20 September until 1 October, Tac Air continued to pound the ford but was unable to destroy it. On 1 October, six B-52s salvoed 108 bombs each,
resulting in bomb trains of 780 feet and a direct hit on the ford. For the first time in three years the Ban Laboy Ford was closed.
Repair efforts were thwarted by continuous Tac Air and Arc Light strikes.

Ban Laboy young tribal villager poses with leaning on a bomb at the Ban Laboy ford

A young tribal villager poses, leaning on a bomb at the Ban Laboy ford

pontoon-ferry

Rusting pontoon ferry sits on the side of the Ho Chi Minh trail

Jock Montgomery discovers the Ban Laboy pontoon bridge, lying silent in the clear waters of the Xe Bangfai, downstream of the Ban Laboy Ford. This bridge carried a large amount of traffic down the Ho Chi Minh trail Photo Jock Montgomery Photography

laboy-ford

December 2012 View, of the Ban Laboy Ford

laboy-road

Road to Ban Laboy steep karst mountains surround this valley with lots of caves.

 

May and June 1966 were particularly deadly for the fliers over Steel Tiger North. The gunners were getting better at their duties and tactics by the time the dry season started giving way to the deluges of the summer monsoon. On the evening of May 15th Spooky 10 disappeared with eight crewmen aboard. The AC-47 was orbiting just east of the Chokes when the ABCCC controller took the crew’s last position report.

Harleys-valley1

Another view of the area known as “Harleys Valley” This small area was named for U.S. Airforce Captain Lee Dufford Harley a Forward Air Controller flying a single engine O-1 Bird Dog aircraft who was shot down by ground fire at this location and presumed killed.

The big meadow, into which Captain Harley and Airman Guillot crashed, was already well on its way to becoming a major storage complex and transshipment center. From that cloudy day on, the valley also became known to the fliers at NKP as “Harley’s Valley.”

mother

Smack on the Border with Laos Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh trail, Mother and child at a scrap metal sellers house.

laboy-scrappile

Scrap metal collector on the Vietnamese border, a slowly dying industry.

laboy-house

Ban Laboy village very few houses remain, the ones that do are used for stockpiling scrap metal for recycleing.

Armored personel carrier, turret, at a local restaurant. The restaurant is gone now making way for a new Government Administration building.Muang Nong

suspension-bridge1

Suspension bridge of the Xepon river, on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Guest house with a reminder of the war, Muang Nong Southern Laos

Anti Aircraft gun poking out of the undergrowth Muang Phin Southern Laos along old RT 23 Ho Chi Minh trail

War remains outside a Vietnamese shop-house Kulum District Laos

The Red Princes bridge, a vital part of the Ho Chi Minh trail destroyed by US bombing in 1967

UXO quarantine, UXO Laos, compound at Ta Oy District

500 lb bombs under the porch at Ban Phanop Jan 2012,
Known in the business as a “quick strike mine”.
These bombs are fused with magnetic trip mechanism, MK30 mod 0 arming device, designed to be dropped into rivers acting as mines, or detonate by the magnetic signatures of vehicles,when a tank or truck rolls past! These were often fitted with high-drag “Snakeye” tailfins used for low-altitude release
“Please treat with care and do not roll, tumble or drop”
Ho Chi Minh trail

Quick strike mines being deployed, with snakeye tailfins, from an aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh trail

Snakeye along the road, this sitting in front of a villagers house means its for sale, as scrap metal, Kaluem Southern Laos

Operation Igloo White, Spikebuoy
It began as “the McNamara Line” across Vietnam. It led to the seeding of the Ho Chi Minh Trail by air with 20,000 sensors
The sensors—a network of some 20,000 of them—were planted mostly by Navy and Air Force airplanes, although some of them were placed by special operations ground forces. They were dropped in strings of five or six to be sure that at least three sensors in each string would survive and be activated. The sensors operated on batteries, which ran down after a few weeks, so replacement sensors had to be dropped.
Most of the sensors were either acoustic or seismic. There were two kinds of acoustic sensors, both derived from the Navys Sonobuoy, to which microphones and batteries were added. These sensors could hear both vehicles and voices.

Claymore mine, a directional anti-personnel mine used by the U.S. Forces, detonation via remote control. Photo Muang Laman southern Laos

xepon-vault

The “Vault” at Muang Xepon, one of the last things standing after the vicious battle of Lamson.

 

Xepon, Wat, showing scars from the battle of Lam Son

Xepon, Wat, showing scars from the battle of Lam Son719,Operation Lam Son 719, was a limited-objective offensive campaign conducted in southeastern portion of the Kingdom of Laos by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) between 8 February and 25 March 1971, during the Vietnam War. The United States provided logistical, aerial, and artillery support to the operation, but its ground forces were prohibited by law from entering Laotian territory. The objective of the campaign was the disruption the Ho Chi Minh Trail of a possible future offensive by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN),Gps lao, Hi Chi Minh trail
Tchepone itself was just a small village but around it the PAVN had established sanctuary base 604, the main base for attacks in Quang Tri Province, and base 611, south of 604 and closer to the border, used to launch attacks against the city of Hue and Thua Thien province. These base areas consisted of many small storage depots and five large storage areas, each between 1 to 2 square kilometers, stocked with weapons, ammunitions, logistic supplies, medical supplies and rations. Other areas around Tchepone were used for troop replacement and training. For a week ARVN troops wandered about the two base camps methodically destroying everything in sight or using artillery, tac air or gunships to destroy the depots. Over 9,700 secondary explosions were documented, sometimes continuing for a half hour after the initial strike. The NVA were in a state of shock at Tchepone, over 5,000 were killed in the depot area – mostly rear area troops or troops in rest centers – with another 69 captured as air cavalry roamed the area unopposed. Thousands of tons of enemy supplies were destroyed and a POL pipeline was cut in several places. Almost 4,000 captured enemy weapons were airlifted out and brought back to Viet Nam.

 

 

Xepon, Wat, showing scars from the battle of Lam Son

boats-xepon1

Finely crafted canoes on the Xepon river made from Downed US aircraft. Phou Tapang 649 meters, in the background, where NVA Anti Aircraft emplacements were found..

Machine gun, Karum District Laos, Ho Chi Minh trail

Very long, 100 or more, “Bombie casing “fence near Ban Laboy
Ho Chi Minh Trail Southern Laos

Armored personnel carrier Chinese type YW531 leftover from the Vietnam war.carries a maximum of 15 including crew, Mounted astern is a 12.7 mm machine gun
Ta Oy Ho Chi Minh trail

Vietnamese ammo box found at Ban Bac, Ho Chi Minh trail

Helicopter near war memorial Rt 9 and 23
Ho Chi Minh trail Muang Phin, Route 23 heavily used Ho Chi Minh trail, in the early stages of the war. Later roads were built farther East, significantly shortening the distance the supply trucks had to travel, to deliver their goods.

559-headquarters

Finally found, tunnels that the 559 NVA commanded the Lamson battle. Dec 2012 a stroke of luck finding this cave system. I was was fortunate to run accross 3 elderly villagers melting war scrap for knives to harvest their rice, after a brief conversation and some quite animated talk about the war. They agreed to take me to this cave system. the surrounding area was full of bunkers and a hidden network of trenches to approach the entrance.Ho Chi Minh trail 559-Headquarters-cave Interesting they told me I was the first foreigner to ever visit this cave.

More tunnels found along the Ho Chi Minh trail, probably headquarters for the 559 Road Division

More tunnels found along the Ho Chi Minh trail, probably headquarters for the 559 Road Division

Ban Lahap at the crossroads of RT 92 and 922
Target Oscar Eight. This was one of the most important points along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This was the headquarters of the 559th Transportation Regiment of the NVA, the unit responsible for maintenance of the road network, traffic management, road security, and the correct routing of men and supplies. This was also a major choke point for truck traffic headed east along Route 922 to the A Shau Valley in I Corps, and traffic headed further south on Route 92 destined for the Kontum, Pleiku, and Ban Me Thout regions in South Vietnam.
Neither Route 92 nor Route 922 existed before the NVA decided they needed all weather access into South Vietnam for their trucks. The NVA road builders built these roads through rugged terrain, and camouflaged them well that FACs would often have to fly close to the ground to see them.
This intersection was heavily bombed by U.S. Air Force fighter bombers and B-52s. U.S. Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunships also conducted night time “truck plinking” missions here.
Recon teams from MACV/SOG made frequent insertions into this area in attempts to interdict traffic, either directly via Hatchet Force missions, or indirectly by calling in air strikes. The NVA detected practically every SOG insertion into this area and the SOG teams fought many vicious battles with NVA security regiments in this area, taking many casualties.
also the area of Target Oscar 8, a vicious series of battles took place here. On the ridge top to the left are foxholes and mortar shells from AAA artilery, along with caves were the gunners hid when B52 strikes were taking place.

Image of a jet fighter carved into this shop-house on the Ho Chi Minh trail near Xekong Southern Laos

Black smith using war materials for making knives, The two vertical tubes are flair tube canisters, operating as a makeshift bellows for the coal. Anvil is an artillery shell, Aluminum bucket most likely made from a downed aircraft of which were many in this area. Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Symbol of war, on a Ta Oy village headman’s house

Taring-meeting-house, near Dac Cheung Laos

old-woman-pipe-smoker

Old woman and a baby, Ban Taloung on the Ho Chi Minh trail

lost-and-forgotten

A lost and forgotten section of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Ho-chi-Minh-trail-fuel-tanks

Ho-chi-Minh-trail-fuel-tanks
These large fuel tanks built inside a cave with a small opening, obviously they were built inside the cave perfectly safe from the bombs raining down/

F 4- C, Phantom wingtip (Boxer 22) salvaged from a crash site near, Ban Phanop Southern Laos The pilot (Ben Danielson, KIA) and navigator ejected after being hit with Anti aircraft fire over the Phanop valley. Shortly thereafter, one of the biggest rescue missions of the conflict ensued. A total of 336 sorties (bombing runs) participated in this rescue. 21 different types of ordnance was used, 20mm canon fire to air to ground missiles. Ten helicopters and five A-1s suffered battle damage.This was an amazing example of the effort expended by the US to save a downed crew member. This wingtip is now Prominently displayed at the Wat in the Northern part of the village. Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

F 4- C, Phantom wingtip (Boxer 22) salvaged from a crash site near, Ban Phanop Southern Laos
The pilot (Ben Danielson, KIA) and navigator ejected after being hit with Anti aircraft fire over the Phanop valley. Shortly thereafter, one of the biggest rescue missions of the conflict ensued.
A total of 336 sorties (bombing runs) participated in this rescue. 21 different types of ordnance was used, 20mm canon fire to air to ground missiles. Ten helicopters and five A-1s suffered battle damage.This was an amazing example of the effort expended by the US to save a downed crew member.
This wingtip is now Prominently displayed at the Wat in the Northern part of the village.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Phanop Vally Rescue Operation

Phanop Vally Rescue Operation

Navigation charts showing vectors to main targets of Ban Phanop, Ban Laboy and Tchepone, From the Nakhon Phanom airbase. provided by Jim Conkey

Navigation charts showing vectors to main targets of Ban Phanop, Ban Laboy and Tchepone, From the Nakhon Phanom airbase. provided by Jim Conkey

PHANOP-CHOKEPOINT

262 meter Bamboo bridge at Ban Along over the Xe Lanong river, the villagers will charge you 20,000 kip to cross, a bargain at any price.
One can imagine a line of porters pushing bicycles across this bridge on the way south,The large vehicle ford is 900 meters upstream were most of the traffic during the war crossed the river.Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

long-bridge

Xe la Nong bridge at Ban Along

karst-river-3

Karst formation in the Phanop valley, The NVA managed to get the POL pipeline and Anti Aircraft guns on top of these Karst pinnacles.

The Author testing Armored Personel Carrier on the old Ho Chi Minh trail

Kids having fun with a home made cart on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Kids having fun with a home made cart on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Home Made Cart On the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Home Made Cart On the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Bamboo bridge on “the trail” built on the old French abutments, the bridge builders will charge you 5000 kip to cross

Ho-Chi-Minh-road

Ban Karai pass, one of the notorious passages of the Ho Chi Minh trail, time stands still. Ho Chi Minh trail with original stones laid down by hand by the slave workers ( sacrifice of the many who shoveled, dug, fought, and scraped by to get supplies of rice and ammunition to North Vietnam’s front-line forces. There is an important stress on the efforts of women to keep the supply lines open.) along the trail during the time of the Vietnam War. Note the trees overhanging the trail so not to be detectable by US spotter planes

Mag De-mining team Boulapa district Ho Chi Minh trail

UXO Laos 1280 kg bomb on display Saravan Southern Laos

500 pound bomb, smack in the middle of route 15 Ta Oy
I am not sure how all the construction equipment managed to miss this and not set off a bang!

War head SA2 S-75 Dvina Sam missile, Soviet-designed, high-altitude, command guided, surface-to-air missile,
HO Chi Minh Trail

Excerpt #1 from the MISTY FAC Book
1967 was a “build-up” year for us, the VC and the NVA. Late in 1967, Intelligence reported the movement of four NVA divisions, two artillery regiments and armor – yes armor! – to a place called Khe Sahn in Quang Tri province, I Corps. Huge movements of U. S. and NVA troops and equipment ensued in early 1968 under our very eyes, but as usual, we saw very little – no trucks, no troops, no movement, no nothing. Then, on 31 January 1968, all hell broke loose all over South Vietnam with the Tet offensive. Cities, towns, villages and compounds burned all along the coast as we went “wheels-up” from Phu Cat and headed north on daily missions.
Howie quickly flipped the camera to the right and came back with a beautiful picture of an SA-2 on a Guideline transporter with a wide-eyed NVA soldier trying to pull the cover on the missile. I still have the picture. It is one of the most amazing pictures of the war. So much for the 4500′ rule – Ed was only slightly above the height of the launcher.

sam-missile

Silent, in its new resting place.

Sam Missile found and disarmed by UXO Laos, Near Ban Lankham.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

missile-containter

Several of these Sam missile transport containers, were found in Kamuane province in close proximity. This is the area were the rockets were fired at B 52′s

The Author posing on a S 75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) Russian built missile on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

2004 on the Ho Chi Minh trail Sam Missile

2004 on the Ho Chi Minh trail Sam Missile

Ban Phanop, on a tributary of the Bangphai River, . The village is located in the Ban Phanhop valley, one of the “chokes”, or narrow corridors along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos that were heavily bombed by American forces during the Vietnam War
Kids playing in a “Bomb Boat” made from discarded fuel tanks, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho chi minh trail fuel pod

Seiampang Village Southern Laos a villager pulls a fuel pod, drop tank, out of the Jungle on the Ho Chi Minh trail. These fuel pods were jettisoned over Laos when the sorties were completed and the bombers returned to base.
could this be a , F-105 Centerline drop tank.

House constructed with bombie casings (bottom) and flare tube canisters ( white colored sheathing) Ban Siampang, Ho Chi Minh trail

Medical supplies, ampules of morphine, found in a cave in the Karst mountains near one of the Choke Points in the Phanop valley, along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh trail tad-hai-bridge1

Setting sun casts a yellow glow on this spectacular sight, the Tad Hai bridge, Over the Xe Bang Hieng River, this bridge was built in 1942 and designed by Souphanouvong who became the first President of Lao PDR in 1975. It was destroyed by the American bombing in 1967.

Ho-chi-minh-trail, Ban Bac Ammo Dump

I am holding a live B-40, Vietnamese copy of the RPG-2, Deep in the jungle the Ban Bac ammo dump
In October 1970, the North Vietnamese started to move supplies into Laos across the Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes, but traffic south of the passes remained light due to heavy rain and two tropical cyclones, Kate on 25 October and Louise on 28 October. As the enemy road maintenance crews repaired the road system and the rivers subsided, truck movements increased on the Ho Chi Minh trail. During November there was an average of 252 Igloo White sensor-detected truck movements per day but most of the traffic was in northern Steel Tiger. On 27 November, a high of 889 sensor-detected truck movements was counted. The total number of sensor-detected truck movements for November was 7564. During December 1970, the number of sensor-detected truck movements increased to an average of 665 per day. The highest daily total for the month of December was 1037 and the overall total for the month was 20,601. _6/
When flooded the Xe Kong River acted as a barrier to the continued movement of the supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail system. The Xe Kong had flooded in October and continued to carry an unusually high amount of water during November. Reliable reports indicated the North Vietnamese were storing large quantities of supplies to the north of the river, awaiting a time the Xe Kong could be forded.
Studies of sensor-detected truck movement patterns, climatic conditions, and North Vietnamese supply procedures led 7th Air Force Intelligence to suspect that there was a major storage complex in the Ban Bak area. Similar indications had been noted during previous dry seasons. Between 1 September 1970 and 18 December 1970 , 25 items of intelligence relating to targets in the Ban Bak area were received. Two pertained to points within one kilometer of the storage area eventually uncovered at Universal Transverse Mercator Map (See Figure 2) coordinates XC855540. One was a
reconnaissance photo showing bunkers and a large open area containing supplies on 4 September 1970 . The other was a 20 November 1970 report from a forward air controller of antiaircraft artillery fire and supplies on the side of the road. There were-forward air controller (FAC) and photo reconnaissance reports of truck revetments, supplies, possible truck parks and storage areas located from one to – seven kilometers away from the storage area with the majority being from two to five kilometers to the north. During November 1970, Igloo White sensors detected almost four times as many truck movements into the Ban Bak* area from the north as departed it moving south. 7/ Intelligence signs indicated a major supply dump and storage area near Ban Bak and north of the Xe Kong River existed; the next task was to find it
The night was clear with a bright moon at 30 degrees above the horizon. The moon helped the FACs to find the trucks moving along the trail, but the angle of the moon acted as a detriment. The truck drivers could drive with a minimum of artificial light using the brightness of the moon to illuminate the road. The low angle of the moon also lengthened the shadows made by the tall trees along the side of the road, making it more difficult to locate parked trucks
Captain Monnig continued to track the trucks with a Model NVSF-040 Uniscope. The Uniscope had entered 20TASS supply about three weeks earlier supplementing the Starlight scope. The Starlight scope had the capability to amplify light 400,000 times.
The area where the Covey FACs worked was a high-threat area. On the plateau, the AAA fire was intense and the triangulation extremely accurate. Some hits were reported but there were no casualties and no downed aircraft. _15/
But before the F-4 aircraft could arrive, the trucks entered the triple canopy jungle plateau area and pulled east off the road into some trees. Captain Monnig raised the amplification of the Uniscope to full volume and instructed Lieutenant Browning to hold the aircraft steady and to disregard any AAA fire. The trucks continued through the jungle and all that Captain Monnig could pick out in the Uniscope were flickers of light as the truck headlights reflected off the foliage. Then the trucks turned north moving to an area 700 meters east of Route 924. _16/
Then the trucks stopped, doused their lights, turned them on again, then doused them again. About this time two F-4 aircraft, Wolfpack 93 from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Airfield , Thailand , were in position. Covey fired a smoke rocket to mark the target. The fighters were armed with Mark 82 hard bombs and CBU 24 cluster bombs. _17/ On the first pass there were no secondaries. Captain Monnig moved the fighters 100 meters to the southeast. On the second pass, a 23 millimeter (mm) AAA gun started to fire. On the third pass, “the sky seemed to open up.” A huge orange ball of fire with black smoke climbed a thousand feet into the sky. _18/
The BAn Bac Ammo dumb found, this turned out to be one of the most successful interdiction’s of the war.
Even with all of the strikes, enemy truck drivers continued to use the truck park and storage area. By 5 January 1971 , it was estimated that there had been 10,097 secondary explosions, 435 secondary fires, 43 trucks destroyed, and 11 damaged.

Ho Chi Minh trail NFL-truck

Skeleton of a NFL Truck body in the area of Ban Bac ammo dump. This truck has been picked clean of any sell-able scrap, only the thinnest metal which is not valuable remains.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh trail ammo-box

Ammo box full of 50 caliber rounds found near an Anti Aircraft emplacement along the Sihanook trail.

Ho chi minh trail ammo rounds

Ho Chi Minh trail, young Souk tribesman holds 50 caliber anti aircraft rounds, on the Cambodian border.

Ho chi minh trail camp

Camp along the Sihanook trail cooking wild birds, a Hornbill and Pheasant are on the menu this day

Ho Chi Minh trail bombvictim

This tribesman from Pou Luang lost his arm to an American Bomb when he was only 5 months old. Deep in the jungle in the triboarder area harvesting what they can from the forest, scrap metal and valuable hardwoods.

Ho chi minh trail bullets

These bullets found rusting in the jungle along the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Destroyed Jeep

A destroyed jeep along the Sihanouk Trail near the Parrots Beak , 2004

ban-bac1

Xekong river the Ban Bac ferry crossing, (Bac, Translation from Lao is Boat crossing) Thousands of trucks full of war supplies heading south would have crossed the Xekong river here.

ethnic-kids

Ban Bac ethnic villagers, smoking waterpipe at a very young age.

xekong-valley

View of the Xekong river valley in the area of the Ban Bac ferry crossing

ban-bac-ferry-remains1

The remains of the Bac ferry at a gold mining camp on the banks of the Xekong river. Thousands of trucks and untold tons of war supplies used this major crossing on the way Southward towards the war front.

pine-forest

One of my favorite place’s on the Ho Chi Minh trail, pine forest on Road 96 near Chavane, this was one of the Major arteries of the trail. just before the road drops down from the plateau and crosses the Xekeman river near Attepue.

amputee

Amputee victim, from gathering Un exploded ordinance, Near Ta Oy Southern Laos

karst-river-fence

Stunning beauty, along the Nam Ngo river on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Soviet artillery tractor, and Anti Aircraft gun Muang Nong
Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos

Siampang village on the Ho Chi Minh trail, Laos, kids playing in a cab of an abandoned North Vietnamese truck. This one of the notorious choke point heavily bombed areas in the Phanop valley.

samouay-villager-daughter

Samouay villager’s along the Ho Chi Minh trail Near target Echo Eight.

North Vietnamese truck on the Ho Chi Minh trail

One of a kind, Mortar turn signal, on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Young girl and sibling near Samouy Laos, with metal detector used for scrap metal hunting

Ho-chi-minh-trail-bamboo

Jungle road section of the Ho Chi Minh trail. This shot taken from the seat of my Honda XR400, For mapping I use 2 Garmin GPS devices, and 4 Cameras for geo-referencing photos later used for analyzing and mapping. Also the Spot locator is a fantastic tool for relaying to LaosGPSmap, home base, All is OK I will return in a month or so….

Pilots helmet found in a village near Muang Nong on the Ho Chi Minh trail

In Vietnam War M3A1 Grease Gun was outdated for frontline duty, but nevertheless it was distributed to South Vietnamese irregular troops , such as Civil Guard, for combat duty. Thanks to it’s compact size American helicopter pilots carried M3A1 Grease Gun, in addition of their pistols, for the grave situation of being shot down behind enemy lines. Other US users included USMC and US Army special forces. Captured samples were employed by Vietcong. M3A1 Grease Gun was even copied by communist China who manufactured with model name Type 64. This example found on the Ho Chi Minh trail near Ta Oy

war-scrap1

Forgotten pile of war scrap found along the Ho Chi Minh trail

War scrap at Karuem, on the Xekong river just down stream from the Ban Bac ford, truck fender, fuel drums and bombie casings of all kinds are being sold for scrap metal.

gun-bombie

Artillery anti aircraft gun with a Bomblet placed near the barrel, along the Ho Chi Minh trail.

truck-body

Truck body abandoned on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Russian Army Truck – ZIL 157
6 wheel drive truck, Laco Focus Southern Laos, Ho
Chi Minh trail

Between 1964 and 1973 the US bombed Laos continuously, despite Laos being a peaceful, neutral country and despite the US never openly declaring war on Laos

Mortars hanging in front of a carnival, October 2012

BLU-3/B Bomblet / Clusterbomb, nicknamed “pineapple”. The design of this clusterbomb can be traced back to the sixties of the past century. The bomblet is meant for use against personel and unarmoured targets,The body of the bomblet is made of 250 steel balls ¸1/4 inch (ø6,25mm) dia. steel balls which have been placed in a casting mould. The space between the balls is then filled with a casting alloy called Zamac, an alloy of Zink, Aluminium, Magnesium and Copper

Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos

Ho-chi-minh-trail

Ho chi Minh trail, Villager holding a deadly bomby

ban-karai-pass-hcmr1

Ban Karai pass a great example of an untouched section of original Ho Chi Minh trail. Most of the trail has gone under the “blade” I use the term “Komatzu-ed” after the big yellow tractors of the Japanese Komatzu company. Those cobblestones are rough to drive on. hence the path just off the road to the right silk smooth dirt.

Tribal village on the Chaleunxai plateau along the Ho Chi Minh trail

ban-bac

Ban Bac villagers line up for the camera

Images of War, red dust flying as these Kamaz rumble fully laden towards Dak Cheung Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail fuel-drums

A mountain of fuel drums, Near Ta Oy Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh trail fuel-dump

Archive photo of wartime truck park and fuel drum storage area like the photos above and below.
Ho Chi Minh Trail Explore Indochina

Ho Chi Minh Trail War Scrap

Russian ATS-59 was Soviet cold war era artillery tractor., Ho Chi Minh trail Laos,
Gps Lao, Laosgpsmap

Ho Chi MInh Trail Dak Village

Teriang village on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Dak Cheung Laos

Alak villagers along the Ho Chi Minh trail Dak Cheung district.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Route 96 Attepue

Untouched since the war, a section of the Ho Chi Minh trail looking South towards Attepue

Ho Chi Minh Trail Blown Up Truck

Destroyed NVA truck on the Ho Chi Minh trail, near Ta Oy and the Ban Bac ammo dump, destroyed in and intradiction raid.
Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail lumbum-crossroads

LumBum once a major crossroads from Ban Laboy Mi Gui pass, all that remains are a few pieces of scrap metal put to good use by the villagers.

Ho Chi Minh trail jet engine crash

F 4 jet engine found at an undocumented crash site Dak Cheung district Laos.Any readers who can help identify this engine .E mail, Espritdemer@hotmail.com

Ho Chi Minh Trail Sihanook-trail bamboo forest

Sihanook trail Cambodia, well camouflaged road leading to South Vietnam, Photo from my Honda XR400
Garmin GPS’s and Spot locator on the handlebars

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail LaosGPSmap

Ban Dong War Museum

Ban Dong War Museum

Deep along the Vietnamese border area on the Ho Chi Minh trail Brao Villagers sitting on the steps of their hut

Deep along the Vietnamese border area on the Ho Chi Minh trail Brao Villagers sitting on the steps of their hut

Please ask, about our Ho Chi Minh Trail tours! John R. Campbell, a civilian psychological warfare advisor in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 talks about the bravery and dedication of the troops coming down the trail in Are we Winning? Are they Winning: A Civilian Advisors Reflections on Wartime Vietnam, Author House, 2004: There could not have been a starker documentation of the superiority in the depth of motivation, discipline and self-sacrifice of the average North Vietnamese soldier than knowing when he started down the Ho Chi Minh Trail that no one he had ever known ever came back. Yet they continued to go south in greater and greater numbers, year after year. Documentation shows that while few went with genuine enthusiasm, they still went. It wasnt as if this was just a vague rumor to them, since for an average of 500 who started down the trail, only 400 came out at the end of their trek south. This was a 20% attrition rate even before they faced an enemy soldier. In the early days of the war it took six months to travel from North Vietnam to Saigon on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By 1970, regular North Vietnamese Army soldiers could make the journey in six weeks. By the end of the war with motorized transportation the trip might take one week. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 soldiers a month marched south at the height of the trail’s use. And, it wasn’t only men and trucks that came down the Trail. Captain Hammond M. Salley, recalls:   Another misconception is the common belief that the trail was named by the communists in honor of their esteemed leader, Ho Chi Minh. In fact, the designation “Ho Chi Minh Trail  was a slang term coined by the Americans. Throughout the war, and for many years after the conflict ended, the North Vietnamese referred to the network as the Truong Son Road. In recent years (I suspect as a result of increased tourism) the Lao and Vietnamese have embraced the name invented by the Americans and now use it on signposts and memorial markers Contact the Don at, Espritdemer@hotmail.com or below at LaosGPSmap [contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

Contact the Don at, Espritdemer@hotmail.com

Ho Chi Minh trail bomb-carry