For my 2 year "break" in Thailand, which will end soon, i bought another bike, as i could not keep my Transalp in Thailand for long (customs reasons).
I have to admit i didn't use it a lot because every trip would start with the nightmare of getting out of Bangkok, but finally it was put into proper use.
For more than a year my friend Matthias and I were thinking of a trip to the old Ho Chi Minh trails, finally we did it.
Let's start with some background information about this HCM (Ho Chi Minh) path.
In the Vietnam war, the country was split into the communist north (supported by soviet union and china amongst others) and the anti-communist south supported by United States and allies. The HCM path was a support route for the Vietcong, an army that fought for the north from within south-vietnam.
Goods and manpower had to get from North-Vietnam to the Vietcong.
To accomplish this they startet building trails into Laos (and Cambodia) which would eventually end up in southern Vietnam.
It started with primitive footpaths through the dense rainforests and triple-canopy jungle and developed into 5.5m wide dirt roads in some areas, allowing trucks transporting the goods, instead of bicycles and oxcarts.
The anti-communist forces tried everything to destroy this supply route,
they saw that in the months of the monsoon the transport almost comes to a halt, so they tried to extend the monsoon season indefinitely by creating rain with chemicals. This succeeded for some time till the Vietcong improved the trails with rocks which made it possible to use them despite the rain. America also developed some chemical that they dropped on the dirt roads, when the rain came and got mixed whole roadblocks got washed away. But it only worked one out of three times, so they stopped this program rather fast. The problem for the anti-communists was they never knew the exact routes as they were not visible from air (dense jungle). Other things they tried was dropping microphones (walkie talkies) in wide areas to hear the enemy or chemicals that let the trees loose their leaves (Agent Orange).
Apart from these rather unusual methods they also did massive bombings on the whole area, which made Laos the most bombed country per capita in the world. A planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years...
Cluster bombs and mines left millions of unexploded ordnance that still kill people (mostly kids) to date.
USA always denied the existence of US forces in Laos, the biggest airbase they operated in Laos, Long Tieng, was by then called the "most secret place on earth", till today it is a no-go area for foreigners.
So much for the history part, this is the route of our trip:
I thought the first 600km to Chiang Kahn, where Matthias and I were supposed to meet, would be boring Thai Highway,
but at least the first day turned out to be one of the best rides ever.
Not even out of the Bangkok area, i spotted a yard with old planes, 100bath "gate opening fee" for the guard, and in i was.
It seems to be a Boing 747, but i'm not sure
It's not a museum, nobody could tell me the story of this bird, was it just too old, did it crash?
this is on the upper deck, which has probably been the First-Class area?
I couldn't check out these smaller planes, a pack of angry dogs was blocking my way, and they seemed to be occupied by homeless people or drug junkies
This was a very interesting unexpected start for my trip, and it kept getting better and better.
Some nice train station along the way
I came across a very nice dam, they didn't allow me to ride on the tarmac road which had a nice view from above, but i found my way in and it was just beautiful, at times it reminded me of Mongolia.
Still in the area of the dam
There is a famous "mask festival" in the North, unfortunately i was a few weeks too late
And here i met Matthias, he just arrived after a ~450km ride from Chiang Mai. We have the same bikes, CRF250L, but he got a newer Version.
After a night and a few beers in Chiang Kahn, which is a famous holiday place for Thai people, we continued to Nong Kai,
the town on Thai side, where we wanted to cross into Laos.
Another day later we crossed the border without any problems (policies change all the time, sometimes you cannot cross the friendship bridges with motorbikes).
...the land of beer lao (the best beer in asia), it still feels like my second home.
But we did not (only) come here for drinking, we wanted to ride the old Ho Chi Minh trails...
...not there yet, we spotted a nice place to get a bit more used to the bikes (we are rather unexperienced offroad riders)
It ended in some 3h action to fix Matthias chain, that he dug so deep in the mud that it filled with small stones and eventually jammed.
...still not there yet, we tried some interesting looking trails along the road, this one i couldn't cross, it looks easy but was more sand than normal mud.
By the way, it is in the middle of the rainy season.
Alright, here are the pictures of the HCM trail in random order.
If you wonder about the different look of the images, some are shot and postprocessed with Matthias DSLR, some are just from my phone.
okay this is just a joke, that's the tourist version of the HCM path, the fenced part on the left, now for real...
A lot of bomb shells can be seen in this area, they usually reuse them for different things or sell the metal
Most of the HCM trails are in dense jungle, and you can see how the jungle is slowly taking back these tracks.
Nowadays they are only used by some remote villages.
One day we had about 10 river-crossings, some easier, some more difficult, some impossible
i didn't do so well on this one :D
Matthias lost his Flip Flop
we had to carry the bikes through with 2 strong wood sticks and some added manpower
No carrying over here! We needed a raft
At parts it was so deep that you could only see their heads, and i think they even had to swim
Sometime we had the choice between a scary looking "bridge" and a stream/mud puddle, in the following cases we chose the puddle:
We did it, tarmac! i have to check the gps tracks again, but i think we did 40km in a full day
visibly tired out, the beer tasted even better that day.
Some more pictures not directly related to the HCM trails...
Some amazing waterfalls along the way
Kau Piak, one of my favourite soups
This little boy was a bit scared, he didn't move a bit for the 10 minutes we took a break there
back in Thailand we loaded the bikes on the train, as we weren't too fancy about the long ride home.
It did cost around 600 bath for the sleeper cabin ticket (p.P.) and another 1040 bath (+100) per bike.
Good option if you want to avoid lengthy rides.
I cut a little video from our GoPro footage, have a look...
Ho Chi Minh Trails Laos - Motorbike Trip from mo aly on Vimeo.