Cycling The Ho Chi Minh Trail. Rainy Season. Part 1.

Discussion in 'Mountain Biking - Road Trip Reports' started by Cycle Wallah, May 30, 2016.

  1. #1 Cycle Wallah, May 30, 2016
    Last edited by a moderator: May 31, 2016

    I had known about the Ho Chi Minh Trail for a long time before I came to Laos. This was a logistical,transport road used by the North Vietnamese to support the war in the south of Vietnam. Which the Americans tried in vain to wipe off the face of the earth only to leave a big mess for further generations of Lao. One day I met Steve the owner of the Drop Zone pub in Vientiane and he said he had ridden on some of the trail on his motorbike and also worked in that area. I asked if he could show me the route. So I met him the next day with my trusty GT riders map of Laos.
    Steve said he was not sure he was going to show me the route. But when some of the lads from the Drop Zone told him what else I had done on a mountain bike he was sure I could handle it. So he gave the list of villages I would have to pass through. I put these into my Garmin GPS and came up with a complete route from Road 8 east of Vientiane all the way to the south of Laos finishing in Attapeu. It was not strictly the exact route of the trail because there were many trails that made up the complete trail. As the photo of the sign says above:”Most of the roads run from north to south in eastern Savannakhet used to be part of the Ho Chi Minh trail.” This sign is gone today and replaced by a tacky plastic one in Lao and Viet. Also the white picket fence is no longer white and is now rusty and brown coloured.
    While I was in Vientiane I met a young Dutch lad called Bas who showed an interest in my travels. He had heard about me from other people in Vientiane and I met him in the notorious Samlo Bar. He had bought a mountain bike in China and cycled down from the border to Vientiane. We became friends and one day after a few beers I asked him if he would like to come down the trail with me. He said he would love to so now I had someone to come with me. I don’t usually cycle much with other cyclists but we got on OK so I thought we could share the adventure together. So we decided on a day we would leave. I gave Bas a few tips on what he should take and not take. Also gave him some plastic ziploc bags and said “Anything you don’t want to get wet put in these.”
    We agreed to meet for breakfast on the day of departure. We had a royal piss up the night before with some friends so neither of us were in top shape when we finally met. In fact I waited for Bas for quite a long time and in the end I had to go and fetch him from the guesthouse. After breakfast and me puking up in the toilet we were off north to Road 13S. The first day was uneventful apart from falling asleep in an abandoned petrol station for a hour or so. Only made 30 odd kms that day and found a guesthouse. The ride to Road 8 off Road 13S in general was boring tarmac but at least got us in shape for the rest of the trip. Road 8 which goes all the way to Vietnam is where the Ho Chi Minh trail enters Laos over Nape Pass so we were heading to Lak Xao,Bolikhamxai province. From there turning south to pick up the trail. Riding along Road 8 you start seeing karst outcrops and the scenery is more pleasing to the eye. While going down a long downhill Bas hit some gravel on the side of the road and came a cropper. He was visibly shaken but survived with a few cuts and scrapes. A few backpackers stopped to see if we were alright. I said “Yeah,fine he just fell off his bike that’s all.” They asked if we were doing the loop. I had no clue what they were on about at all. We would find out later.

    Karst outcrop.
    Bas taking a break.
    Normally a great view.

    Heading south from Lak Xao the tarmac suddenly disappeared and was replaced by gravel and dirt. (Much more agreeable to me than tarmac having been a mountain biker before I started cycle touring. In fact at every opportunity I choose dirt over tarmac as my future entries will tell.) And we were soon taking our first river crossing in a long canoe and riding over rickety bridges.

    About half way from Lak xao to the Nam Thoun Dam we encountered mud lots of it. Around five kilometres of it in total. Varying from ankle deep to knee deep. Some friends in Vientiane had warned there would be mud due to it being the rainy season and advised us to wait until the rains had stopped. But I never wait for good weather and go when I have decided to go. It was very hard work riding through mud and a lot of the time was spent pushing the bike through. You just had to ride into it not knowing how deep it would be. You could not stop for long because you would slowly sink deeper into it. We met two Italian girls on scooters who were having trouble and were low on petrol. Some Lao lads were helping them by riding the scooters for them through the mud. They stopped for a chat that is when we found out what the loop was. This is a loop from Thakek to Thakek passing various tourist attractions such as Konglor Cave and is in the Lonely Planet guide. Anyway I gave them some petrol which I had had since I was in China and wished them luck.

    After the encounter with the mud we continued and eventually hit some asphalt near the reservoir created by the dam. We had been recommended a guesthouse called Sabaidee GH by the Italian girls so we decided to head there for the night. It was about a 15 km ride along a road through the reservoir passing trees coming out of the water and signs warning you not to drive into the water.
    We arrived at the guesthouse a little tired and covered in mud. We were greeted warmly by the owner and first things first we ordered some food and a Beerlao. The owner called Phaithoun came and talked to us. He had worked on the dam and when it was finished he had opted to stay here rather than going back to Vientiane. He now as a successful guesthouse also doing boat trips,fishing trips and has a barbeque most nights. I always pop in and see him when I am down that way and we have become good friends. After we had eaten we cleaned ourselves up and relaxed for the rest of the day. Enjoyed a pleasant evening eating good food and drinking a few more Beerlao. Talking to the few backpackers who were there. They were amazed we had made it through the mud. Later sitting by the fire discussing events of the day.
    More to come in Part 2.
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  2. Gutsy stuff & entertainingly written.
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  3. Impressive what you guys do on mountain bikes & some of us guys call ourselves adventure riders.
    You guys are the real adventure riders every time I reckon.

    I like the story keep 'em coming.
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  4. Will do I have plenty of stories. Will try and do a weekly one of my next trip.

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