Lima Site 85 - Phou Pha Thi

Discussion in 'Laos Road Trip Reports' started by brian_bkk, Jan 8, 2016.

  1. G'day All,

    The riders.

    Chris (Steve C Canyon) and Brian Moto-Mania

    January 5th 2016


    Certainly didn't expect to be starting this topic on its own.

    Just finished a great five days exploring the area below Phu Chi Fa and Doi Pha Tang with Frank.

    Below Phu Chi Fa - Lao side.



    Doi Pha Tang - Lao side.


    Then headed up to Luang Prabang to spend New Years with David and other friends.. Steve C Canyon. Russ.


    One of the last area left to visit in Laos for me is Xam Neaua and the caves in Vieng Xay.. It is quite far from Bangkok.. So decide to go this time around while I have the time to spare.

    Checked with Javawa to see if he knew of any dirt tracks to Xam Neaua.  Which he did and sent me the track. Then planned to take the tarmac back out.. Just so I have done it.

    While in Luang Prabang I mentioned my plan to Chris (Steve C Canyon). He spoke with his Boss and was given the green light to go.

    First day LPQ to Vieng Thong.. Then head up towards the Vietnam border and turn right.





    Amazing road works going on in here.. We were pretty lucky and only held up right at the end. Could have easily been held up at three different locations.

    Knowing others had tried and failed. We said.. Lets give it ago.. Hopefully they just send us back. Not the treatment Robert Heikel had... Report link below.

    Getting closer..


    We reach the turn off to LS 85 and turn in.


    Pass the boys in green. Thinking this is promising..


    There she is and no one stopped us yet.. We are some what bemused.. Thinking.
    They must be going to stop us soon.


    Left or right... Right.


    Still surprised.. We are here.. 30 metres away from the "Ladder"


    Thank you very much for this pic Chris..

    All over grown as you can see.


    The army post on my left.. They woke up and came out to see what was happening.


    Chris asked if we can go up.. The army guy shakes his head "no"..
    Chris then pointed back down the way we came.. The army guy nods "Yes"

    I hadn't even got off the bike and only taken one picture.
    Chris had a couple of snaps and we were heading back down the mountain,

    You can see in the video I had only one glove off and put it back on pretty quick sharp.. Really didn't want to spend the day here with loads of questions etc.

    Stopped for this pic on the way back down from LS 85..

    The road being built to Xam Neua.

    The route





    Here is a short link to LS 85 and our ride up.

    More history here on LIMA SITE 85

    Lima Site 85

    Lima Site 85 (LS-85 alphanumeric code of the phonetic 1st letter used to conceal this covert operation)[citation needed] was a clandestine, military installation located in the Royal Kingdom of Laos guarded by the Hmong "Secret Army", the Central Intelligence Agency, and the United States Air Force used for Vietnam War covert operations against communist targets in ostensibly neutral Laos under attack by the Vietnam People's Army. Initially created for a CIA command post to support a local stronghold, the site was expanded with a 1966 TACAN area excavated on the mountaintop where a 1967 command guidance radar was added for Commando Club bombing of northern areas of North Vietnam. The site ended operations with the Battle of Lima Site 85 when most of the U.S. technicians on the mountaintop were killed, including CMSgt Richard Etchberger For his heroism and sacrifice, Etchberger received the Air Force Cross posthumously. The operation remained classified, however, and the existence of the award was not publicly acknowledged until 1998. After the declassification of LS 85 and a reevaluation of his actions, Etchberger was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2010.

    Battle of Lima Site 85

    "The Battle of Lima Site 85, also called Battle of Phou Pha Thi, was fought as part of a military campaign waged during the Vietnam War and Laotian Civil War by the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) (then known as NVA) and the Pathet Lao, against airmen of the United States Air Force 1st Combat Evaluation Group, elements of the Royal Laos Army, Royal Thai Border Patrol Police, and the Central Intelligence Agency-led Hmong Clandestine Army. The battle was fought on Phou Pha Thi mountain in Houaphanh Province, Laos, on 10 March 1968, and derives its name from the mountaintop where it was fought or from the designation of a 700 feet (210 m) landing strip in the valley below, and was the largest single ground combat loss of United States Air Force members during the Vietnam War.

    During the Vietnam War and the Laotian Civil War, Phou Pha Thi mountain was an important strategic outpost which had served both sides at various stages of the conflict. In 1966, the United States Ambassador to Laos approved a plan by the United States Air Force (USAF) to construct a TACAN site on top of Phou Pha Thi, as at the time they lacked a navigation site with sufficient range to guide U.S. bombers towards their targets in North Vietnam. In 1967 the site was upgraded with the air-transportable all-weather AN/TSQ-81 radar bombing control system. This enabled American aircraft to bomb North Vietnam and Laos at night and in all types of weather, an operation code-named Commando Club. Despite U.S. efforts to maintain the secrecy of the installation, which included the "sheep-dipping" of the airmen involved, U.S. operations at the facility did not escape the attention of the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces.

    Towards the end of 1967, North Vietnamese units increased the tempo of their operations around Phou Pha Thi, and by 1968 several attacks were launched against Lima Site 85. In the final assault on 10 March 1968, elements of the VPA 41st Special Forces Battalion attacked the facility, with support from the VPA 766th Regiment and one Pathet Lao battalion. The Hmong and Thai forces that were defending the facility were overwhelmed by the combined North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces."

    Will make this a sticky for others to add further information and successful or unsuccessful attempts to ride up..

    To be honest. Not much there, a great ride up and steep and twisty in parts..
    We were just happy to get down the bottom and no reception committee.

    You can see in the video I look back in the mirrors after we leave.. Still thinking someone will come out and stop us.. alas they didn't this time..

  2. Another link
    The Fall of Lima Site 85

    The War in Laos  (1)

    By 1965, US policy in Laos had evolved into a strategy of war against the Communist Pathet Lao (PL) to regain control of the remote and mountainous northern provinces, particularly Louang Phrabang, which included the strategic Plain of Jars, and the Communist stronghold of Samneua, where Phou Phathi, the Sacred Mountain, was located. Because of restrictions placed on military presence and operations in Laos by increasingly irrelevant international agreements, this war became the nearly exclusive responsibility of CIA.

    Samneua was central to the strategy because it was the principal gateway between Laos and North Vietnam: the North Vietnamese used the region to infiltrate troops and supplies into Laos, and the United States used the area to conduct surveillance and support operations against North Vietnam. In August 1966, to support the escalating air war against the North, a Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) station was first constructed on the mountain above Lima Site (for landing site) 85.

    The remote mountain in northeastern Laos known as Phou Phathi to the Laotians and "the Rock" to the Americans who served there is a dramatic 5,600-foot ridgeline that is just flat enough on top to support a few buildings built into the rock of the mountain and a small clearing that was used as a helicopter landing site. Located 100 miles south of Dien Bien Phu, 160 miles west of Hanoi, and just 25 miles from the PL capital of Samneua, Phou Phathi was a place of great religious significance to the local Hmong and Yao tribesmen. They believed the forbidding mountaintop was inhabited by great phi, or spirits, who exercised supernatural control over the lives and circumstances of the Hmong people. US Ambassador to Laos William Sullivan, however, believed the mountain was a poor choice for the location of secret Air Force navigational equipment because it was too close to Samneua and the PL.

    A Sensitive Facility
    Nevertheless, because of the geography of the area and the need for a site that would be within radio and radar range of North Vietnam--a difficult problem in the exceptionally rugged terrain of the Laos--North Vietnam border area, the Air Force in 1966 installed a TACAN transmitter on Phou Phathi. A TACAN station is a nearly autonomous radio transmitter that provides military aircraft with a bearing and distance in miles relative to the station location. To support operation of the station on Phou Phathi, the Air Force rotated several technicians to and from the Rock for maintenance and resupply of the transmitter and its associated generator. The Rock was supplied weekly by a secret Air Commando unit, codenamed PONY EXPRESS and based at Udorn Airbase in Thailand, via the 700-foot Lima Site (L.S.) 85 strip in the valley below.

    In 1967 the facility was upgraded with a bombing-control radar to improve the control and accuracy of the bombing campaign in North Vietnam. This upgrade brought in more Air Force personnel, "sheep-dipped" to look like civilians, and (allegedly) genuine civilian technicians from Lockheed Aircraft. In reality, the men on Phou Phathi were all Air Force CIRCUIT RIDER teams from the 1st Mobile Communications Group in Udorn who rotated to the site every 24 hours. The PL and North Vietnamese watched developments at Phou Phathi with interest.

    Map: "South East Asia"

    The CIA and Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, the joint commanders of the war against the PL in Military Region (MR) II, which included the provinces of Samneua and Xiangkhoang, realized the ultimately untenable position of these Americans on Phou Phathi and arranged for the mountain to be guarded by 300 Thai mercenaries reinforced by local Hmong troops led by CIA paramilitary officers.

    In 1967 the military situation in MR II was starting to deteriorate under pressure from the PL, the North Vietnamese, and the Chinese, who were building a series of roads in northern Laos, delivering aid to the PL, and generally adding a wild card factor to the balance of power in the area. The Chinese had concerns about the intentions and loyalties of the Tai and Hmong peoples of northern Laos and southern Yunnan Province, and they apparently believed an active presence was the best policy to maintain control. Phou Phathi continued to receive more equipment and manpower, and it attracted increasing PL attention.
  3. Amazing stuff, who would have thought you could pull that one of & just ride there, especially after all the failed attempts.

    I bet there was a nice little adrenalin rush going on out there at the time.

    Brilliant & thanks for the write up - keep the power on the mighty KLX250.

    Now I wonder if Jasmine will be back for another go.
  4. Great riding Brian. I am sure this will be nice to think about when working life ruin your riding life.

    Power on.
  5. Well done Brian, another epic trip to a remote and historical place on the trusty KLX. It must have given you guys a real buzz as you got closer to the Lima 85 site...the adrenalin would have been pumping I bet.

    That new road to Xan Neua looks inviting, I reckon that’s a great part of Laos to explore.

    Great video mate, …captures the mood.

    Thanks for the brilliant report, Im so envious. What an adventure.

    I take my hat off to you and Chris.

    Beers on me next time we meet by the Mekong. (a consumption limit will apply)

    Cheers Moto-Rex
  6. Fantastic Achievement Brian. Ticked off the Two Biggest Locations in Laos. A Great Feat considering the Security and Off Limits put on them by the Government. As You say not a lot left to See there but the History from both Site 85 and Long Tieng is Incredible. I could imagine getting some Goose Bumps just being there!!!

    Congratulations Mate!

    Here is a link someone sent to me while I was reading about LS85.  I have never found these details in the many books I've read about LS85.
    Draw your own conclusion about what Sullivan knew, or denied knowing.
  8. Brilliant Brian, another BIG box ticked. You must have just about covered every square meter of Laos by now including exposing these little secrets. Top job and what a job but someone has to do it!
  9. That is an excellent read..

    May be the service men he talks about and unsure why they went that way down the cliff ledge and dead.. We're the servicemen thrown over the cliff as reported in the other links.


  10. Cheers Fellas,

    When in Xam Neua that night we celebrated with some beers.
    No consumptions limits applied Moto-Rex ;-)


    We both discussed our feelings over the beers.
    First it was like..
    - Did we really make it.. That was easy.
    - Better verify this first...

    Then it was like..
    - Now we have to get back out..
    - Will there be a welcoming committee waiting for us.

    I put my phone out of the way with the pics and left the Go Pro on my head.. to give something if stopped..

    But as you can see in the video. No one waiting.. Also in the video you see me look back in the mirror on the way out. .
    Thinking will they see us pass and come out.

    I had a problem with my gear lever.. We kept going a few KM before stopping and fixed it there out of sight..

    Here is the elevation from the turn off at the Check point to the "Ladder " area.


    The last climb is nice and steep and a bit greasy.. Also you can see in the Google Earth images, twisty.

  11. Adventures to aspire to!
    • Like Like x 1
  12. One Day Too Long is another excellent book on the LS85
    One Day Too Long - Top Secret Site 85 and the Bombing of North Vietnam | Columbia University Press

    Shadow War is also another good one that talks about specific battles
    • Like Like x 1

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