A Glimpse of Ho Chi Minh Trail

yempaul

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2011
Bikes
XR250L, R1200RT
A FOR ADVENTURE: The Ho Chi Minh Trails


GSA crossing the rickety bamboo bridge 270m long. You should have heard how the bamboos creaked!


The Ho Chi Minh trail. The stuff of legends. Veteran American soldiers still talk about this unimaginable maze that they were tasked to bomb during the Vietnam War. Some of their stories became international best sellers. In all their stories, they describe the the Ho Chi Minh trail as a perfectly engineered route that enable soldiers to move quickly and silently under the canopy of the dense jungle. These networks of paths have a life of its own, ever growing and expanding, faster than any Americans can map them out and destroy them. 6000km of backwater paths through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Four decades later, the war has ended and these trails have grown silent, but it was never once forgotten. The surroundings have recovered with time but bombs continue to lay hidden and have over time become part of the jungle. American and Russian tanks and planes lay scattered, down but not defeated, waiting eagerly to relive their missions. Bridges have been destroyed and reclaimed by the rivers, only part of their structure remains, a testament to the chaos at that time.

We came across the Ho Chi Minh trail by chance, while researching routes in Laos. Google search gave us Luang Prabang, Vientiene, elephant rides, Vang Viang, river cruises, buegette, pubs, massages and after another 30 sites of the same stuff, the Ho Chin Trail name pops up. There was no exact route or location, just an image of the map and the American bombing mission in southern Laos. The more we researched. The more intrigued we became....there is something special along those trails, one not seen or felt by many coming into Laos. We decided to take our bikes into Laos and journey through those hushed trails and come back to tell the tale.

Before we even started, there were 2 worrying issues. First, there was little information on the exact location of these trails. Not the Internet, not anywhere! So we plotted according to the stories online, the pictures that we could gather and our imagination of what it could possibly be (as we later found out after the ride, our plotted route was so off the actual trail that it's embarrassing). The second worry was that no known bikes past the 400cc range has ever been recorded attempting to use this legendary trail. Those that has made it though on smaller bikes says that its a suicide mission. The bikes that we are on will never make it out in one piece. It will drown in the river, chocked in the trails by its own weight, our fancy rims will break unable to handle the stress of riding on the huge boulders and dry river beds, suspensions will fail and our bike parts will contribute to the existing war scraps. The trails have claimed many who thought that they were up for it, and we will not be the first nor will we be it's last. The message is clear; we were just fancy bike owners who bought the marketing sales pitch a little too well.

It must have been selective hearing and reading at its best (or worst) because all we heard was, Ho Chin Minh Trail....legend.....awesome....bikes....adventure... Spirit...bombs... Christmas...New Year...adventure....campfire marshmallows?

On the 26th of December 2012, four bikes reached southern Laos (Thakek) after making the journey 3000-4000km north from Singapore. These bikes 1200cc each, Yamaha S10, BMW GS, BMW GSA and Triumph Explorer have done their fair share of distance riding but not against legends such the HCMT. These bikes were shinny, farkled, fancy even, the pride of the fleet of adventure bikes (A KTM 990 was unable to come due to work commitments). As we reached Thakek, not one of us thought twice about going up against this legend..we were absolutely determined to take it on and survive to tell the tale... And so, the story between man and his machine against the perfectly engineered trails used in the Vietnam War begins....



Took a gamble to enter via Frienship Bridge III of Nakhon Phanom - Thakek crossing after being denied at Muen Nguen. Long story there. The officials gave the go ahead but had a change of heart. Staying away from Huay Kon in the meantime till the situations is clearer.

At FBIII was a different story, they turned us away politelyu and suggested we load our bikes on a pick up. In the meantime, he called up his boss to seek clearance for us. With a stroke of luck, we were given the go ahead but we need to move quickly. All done in 10 minutes.





Fast forward to day one..all hell was breaking loose...we were questioning our sanity of being there in the first place.....There was absolutely no way we could have bashed through hundreds of kilometres of trails with our imaginary route. At this juncture, i would like to introduce the fifth rider who we are ever thankful for joining us. A little humble Lifan (China made motorcycle 200cc - rider named Chris). Chris and his Lifan remind me of Disney movies, the king's soldiers in the dark forest on a noble quest guided by magical wisps and nymphs. We were the dumb soldiers; Chris was that magical wisps...




Guiding us along the relentless paths.. Ever so nimble, he is always in front of us, showing us the trail and helping us when needed..(Plus there's something about the way when he says doesn't worry that makes it a bit comforting for us... Lols... What he actually meant was there were just 12 more rivers to cross with chest deep waters!)




The battle between man and his machine with the legendary trails over the following 4days was epic. The first for these kinds of bikes in South East Asia. When trails proved too technical for the bikes, all 5 huffed and puffed to push and provide leverage and support. When rivers proved too mighty to cross, we combined our strength (literally) and use it to link the the bikes across. When darkness falls and the last remaining lights in the sky disappear, we relied on each other's tail lights and feed on each other's perseverance to get out of the trails. When we got separated and lost in the trails, not one man blamed the other; instead we ride harder and searched further. When one man fall, four will come to his aid; one to pick him, another to pick his morale and two others to muscle the bike up. We shall leave no man or bike behind, there will be no casualties on the HCMT. We may take all day and night but we will get out together.




On that note, 13.5 hrs to clear 160km of trails on the first day. I remember dozens of falls, flying panniers, soaked boots, bottomed out forks, rickety bridges, huge ruts, long stretches of sands, steep inclines and amazing show of character. Words fail to describe the intensity of the trails as we ride our 1200cc bikes through. This was compounded by the fact that we had all our panniers on and no off road tyres. (Well I did mention that our initial plotted route was so off the mark it's embarrassing!). We drank from rivers and eat rationed biscuits to survive the trails. At night, despite being tired we could not sleep, part adrenaline from the days ride and part anxiety of what tomorrow will bring.

As I write this tale of ours, our bikes and us have survived the HCMT in one piece. Even though we covered the major routes, we barely scratched the surface of the 6000km long network of trails. The HCMT did not let us go easily. We left the trail with bruises on our arms and duct tapes and cable ties on our bikes. Each battle scar, a worthy story of their own. Even though over time, our bodies will heal and the bikes will be replaced, we want to let it be known that 4 beasts and a China made bike called Lifan (they say it won't make it past the showroom) have survived the HCMT despite all the naysayers.




It is never about the bike make or model, it has always been the Rider that makes the story. For those brief intense moments, we called the Ho Chi Minh trail our own and this was our story.

Rider verdict:
Lifan - not a single fall or damage - full marks 10/10




GSA - made the mistake of hitting the trails with full 33l tank. Damaged panniers. Nearly sunk the boat during river crossing.




GS - Rider had super long legs. Can waddle out of sticky situations easily. Bottomed out forks. Hates soft sand trails




S10- Nearly became part of the river bank. Sank the boat completely. Rider was a survivor. Suggested camping out when it was dark and we were still in the trails with some 30km to go.. We got no tent and he got no sleeping bags




Triumph Explorer- Battle harden rider let down by his panniers. It did a huge full slow motion flip some 5 meters away when he bottomed out in a huge rut. He also claim he had the least no of falls among the beasts in the trails...




Epic moment 1 - when we saw the ford that we were crossing was flooded waist deep. That means we either take the boat across or heave the almost 300kg bikes across. Wait where did Chris go... Oh he's already on the other side....





Epic moment 2 - When the S10 was firmly on the boat and we were about to leave the river bank and the boat starts taking in water.... The boatman frantically asked us to reverse the S10... We thought he was kidding... When we realised he wasn't and we were finding the reverse gear on the S10, the boat sank completely (hull touching the river bed 2 meters from the river bank). The S10 exhaust was barely above water. From there, we had to manhandle the 300kg machine out of the water and than get it back onto the dry bank.



Epic moment 3 - The boatman smacks his head and bans all our bikes on his boat.

Epic moment 4 - When the boatman strips his pants down.






And the relief on everyone's face when all bikes got to the other side.











Dry up time next day at Phonghan Saenpresard Guesthouse.













The museum at Ban Dong, Savanakhet.













 

yempaul

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2011
Bikes
XR250L, R1200RT


Gnomalath District, Savanakhet.



Russian missile on display







Bombed out bridge



A visit to the school























 

yempaul

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2011
Bikes
XR250L, R1200RT
A Wat in Xepon






Bomb craters




















The deepest and longest (about 40m) river that I have ever rode my bike across. Looking easy and good when suddenly the water resistance overcame my bike (should have opened more) and I dropped my bike to the left. Chris nearly dropped his camera as he helped me lift the bike up. For the next 15 mins it would not start and we were going SHITE!!!!!...... word cannot describe our joy when the engine stuttered back to life with river water coming out of the exhaust… phew.. too close a call….

*author, Umar Ngalim
*photos contributed by all riders
 

KTMphil

Senior member
Joined
Jan 11, 2011
Location
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Bikes
2007 KTM 990 Adventure Suzuki DRZ 400
What a great adventure on those big bikes, something you'll never ever forget, great story!!


Very interesting that you also couldn't get in through the Nan border into Laos, this is such a nuisance.


Thanks for posting this Yempaul
 
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