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Old 05-23-2012, 07:30 PM   #106
Suqsuda OP
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Thanks for reading, Peter13.

Big changes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Last year I rode the Vietnam parts of the trail with my buddy Digby who led our Laos trip. He'd been back to Laos a couple times since our trip and told me that some long stretches of the wildest parts we rode have now been widened, leveled and graded so that they're now like the leg we rode on the day trip outside Sephon, toward the Vietnam border and back -- pretty much tamed. Other parts have been paved. And electricity (even Internet) has been extended to villages we visited that had none, including Ban Sen Phen. The jungle in the crux, the deepest part of our ride, has been completely logged and the trail widened to accommodate logging trucks. Glad I saw it when it was and as it was.

But Digby has pushed into some parts of the trail SE of where we went that are still untouched. Mostly with Vietnamese friends of his -- he can't get Westerners to sign up for a Laos ride. He promoted one last year, I think he cancelled it because nobody signed up. Everyone wants to ride Vietnam where he runs as many rides as he can handle.

He said in SE Laos he came to one part of the trail where they left the bikes and hiked up a mountainside and came to an old NVA base that looked untouched since the war, even with some old posters and papers still intact.

Vietnam is great but Laos still intrigues. When we rode it, we came to a fork in the trail and Digby told us we can't go that way because he had ridden down it on a previous ride -- and came to a wall of cut bamboo poles woven like a basket blocking the trail and extending into the jungle on each side -- impassable. Anyway, he since went back and looped around and came up the same part of the trail from the other direction on the map and ran into a similar wall. So there is a stretch of about 10 km. between the two walls. What's back there -- King Kong?

Anyway, I've asked him to post some pics but he hasn't so I will take the liberty of posting an e-mail he sent me a while back, after our Laos ride:


"Got the rusty old bazooka back into VN, strapped to an exhaust pipe.

Also got a part of a plane with a star on it but could not get the Gattling gun back!

Making lots of rides with the Urals now. We can now take them over into Laos and back.

Last April me and some VN friends pushed all the last sections of the Trail. Found another tank and an APC. Slept out a lot, once in a cluster bomb field where we found a couple of live ones the next morning. One on the trail no less. Another under one guy’s hammock (next to the green bottle in the photo “campsite with cluster bomb”.jpg.

Found a way around that long river we had to push the bikes through."


Here are a few of his pics:


















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Old 05-23-2012, 09:49 PM   #107
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Been 22 years since I did Lao

Nothing can ever come close to that feeling you get when in Laos.

That combo of its Cold War/secret war history, the material legacies of bombings, bombees, that mad karst soaring thousands of feet skyward everywhere, jungle packed with huge varieties of wildlife and birds, the laulao whiskey and sticky rice breakfasts, the over the top foods (had to try the split dog skull soup -- don't recommend it), ladies' smiles and rivers, boats, dust, kids, guns, bugs, Biere Lao, snakes everywhere and unmaintained roads...I'm sweating now.

I was among the first of the tourists allowed into Laos a week after the Berlin Wall breach in Nov '89. I had been hanging with some Swede backpackers in Bangkok when one of them said her brother knew how to get a Lao visa. The catch was you had to train it all the way to Nong Kai and pay some Thai dude $85 at the Mut Mee Guesthouse, then wait a week there for it -- he was apparently the only guy on earth who could get one. I did all that and got mine, and after staring at the place across the Mekong for 7 days, made the crossing.

After a few sweet days in Vientiane, I bussed up to VangVieng, then to Muang Kasi, then hitchhicked to Luang Prabang, then back down again. Sat on the tank of a big fuel truck to catch the view much of the way.

A year later I went back, and this time after getting very vodka-drunk with a bunch of Russian filmmakers doing a doc on all their Mekong client states, and hanging with a chronic stoner CIA man, I hitched all the way up to Xam Neua in the NE, via Ponsavan (Plain of Jars) in Xieng Khuang province. I'd been been reading up on things -- Air America, The Ravens, both by Christopher Robbins and very much worth the read -- and was ready to have my mind blown away, but I hoped not my legs. Walked all over the plain one day, never thinking that a bombee could take me out any second. Still have a spent but unbent .50 cal round sitting on my desk that I found there.

On the way to Sam Neua, on the road, holes were dug into the side of the mtn, so the communist-backed Pathet Lao soldiers marching southward could hide safely when the Yanks came a-shooting and bombing them. The holes were still intact and could each fit 4-5 guys. There was unexploded ordnance everywhere, including the big ones, the 500kg bombs, "bom hah-loy-kilo", the Lao called them. I have a pic of a bunch of kids standing around a live one. The 60ft craters were everywhere and pocked the bone-dry landscape of the plain like giant machine gun fire.

On the way back south, our truck was fired upon by someone in the jungle, just a few miles north of Kasi. The driver and I ducked. He only said "Meo", the derogatory work for Hmong. The war was still on then, 14 years later, with the once-CIA backed anti-communist Hmong attacking cargo trucks and army convoys and the Lao air force and army attacking their villages in the high mtns.

My last night there, a Vietnamese trucker tried to sell me a briefcase full of uranium 235 he said he'd taken off a crashed USA bomber in '75. I declined his offer, despite its alleged "high salvage value".

I aim to do a DS ride there in the coming years with some Bali mates, though kind of stuck into Toronto for the moment.

But your story, pics and videos were the shit. Brought it all back, kicking, screaming -- and sweating. Thank you.

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Old 05-23-2012, 10:07 PM   #108
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Nothing can ever come close to that feeling you get when in Laos.


But your story, pics and videos were the shit. Brought it all back, kicking, screaming -- and sweating. Thank you.
Same to you, nice reading you piece ... I have been around Ponsavan in 2009 and found it an impressive area. They still warn you to stay on the small paths that have been cleared of bombs. And every day you could here explosions cause bomb teams are still locating bombs and letting them exploded controlled.
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Old 05-24-2012, 10:14 AM   #109
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Air America, The Ravens, both by Christopher Robbins
Outstanding reads!

I parked my rental step-thru on some mist shrouded high pass overlooking some breathtaking karsts years back for a smoke break. Middle on nowhere, east of Luang Prabang. I was startled as a Hmong carrying a rifle dropped out of the jungle onto the road. I said sabade khap and he nodded and carried on. The rifle he was carrying was a flint lock! Apparently these are popular because they can use the powder from unexploded ordinance.

Beautiful country.
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Old 05-24-2012, 09:05 PM   #110
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Once again a great write-up Suqsuda, even enjoyed it the second time through. I wanted to go with Digby on his route through Lao but sadly not enough paying stiffs to pull it off. He does some fun rides and has his war spiel down pat combine with his contacts in Mag and his tours are well put together.

I've only been over here 5 years or so and have seen the backwoods of Lao change dramatically just in the time I've been riding. A lot of the singletracks trails are now bulldozed and graded fireroads. Sad for us that enjoy exploring, but difficult to deny progress to those that strive for something more.

Unusual to see the Bombies so close to the surface after all these years. Usually its farmers toiling plots that unearth the things. its usally two per week on average that get caught out by the bombies, they still incur damages decades after the conflicts. Our good ole USA is still a proponent of them as viable weapoins of war, a shame that they continue to maim after the war past decades ago. .
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Old 05-24-2012, 09:30 PM   #111
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Outstanding reads!

I parked my rental step-thru on some mist shrouded high pass overlooking some breathtaking karsts years back for a smoke break. Middle on nowhere, east of Luang Prabang. I was startled as a Hmong carrying a rifle dropped out of the jungle onto the road. I said sabade khap and he nodded and carried on. The rifle he was carrying was a flint lock! Apparently these are popular because they can use the powder from unexploded ordinance.

Beautiful country.
Was it like these rifles? Stumbled across these hunters in the jungles of Lao in December when doing a ride. Very friendly and looks like they purchased a rooster from a nieghboring village. it was well after breakfast so I reckon they were making their way back to the village after some morning birding. They had two doves and a squirrel in the bags.

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Old 05-25-2012, 07:52 PM   #112
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Just read your RR in one sitting , if you HTFU any-more you'de rust
I'm there in October I'm now more eager than ever
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Old 05-31-2012, 08:12 PM   #113
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Cool picture, FTB, too bad Digby's HCMN trail ride in Laos didn't materialize this year but it looks like you're getting around Laos just fine on your own, would like to see more in a RR.
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Old 08-16-2012, 08:25 PM   #114
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Laos

wow looks like an amazing ride 4 of us have booked with Digby for feb 2013 for the Laos trip can not wait after reading all the above thanks guys for all the info and photos vids etc........
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Old 08-21-2012, 04:26 PM   #115
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Best of luck to you and your fellow riders, Matt. Am looking forward to seeing a ride report from you. I'd bet Digby has some surprises up his sleeve for you in the form of new, unexplored routes on the HCMT (if circumstances permit, of course). I suspect filling in the some of the empty spaces on his Laos map is the main reason he takes people to Laos, because I know he could stay busy full time just running Hanoi-Saigon rides if he wanted to.
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Old 08-21-2012, 06:45 PM   #116
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Best of luck to you and your fellow riders, Matt. Am looking forward to seeing a ride report from you. I'd bet Digby has some surprises up his sleeve for you in the form of new, unexplored routes on the HCMT (if circumstances permit, of course). I suspect filling in the some of the empty spaces on his Laos map is the main reason he takes people to Laos, because I know he could stay busy full time just running Hanoi-Saigon rides if he wanted to.
Yes will post a ride report and vids photos etc....when were back in march 2013 two of the guys who are going done the Vietnam trip last year with Digby and had the best time ridding there this how the Laos trip come about this time so looking forward to it i must say...........
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Old 08-21-2012, 07:28 PM   #117
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Fasinating stuff

This was a very special ride report to me. I've never seen the places where you rode -- well, not most of them -- except from the air. There was one segment in your report where you were very spooked by the village you'd passed through -- you showed tremendous courage. My experience on the ground in Laos was almost exclusively with the Hmong, in northern and central Laos. They were warm, wonderful people who the U.S. used and, tragically, more or less discarded at the end of the war.

I was a pilot, with Air America (as my name here might lead you to believe), and spent almost two years there, based in Vientiane. Having seen it for yourselves, imagine what it must have been like in 1968. I've thought about going back to see it, but the thought leaves me so conflicted emotionally that I don't think I ever will. I did enjoy your report very much, though.

Here's one of my momentos from my time there, something you don't see every day: a Laotian pilot's licence. I've redacted my last name for privacy reasons.



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Old 08-21-2012, 09:50 PM   #118
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That is a keeper. I was enthralled with The Ravens and it made my touring Laos more informed.

Friend of mine was in Udorn at your time, requisitioning a "water rescue training facility", aka, a swimming pool. Crazy days.
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Old 09-08-2012, 09:06 AM   #119
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[/QUOTE]


Very cool, must have been amazing to have been in Vientiane in '68 and to have seen Laos from the air then. There were times on the trail when we fantasized about coming back later and retracing our route and maybe following some new routes by helicopter so we could get a big-picture sense of the terrain.
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