Five guys riding Honda XR250s on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos – 2,500 kilometers in 12 days in November-December 2008.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail is the route by which the North Vietnamese moved men and military material through neighboring Laos to battlefronts in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It has been called one of the greatest military engineering feats in history. The North Vietnamese had their own name for the trail: the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route, named after the Truong Son mountain range that divides Vietnam and Laos. More simply, they called it the Blood Road.
The trail ran through Laos because the U.S. could not deploy ground forces there to block it. The 1962 Geneva Accords, which the U.S. signed, declared Laos neutral and prohibited the presence of foreign troops. So the U.S. resorted to a massive bombing campaign to interdict the trail, bombing Laos virtually round the clock for nine years. Laos is the most heavily bombed place on earth. Keeping the trail open was crucial to the North Vietnamese war effort and to the ultimate Communist victory and they defended it with anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles, shooting down some 540 U.S. aircraft over Laos.
Digby: Veteran adventure rider and guide, based in Hanoi by way of Australia. One the first, and one of and few Westerners to have extensively explored the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Expert dirt bike rider from Australia.
Ray: Rides a chopper in Switzerland.
Steph: Expert dirt bike rider, motocross racer and trials competitor from Australia.
Bob: Me, from Seattle, writing my first RR. No appreciable experience on two wheels on-road or off since the 1970s when I rode a two-stroke Bultaco and a Yamaha RD350. Recent, but not-very-applicable experience with Ural and Chang Jiang side car rigs. (And no, I did not ride this 125 cc Minsk on the trail although there I times I wished I were on it).
Preliminaries: We met up in Laos' capital, Vientiane (more correctly called Viang Chang). It is
charming, ramshackle city of dilapidated old whitewashed French colonial-era buildings and Buddhist temples along the Mekong River. Unlike Asian mega-cities such as Bangkok and Beijing, it still has a lot of dirt roads and you are likely to be awakened by roosters crowing. Pictures from my hotel room balcony:
These tuk-tuks are the taxis in Vientiane; they are steered with a set of motorcycle handlebars. Usually the driver is napping in a hammock slung in back:
We spent a couple days acclimating in Vientiane, then started the ride.
Next: the ride.