HO CHI MINH TRAIL/ROAD WEST (Duong HCM Tay) - Khe Sanh, Phong Nha

Discussion in 'Vietnam - Road Trip Reports' started by Rod Page, May 18, 2012.

  1. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    There are some wonderful mountain rides throughout SE Asia but the northern section of Duong Ho Chi Minh (HCM Road) & in particular the section known as " DHCM Tay" or ' Western HCM Trail' is amongst the best ....... anywhere!

    Sensationally beautiful, bathed in history, legend & intrigue this is an unparalleled adventure ride over the towering peaks of the Truong Son Mountains offering stunning panaramas across Laos, down along long stretches of pristine rivers, through lush jungle, amidst hill-tribe communities, passing through the absolutely staggeringly beautiful Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park & its majestic karsts hiding the world's largest caves only now being discovered, the trail snakes its way up towards Vinh.

    Back ground information concerning the HCM Trail can be found in my report - http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35525-Ho-Chi-Min-Trail-(Kon-Tum-Buon-Ma-Thuot-Tay-Ninh)-Pt-1-Da-Nang-to-Mekong-Delta . Today we run north from Thanh My crossing the confluence of the Dakmi, Cai & Thanh Rivers as they meet to form the Song Vu Gia which runs to the sea at Hoi An. A bridge constructed high over the waters takes you to a scintilating climb followed by an equally steep descent offering views across cloud-filled valleys deep below. There's a hydro electrical dam being constructed on the Bung River, such schemes being the centre of much debate given the associated deforestation & erosion. Hungry for electricity Vietnam now faces a moment of truth given the world's sudden found aversion to nuclear power.

    On to Prao where coffee shops dot this small town with its wide boulevarde; the trail runs out past several Kru villages giving a feeling of Laos where I first experienced the joy of children streaming onto the street to wave to you, to cheer, & hoping for a 'high five'. Children swim & play all around in the rivers. The villagers here are clearly poor, construction is uniquely from local forest materials, but its lifting to see them carrying their hand-made baskets into the forests & fields - the cost of mass produced Chinese equivalents remains beyond the budget of these people.

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    The trail continues at times literally gripping the range separating Vietnam from Laos, offering glimpses of scenic, isolated villages, some delightful rises & falls, twists & turns, comforting forest cover & the odd waterfall for those seeking a dip. A couple of tunnels help one penetrate the enormity of the mountains before you before descending to a truly beautiful valley township just south of A Luoi. Its rice harvest time where a carpet of green has turned to a sea of gold & everywhere about woman carry their handmade baskets strapped to their backs laden with rice:

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    A Luoi was the site of the battle of 'Hamburger Hill' (Ap Bia Mountain) in May 1969, & movie of the same name; a battle which shocked the American public given the number of American casualties. From 'Hamburger Hill' we would head north along the scenic Da Krong River passing through a Paco village. An impressive new concrete suspension bridge now stands in place of the original bridge made so famous during the American War where Hwy14 meets Hwy9. Highway 9 from Krong Klang (Da Krong) all the way up to Khe Sanh offers fabulous river views depicting hill-tribe life - this is camera clicking country!

    Khe Sanh saw the most ferocious battle of the war with as many as 500 Americans, 10,000 Vietnamese & countless civilians dieing in the battle. It appears it was a successful ploy of the Vietcong to divert American resources away from the Tet Offensive staged in Hue. The best place to stay is the Thai Ninh offering good sized, clean rooms with AC & TV starting at 290,000vnd ($15) b'fast not included.

    This is Bru (hill-tribe) country & you'll see many a Bru woman smoking tobacco on a handmade pipe as she works the fields or brings the rewards of the day's toil home. It is difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate between hill-tribes - the Vietnamese policy of assimilation has seen to that - & we recall with great joy the multitude of rides we took through the hills of northern Thailand to so many a hill-tribe festival where the villagers wear proudly their native costume in day to day life, where the villages are full of cultural differences to mark them apart. I do, however, get a sense of a ressurgence in hill-tribe culture in Vietnam; a recognition by the authorities that it provides an opportunity for much needed revenue via tourism. We would stay overnight at the border crossing town of Lao Bao.

    We were up early for the ride north along the Western HCM trail which extends north from Khe Sanh to Khe Gat running parallel to Vietnam's western border with Laos. Its around 240kms of the very best! The road climbs thrillingly to a peak near Ta Rung offering absolutely splendid views all around, especially those out across Laos. The colours & peaks of the mountain ranges here deserve superlatives being heaped upon them. The view from the top, looking over Laos:

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    The view a little further down; Laos to the left, Vietnam to the right:

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    The trail continues past several villages established overlooking rivers around which daily life revolves - teenagers fishing, children playing, woman washing clothes, crops being irrigated. Men collect materials for basket weaving - baskets to carry rice or corn, trays to seive the river for fish, smaller baskets worn in the hollow of the back in which to place the day's catch.
    A view either side of the Long Dai River at a village crossing almost 50kms north of Khe Sanh:

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    Mountain scenery & glimpses of life along the rivers worthy of a photo with every blink of the eye surround you, then suddenly the stunning karst surrounded valleys near Tang Key have you in awe. Beautiful is the subsequent run along the Long Dai River north towards the Phong Nha National Park entry:
    Villagers fishing:

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    Water buffalo galore enjoying the sand & the water:

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    A word of advice - this is beautiful country; its pure, its raw. You'll perhaps see an average of 2-3 motorbikes an hour & maybe a vehicle with 4 wheels every 3 hours. Take a proper tool kit, an inner tube, water & a snack as a break-down will see you left to your own devices. If travelling on the typical Vietnamese motorcycle - that's all there is in Vietnam (!) - with a range of around 120/130kms per tank, take some fuel with you as fuel at the smaller places along the route often runs dry & you just may find that retracing your steps some 20-30kms is beyond your remaining fuel range. Finally be ready for anything to happen at any of the many park entry control points - ride up slowly to the boom-gate & pass slowly under it (often it will not be manned) & continue quietly along. On researching my own trip I was advised to take a supply of local vodka & cigarettes - 'just in case' - but I chose not to & did not have any problems. You will find it easier entering the park from the south & will be able to exit comfortably at Khe Ghat or via the control along Hwy 20 on the way to Son Trach (Xuan Son). Conversely when heading into the park from the north you will in all probability not be permitted to enter along Hwy 20, although you will gain access via Khe Gat on the basis you are entering 'to visit Paradise Cave'. There is no guarantee (although being denied is rare) that you will be permitted to exit at the control points on the park's southern perimeter, in which case you could be faced with a long ride back.

    Having entered the Unesco World Heritage Site of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park you'll be blown away by the sheer beauty of the place. Truly awe inspiring karsts over 400 milion year old - the oldest in Asia - jut out from the land towering into the skies above:
    Could that be the coast in the background..........

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    The park is packed with caves of extraordinary dimensions. Speleologist Howard Libert is credited with finding many of the caves - in the month (April) before we visited Libert found another 8 previously unknown caves bringing to 15 the total he discovered in the last 2 months alone. Only half have as yet been named! Libert worked in 2009 at Hang Son Dong having the cave recognised as the largest cave in the world. With a principal cavern more than 5km long, 200m high & 150m wide it is unfortunately closed to the public.

    You can, however, visit Paradise Cave (Dong Tien Duong) justifiably labelled by many as the world's most beautiful & magnificent cave. Only opened to the public in 2011, at 31.4km in length its said to be the world's longest dry cave. The sheer scale & volume of the cave in its cathedral-like proportions & its system of stalagmites & stalacites is simply breathtaking. There's a great wooden walkway which takes you a kilometre into the cave & offers great photo opportunities in the cleverly lit cave. For $100 you can organise for a guide to take you a further 6-7 kilometres into the cave for the 'real experience".

    Tip - take the ramp up & return down by the 524 steps. A great story from Dave 'Multi' at the Phong Nha Farmstay from where he often takes tours through the area - Dave recalls that on arriving home following one trip to Paradise Cave a certain middle aged Englishman descended from the van protesting : "Well that was a total f.....g waste of time"! Shocked & concerned Dave approached the Englishman to be told: "When I consider all the caves I visited over the last 35 years before seeing Paradise Cave, in thinking of those other caves I can only conclude - well, that was a total f.....g waste of time"!

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    Climbing back out; you actually climb down into the cave:

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    You can also visit Phong Nha Cave, a spectacular river journey starting from Son Trach along the Con River which ultimately runs some 55 km into the cave. The main cavern of the cave is some 8kms deep with several other caves clustered around. The Americans once flew a night mission over the area during the American War launching phosphorous lights from parachutes before filming the area. They were staggered to find evidence of the Song Son crossing over the Con River & to see barges moored in the area ready to transport goods & ammunition down to Phong Nha for storage & subsequent transport south. Its this same route you'll take by boat to see the cave. I spoke with a woman during my trip who worked from bunkers built either side of the river from which a rope holding metal drums was dragged by hand to explode mines dropped into the river by the Americans. It was at this same time that the Americans were able to determine that all goods being shipped south were passing through Khe Sanh - when they built the garrison to block such transport the Vietcong built Hwy 20 in its 54km entirety across to the Laos border in only 5 weeks (night shift only!).

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    On the cliff-side above the entrance to Phong Nha Cave there's a steep climb past several 'snacks' to reach Tien Son Cave with inscriptions dating back to the 9th century. The cave was used as a hospital & ammunition depot during the American War & craters from American bombing are apparent in the surrounding countryside.

    The Song Son crossing, right alongside where the sanpans leave for Pong Nha Cave:

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    Its possible to reach (but not enter) Phong Nha Cave in taking the small & sometimes bumpy road that follows the Con River. En route we encountered bulls fighting over a herd which was clearly attractive to them. At one stage as I jockeyed closer to the action to get a better photo the fight moved my way & I had only inches to push my bike to safety:

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    Nuoc Mooc is another spot well worth the walk in if time permits. The turquoise waters set amidst limestone karsts is a great spot for a swim.

    We would exit the park via Hwy 20. The kilometrage markers here are marked "Pha X Son" which is one & the same place as Son Trach, Phong Nha, Xuan Son & Pha Xuan Son! You can see the countryside in which the road is constructed & in one photo below even see the road gripping the foot of the escarpment. Its all the more reason to marvel at the construction of this road during the nights of only 5 weeks:

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    Hwy 20 runs through to the beautifully situated & clearly photogenic Con River:

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    Phong Nha Farmstay is the place to stay. A larger french provincial construction - the white building in the background in the photo below - with a swimming pool, it offers sensational views over the surrounding rice-fields ringed by mountains. Amazingly flood waters some 18 months ago almost reached the top floor of the construction!

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    Run by Australian Ben & his Vietnamese wife Bich it offers great rooms - all reasonably priced - in a magic setting, a first class restaurant and an abundance of local knowledge. With a background in building Ben has managed to get the balance right where people of all nationalities, all walks of life, mingle freely, happily chatting away. Ben has a wealth of knowledge about the area - he can arrange for a trek to take you out past the TOTALLY isolated Ban Doong hill-tribe village with a sleep over in the caves, if extreme tours are your interest.

    Ask Ben also about 'The Pub with Cold Beer' for a great trip down unsealed roads & across rivers to find a pub at the end of the line in the valley of Bong Lai miles removed from everywhere. Ben's foresight & desire to see that the community around him prospers saw him having a local mechanic trained on larger (than the small typical Vietnamese) bikes - great news for anyone riding through the area.

    The run out to 'The Pub With Cold Beer', the pub itself & the view from the public bar:

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    Some shots showing life surrounding the farmstay -
    Buffalo soccer:

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    Heading home having fed in the mud-pond:

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    We would run home via the Eastern HCM Road which although not part of the HCM trail offers a well surfaced, steady paced route southwards for those wishing to avoid Hwy1A. Avoid the Hue bypass to Da Nang; there is presently no major road in worse condition in Vietnam!
    A reminder of a broken ankle:

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    We would leave the farmstay with around 800,000vnd. After 20kms we stopped for fuel leaving us with 400,000vnd. Another 20kms & it was 'jackpot time' - we were flagged down by police, told we were speeding (no radar present at what operated as a truck checking point) & advised the fine would be 400,000vnd/bike.........fortunately when the good officer saw I had only 412,000vnd in my wallet, he relieved me of 400,000vnd only whilst remarking that the nearest ATM was some 90kms on! So with no breakfast & only 12,000vnd (60cents) we rode on to Cam Lo to find the ATM broken down! You have to laugh!
     
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  3. pensionist

    pensionist Ol'Timer

    :thumbup: I envy your ride
    Thank you to let us share your experiences!
     
  4. Moto-Rex

    Moto-Rex Ol'Timer

    Great write up as always Rod.

    I reckon even the “Caped Crusader” would be impressed with the paradise cave.

    Just love the photo of the Con river with the small village in the background, it shows the beauty and isolation of the area.
    I have found your reports so interesting and inspiring, that I’m thinking of relocating to VN next year for a few months to see it first hand.

    Thanks for taking the time to write them up.

    Moto-Rex
     
  5. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    Absolutely spectacular Rod. Looks like you guys are having a ball and good to see you back on the road again.
    You should be publishing a Motorcycling Guide to Vietnam - Page by Page!
     
  6. Iwantablackrz

    Iwantablackrz Ol'Timer

    Great read Rod. Some truly beautiful countryside.

    I was very impressed with Paradise Cave when I was there and if anything more impressed with the Jurassic Park'esque oversized golf carts that take you to the caves entrance. I'm sure I wasn't the only person to have hummed the theme song expecting a veliciraptor to jump out onto the track. Ironically I met Ben there and if I wasn't so insistent to keep moving (with that idea being shot in the foot in Nha Trang anyway) I really should have taken up his offer for a beer at his. The scenery looks magical.
     
  7. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    So taken were we by the Duong Ho Chi Minh Tay (Western Ho Chi Minh trail) that as soon as we arrived home we were watching the weather charts to find a three day window of clearer skies so that we could re-ride this wonderful stretch of perfection..........& it just gets better!

    Never underestimate the complexity of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Much if not most was excavated by hand, concealed entrances hid an intricate system of underground tunnels in which communications facilities, food, arms & ammunition, hospitals and barracks for the thousands of North Vietnamese troops - up to 20,000 per month - who treked over 6 weeks from Hanoi to Saigon. The trail is truly one of the great feats of warfare. The Vietnamese went to extraordinary lengths to ensure its re-building remained secret - cooking without smoke, laying canvass over dirt roads before crossing so as not to leave footprints. Determination was matched with ingenuity - bicycle tyres were stuffed with rags to ensure they could carry up to 150kls in a load. The motto of those who built the trail was: "Blood may flow, but the road will never stop".



    The United States began an 8 year campaign of sustained bombing of the Trail in 1965, some 6 years after Ho Chi Minh had launched its secretive rebuilding. B-52 bombers carpet bombed the area felling forests the size of almost a square kilometre at a time; Daisy Cutter bombs left craters up to 100 metres in diameter. Forests burnt or were destroyed by chemicals, whilst sensors were parachuted along the length of the 17th parallel to relay information to Nakhon Phanom in Thailand for analysis. But work never stopped! In filtration into the South even increased - from just under 2,000 soldiers in 1959 to around 100,000 in 1968. Vietcong soldiers rushed to repair damage from any
    bombings improving the trail on each such occassion. The journey south to Saigon took 6 months on foot when the trail opened but by the mid 1970's could be made by truck in under a week. Historians believe that over 30,000 North Vietnamese were killed on the trail giving a figure of around 300 bombs for every soldier killed, or a 'cost' of almost $US150,000 per soldier killed, & this when the death-toll was considered massive!


    In the eyes of the Vietnamese, the HCM Trail begins at Dong Loc, some 50kms south-west of Vinh; there's a large kilometreage marker there showing KM "0" to confirm the fact. From Dong Loc the Trail ran across the border into Laos at several crossings via certain passes notably those of Mu Gia & Ban Karai but also Nape & Ban Raving. Almost all of the HCM Trail ran down through Laos & Cambodia re-entering Vietnam around the Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc & Dak Nong provinces (see:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35525-Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail-(Kon-Tum-Buon-Ma-Thuot-Tay-Ninh)-Pt-1-Da-Nang-to-Mekong-Delta). The Trail was, however, of its very nature fluid, & tracks & paths permeated through western Vietnam including along what is today the Duong Ho Chi Minh Tay.


    Today the Ho Chi Minh Road is a quiet although scenic 140kms run south from Dong Loc to Khe Gat the later part of the journey passing by the edge of the picturesque Ke Bang - Ke Ngang Mountains. At Khe Gat take the road south heading to Khe Sanh. The turn-off marks the start of the sensational


    Duong Ho Chi Minh Tay passing through the absolutely majestic Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park.

    The ride is simply staggeringly beautiful - spectacular karsts soar up from the landscape into the skies; a landscape where conical hat wearing women toil the fields with buffalo & wooden ploughs, where the steeples of the odd church are symetricaly set against the limestone peaked background. Children play in the waterholes of dreams; all wave & cheer as you ride past.

    Around Xom Chay you'll reach a military controlled check-point. Mention that you are entering to visit Paradise Cave & there should be no problem entering (the operation of Paradise Cave has been tendered out to a private contractor which would indicate this arrangement should continue). From here the run is absolutely breathtaking - the gigantic towering karats envelope you on what looks such an insignificant roadway, the mountains tower up above you on either side as you skirt a tributary of the Con River as it meanders east but a short journey to the famous Phong Nha Cave & around only 20 odd kilometres as the crow flies to the sea at Cua Gianh & magnificent beaches such as Da Nhay & Nhat Le.



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    The river waters here are blue (& yes they are as good to swim in as they look!) This is where the largest known caves in the world are to be found & the colour of the rivers has played a role in determining the probable length of several of the underground river systems. Loas in areas along its nearby border with Vietnam has been subjected to massive logging & clearing. When it rains in Laos the rivers turn brown from the run-off. At times when it rains in Laos but not in Vietnam it has been noted after the efluxion of a number of days that the (blue) water flowing from the source of certain rivers in Vietnam can turn brown leading observers to believe the water is flowing from Loas to Vietnam & in turn giving an estimate as the the length of certain such underground rivers.



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    Its but a few kilometres ride to Dong Tien Duong (Paradise Cave) covered earlier in this report. The entrance records the name uniquely in Vietnamese in keeping with current government policy in these matters. We would continue along the DHCM Tay on this occassion drawn to ride through the jaw-dropping scenery.



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    Each of the above photos shows butterflies & I should add here that never in all my riding have I seen so many different varieties of butterfly in so many splendid colours as I saw on this ride. Incredible. Amazing.


    Some 21 kilometres from the Khe Gat turn-off you'll reach the intersection of DHCM Tay & Hwy 20.



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    As mentioned earlier in this report Hwy 20 formed an integral part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As the thoroughfare through which the Vietcong trucks would pass south it was a strategically vital section of the trail. Indeed, as such, this small section of road played nothing short of a crucial role in determining the outcome of the American War & was fundamental to the Vietcong victory. An amazing piece of engineering especially when one considers it was built by hand & at night in only 5 weeks it cuts through the Ban Karai Pass before crossing into Laos at Ca Roong.



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    No-one who passes this way with such knowledge at hand could not take a run west along this legendary route. We headed in along a cement road & soon reached the Memorial Temple for Heroic Martyrs who built Hwy 20. In recognition of the sacrifice of so many & to the key role this little known (to outsiders)
    route played in the Vietnamese victory, to ensure the level of respect demanded, the site is manned by the military 24/7 despite the Shrine's total isolation.


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    We would continue on in the hope of reaching Ban Karai Pass & in turn the border. It would take us an hour to travel only 10 kilometres in the most punishing of conditions stopping at one stage to assist a hill-tribesman (totally surprised to see us) who could move his Wave/Dream/Future no further upwards as it laboured under the weight of a metal piece he was carrying home. Notwithstanding the exceptionally panaramic views continued.



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    Time would not permit us to continue in the deplorable conditions & we retreated in awe of those who constructed this route, who manned such route & who passed this way during so many years of war................
    It goes without saying that we are drawn to complete this trip when a degree of dryness returns to the area.

    CONTINUED..............
     
  8. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Impressive Stuff Rod! You are the Man when it Comes to Touring and Reporting on Vietnam or any other Country You Visit for that matter! I am sure there will be Many Riders who will follow and Use Your Reports to Plan their own Trip. Fascinating and very Informative, thanks for taking the Time to share with Us all.
     
  9. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    CONTINUED............

    The DHCM Tay continues south snaking its way through the incredibly beautiful Phong Nha - Ke Bang NP with its unspoilt jungle, high mountain passes, including the famous U Bo Pass, offering gut-wrenching views, chrystal clear streams & the odd waterfall. We would see only one other person in our first 2 hours of riding, a surveyor carrying his equipment on his Future. You'll pass through a further check-point to exit the park & several others as you run southwards.



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    On exiting the park you'll immediately be struck by logging in the area. We continued down from the mountain highs stopping for a break at the river crossing outpost of Rinh Rinh. We dismounted & within minutes 2 government police officials arrived as if from no-where. Language was a problem but they seemed relieved to see that we were foreigners. Several phone calls & an air of their being concerned by the noise of what appeared that it could be illegal logging in the area, saw pleased to see us move on.



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    We would find out later on our ride when stopping to chat with an Easy Rider & his Dutch passenger south of Tang Ky that illegal logging in the area has become so massive a problem - estimates of around VND200billion/year are mentioned - that Vietnamese are now routinely turned away at any of the various control points along the DHCM Tay. The Easy Rider told me that even with a foreign tourist passenger he would be directed by the military at Tang Ky out along Hwy 10 to Eastern Ho Chi Minh Road. I had been told in Phong Nha that if found in the National Park heading south along the DHCM Tay, Vietnamese (&, on ocassions, foreigners although this us extremely rare) were turned back. This explains the lack of traffic we encountered on the road & the interest shown towards us when we stopped in Rinh Rinh. It also makes one reflect on the fact that those (foreigners) wishing to travel this exceptional route should do so now. It would be easy for the military to block all traffic passing through the area; but just as easily general traffic could be permitted to flow - why take the risk on the first position or ride in what would become an extremely dangerous outing in the case of the second. We were not, under the circumstances surprised when a 'tourist' van pulled up with a dozen Vietnamese aboard & the driver asked the Easy Rider where he could find fuel saying he'd never been on the road before. We watched him make 3 stops without success at villages along the way before finding a government worker on the site of a landslide able to help him...........just in time!



    From Rinh Rinh (just thinking - you will need a VERY comprehensive map to find any of these places; none are mentioned on GPS) its a fabulous run alongside the Song Long Dai (River) as mentioned in my initial report covering this ride.

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    Only hill-tribes live along this section. After some 25kms you'll swing around one more corner to fined yourself perched midway up the mountainside over-looking the absolutely knock-out, fabulous valley that surrounds the small township of Long Son.



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    Long Son lies just over 115kms north of Khe Sanh & a little over 110kms south of Khe Gat. It is the ONLY place you'll find anything resembling a 'snack' on your route, a 'ca phe' stop............"civilisation"! You'll stop, I know you'll stop - its just that good! (Carry food & water with you on this outing, stop at Long Son & carry a complete tool-kit & suitable spare parts!). I repost a photo from my original report so that you know what to look for:



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    Heading south from Long Son its only 5 kms before reaching Ben Duong, another hill-tribe village where the following photos were taken. The first shows the setting, the second the monkey which caught our eye:



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    The beautiful riverside run continues down to Tang Ky accommodating little other than a significant number of the military.



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    Just over 15klms south of Tang Ky you'll cross the 17th Parallel set by the Geneva Convention of 1954 as the "provisional demarcation line" separating North & South Vietnam. There is nothing to mark the spot & you'll need GPS to determine its placement - it lies less than 100m north of a small hill-tribe village some 86kms north of Khe Sanh. There are a number of these hill-tribe communities living impoverished in paradise like surroundings just south of the 17th Parallel & one wonders where their allegeances lay during the American War........perhaps it is clear by the presence of a control point to the south of the village closest to the 17th Parallel.



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    Some 40kms north of Khe Sanh you'll reach the foot of the Mu Sa Pass which climbs steeply whilst gripping the border with Laos. Having posted a shot of the view west over Laos in my first report, below is a
    photo looking south showing the way to Khe Sanh. This is a road offering views beyond surperlatives, this is mesmoralisingly good, this is what can take you back again & again & again. I lie not - this must be what heaven looks like!


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    Regrounded some 25kms north of Khe Sanh we would stop at a somewhat dusty Huong Phong -



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    - for refreshments to celebrate another brilliant ride, to marvel at what we'd seen, to reflect on the history of this wonderful country & its amazing people.

    POSTSCRIPT: For those wishing to travel the HCM Trail/Road in its entirety, this report should be read in conjunction with:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35525-Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail-(Kon-Tum-Buon-Ma-Thuot-Tay-Ninh)-Pt-1-Da-Nang-to-Mekong-Delta
     
  10. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    Spectacular and informative as ever Rod. Keep the posts coming as it seems a lot of folk here are looking beyond Laos as a result of your comprehensive reports on Vietnam.
     
  11. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    One of the greatest pleasures of writing on a forum such as this is to get feed-back from a local, from someone through whose country you are travelling & on whose culture you are commenting; the people & culture of another country can be so enriching.

    I received the following email from Hang today, reproduced here with her permission. Thanks Hang, nice for us to see it from the other side:

    G'morning,

    You know, your recent posts telling about DHCM tay, our war in the past, its involved story, the death toll..... remind me of my father - a veteran who once fought on the battle field. Yesterday, a war film was on in the temple nearby my place on the occasion of 1/6 - The Day of Children. All were surprised that it had nothing to do with Children. However, the film was so touching. Its name " Mui Co Chay" - can be understood as " Smell of Burnt Grass" - tells about close comradeship, the sentiment of the young men from different towns, but with the same sense of purpose, fighting for independence, freedom of the mother country. Beside the reality of the film showing the fierceness of the war which made me love and respect the peace today, the very few moments of play for the young soldiers, even under gun & fire, was also very nice. The singing voice of a young fellow, from Love Duets of Bac Ninh villlage I think, can be likened to "the singing drowns the bomb explosion". Most of them managed to feed a cicada whose sound helps them burn out their homesickness. But in the end, only one in 4 people lived to witness the victory in 1975. Ages pass away and he became older but the sound of cicadas will always be somewhere, reminding him of the friends who never, never die in his heart.

    I grew up with my father's endless stories as to the emotional life of soldiers like him. Perhaps I was too young to hear of death and the reality of war. Dad gave me his dairy in which there had many poems, images of doves, coconuts trees. ... drawn by hand - sensationally beautiful! Unfortunately, it was lost when I went to university....

    Sorry if you takes time to read my long writing. I am so embarassed that it is not really good and smooth to describe my thoughts. But hope you understand.

    Hang
     
  12. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

  13. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Well this report is amazing - the best one so far??
    If this does not make you want to ride Vietnam, nothing will.

    The bikes still look good too. Brilliant steeds for general riding in Vietnam eh?
     
  14. VietHorse

    VietHorse Ol'Timer

    Great stuff. Thanks Rod.
    I have some trips go along this Hochiminh trail but all by car, don't know if someone like me to post here.
    Haven't got a chance to ride on my motorcycle.
     
  15. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Thank you Rod for this well illustrated and densely informative report. I just found time today to go throughit in length. It is a great reading and an incentive to follow your steps there (and all around Vietnam). I hope that you will still find time to go back and bring more stories about this interesting country.
    :thumbup:
     
  16. Rogdog

    Rogdog Member

    Hey Rod... I've spent some time riding in this part of the country as well. Loved your report, you capture the awe of it, a truly beautiful part of this country. Unfortunately, when I rode it, we were on a tight schedule and so rode through it at a good pace, which meant that we didn't have time to really appreciate it. So your report helped bring it back a bit.

    Although, the HCM Hwy is a spectacular ride if you can get yourself on a motorcycle to appreciate it. I did it on a 400cc Motard and when I got home discovered my tires needed to be replaced, not because bald in the center, but because bald about 4 cm's on either side of center. I don't think there is a single straight line for about 200 km.
     
  17. Rogdog

    Rogdog Member

    Hey Rod... was just re-reading this report (when you start re-reading trip reports, you know you are way past time to go for a long ride).. and I noticed that you didn't include any shots from the Khe Sanh museum. When we went through we stopped there. I see that you headed north on Hwy 14, while we headed south from Khe Sanh. Your pictures make me regret the decision that we made.... although it was awesome too.

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  18. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Thanks for adding to the report, every piece adds to the thread.
    Looking forward to reading reports from you in the future.
     
  19. Rogdog

    Rogdog Member

    I am planning to try and ride as much as possible in July. Starting with a trip from HCMC to Bangkok and back in July (if I can get assurances about making it back into the country). So I will post up something... Unfortunately, I think my reports won't be as good. You really spend some time on capturing the details... I'm too ADHD for that sort of thing. But I want to contribute something. I am very happy to have this board for this part of the world. I've spent a lot of time on ADVrider... but not enough Asian content!!
     
  20. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Well here it is, as mentioned in my report - Hang Son Dong it all its glory; mind-boggling, absolutely gobsmacking!

    To have been totally struck with awe, literally stunned, on visiting Paradise Cave, regarded as the world's most beautiful cave & so massive in its dimensions that it makes having visited any other cave world-wide a waste of time, to then realise Hang Son Dong makes Paradise Cave look like a thimble is humbling!

    David Unkovitch just sent me the link:
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/largest-cave/peter-photography

    Ah, the adventures that await those about to explore Vietnam.........
     
  21. VietHorse

    VietHorse Ol'Timer

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