Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

For a couple of days my cycle route followed parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos and Vietnam. The HCMT was the supply route that was used by North Vietnamese forces in what is known here as the American War. The countryside is mountainous and covered in dense forest and jungle. Dropping from one valley and climbing into another it was easy to see why the traffic along the multitude of trails proved impossible to stop.

I passed a series of former American military bases along what was once the DMZ, including Khe Sanh, site of the fiercest battle of the entire war. There's nothing much there now except some rusting helicopters and the old landing strip, on which nothing will grow. There's also a small museum full of propaganda which leaves you with the false impression that the North Vietnamese scored a famous victory. Pictures of smiling North Vietnamese girls carrying boxes of supplies are contrasted with photos of American soldiers "showing their terror" during the battle.

An American soldier apparently once said that "you could lose Khe Sanh and you'd really lost nothing at all". Standing in the drizzle in the mountains and jungle in middle of nowhere, I couldn't agree more.

There are still thousands of tons of unexploded ordinance 'UXO' all over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. These signs are common in Vietnam and Laos. In Cambodia, people missing limbs are common.

This US tank is all that's left of a whole valley of destroyed and abandoned equipment near Ban Dong in Laos. It was part of an unsuccesful raid on the HCMT by South Vietnamese forces.

A smashed Chinook slowly rusts at Khe Sanh.

It's not all doom and gloom in the border area. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you'd think that Lao and Cambodians had been living in a peaceful, innocent idyll for the last few decades, always smiling and laughing. As I ride past, kids come running out of the stilt houses every few hundred yards and shout "sabadee!" and "goodbye!" (sometimes even "hello!"). It makes for constant entertainment.

Sunset approaching the Viet border from Laos on route 9.

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