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Ho Chi Minh Trail

The Ho Chi Minh Trail has always been the stuff of legends, a seemingly endless number of backwater paths and trails. This is where I will be going next!

Laos translates to the ‘Land of a Million Elephants’. It could also be the Land of 80 Million Bombs

Laos is the most heavily-bombed country per-capita in the history of the world. Every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years from 1964 until 1973, a planeload of cluster bombs was dropped on Laos by American B-52s.

Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

The estimated number of cluster bombs that did not detonate is 80 million, most of which are still buried in farmland. Over the past four decades, less than 1% of the bomblets that failed to detonate have been cleared. All 17 provinces in Laos, and 41 of 46 of the poorest districts in Laos, are today burdened with unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination.

Mr. Sorpaseuth’s youngest son, Bounleuy, was interviewed and revealed the accident occurred at around 10:40am on September 21st 2019 in the family’s garden; “my father was using a hoe and spade to dig the roots of a banana tree to re-plant in a different area. While he was digging, his hoe hit an unexploded bombie (BLU26) and shrapnel from the bomb hit his chest and face and he died suddenly. Many things in the garden were also destroyed by the bombie”. 

Most devices dropped in Laos were anti-personnel cluster bombs, although the U.S. was never at war with the people of Laos. Nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos. The American people were largely oblivious to the bombing campaign in the country at the time.

Cluster bombs are designed as anti-personnel, anti-armor weapons, but the primary victims have been innocent civilians. More than 98% of known cluster bomb victims are civilians and 40% are children, who are drawn to the small, toy-like metal objects. Boys in particular are at risk. Today.

These bombs were meant to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of jungle and mountain paths that served as a logistical supply route for the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail – Truong Son Road

The Ho Chi Minh Trail is an elaborate network of mountain and jungle paths and trails built from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia. The purpose was to support the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War.

The name, taken from North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, is of American origin. Within Vietnam, it is called the Ðuong Truong Son, or Truong Son Road, after the mountain range in Central Vietnam.

The trail was put into operation beginning in 1959, after the North Vietnamese decided to reunify South with North Vietnam. The Trail was the major supply route for the North Vietnamese forces that successfully invaded and overran South Vietnam in 1975.

HCMT exploration tour route

 

I will be exploring this legendary trail in Laos with the man who knows every back road, trail and path in the country, Donald Duvall aka The Midnight Mapper. The name reflects his extensive work mapping the country. Don has also been advising film crews on the trail, notably Red Bull Media for Blood Road.
See more at: http://bloodroadfilm.com/

Having toured northern Laos with Don earlier, I know this will be one heck of a ride!

 

Kaunas – Gdansk and Ferry Poland – Sweden – Finland

Shortcut over the Sea

Some of the roads leading to the nordic countries from central Europe may not be a rider’s dream but they are efficient in taking you from A to B. As always with a new destination, you enjoy the new scenery, but after once or twice, these arteries are rather dull. This goes with Via Baltica and riding through Denmark and southern Sweden. All nice destinations on their own, though.

Kaunas Old Town

To add interest to my ride, I took a slight detour and stayed in Kaunas in Lithuania – a very nice town with a beautiful old town and some fantastic food and trendy people. Recommended stop en route.

Gdansk region

I also set my camp in Gdansk in Poland for a few days to explore the surroundings a bit more. Gdansk, Sopot, Gdynia, Hel. This corner is really not on any route unless you go there specifically or go for a ferry from Gdansk to Sweden – Which is exactly what I did.

A few words about Gdansk and its close neighbours. Gdansk really is a nice town and worth visiting. A large Prague-like old town. I like Prague but I liked Gdansk even more, nice small restaurants – Berlin-meet-Praque – and really excellent food and drink. It is very touristy but has a local feel as well. And very good street performers!

Sopot

If you want some more space for yourself and like it quieter, close by is the town of Sopot. Made famous by its music festival during the Soviet era. A lovely town with fantastic beaches. And it is really close to Gdansk to enjoy both towns

Going to Hel
The bus 666 to Hel!!

Next west is the port town of Gdynia and north-west the peninsula in the sea with Hel at the end. Although the road to Hel looks like a scenic one, the road really just runs between bushes. Traffic may also be hellish and you are better off on a motorbike. Not much to see. Unless you count the local public transport bus.

Not often do you see a bus to Hel numbered 666!

But this was suppose to be about the ferries…

Polferries at Westerplatte harbour

Polferries sail from Gdansk to Nynäshamn just some 100 km south of Stockholm. This is a roro ferry for trucks but also takes passengers with their vehicles. Check the timetable but my ferry sailed from Gdansk at 6PM and arrived in Nynäshamn 12 noon the following day. I assume it does about the same to the opposite direction.

Walking on the deck

The ferry is clean and comfortable to travel. It has options from airline seats to shared and private cabins for your night sleep. Several restaurants and also outside seating to enjoy the sea.

Food onboard is not quite what you could expect after the fantastic food in Gdansk. I even opted for some prepaid meals in the a la carte restaurant for dinner but assume the canteen would have been better. For breakfast, a la carte was decent.

Nice clean restaurant

A small detail is that my pre-purchased dinner included a drink. Turned out it was coffee or soft drink. On the other hand, if you pre-purchase just a drink coupon, it is for beer and wine as well. But they are all drinks, I guess. With the coupons, service was quick and efficient.

Make sure you check which terminal the ferry departs from. You may see some conflicting information from different sources, so be careful. The terminal seems to change at times. This time (Summer 2019) we sailed from Westerplatte port.

Kapellskär – Naantali

Another roro route, this time with Finnlines. Note that all meals are included in your ferry ticket as standard. Plenty to eat and good quality, much better than Polferries anyway. The restaurant is large and there is enough seating for all.

The ferry is clean and has the usual seat and cabin choices and it even has a sauna with a jacuzzi bath. Also a nice bar area with a view and outside seating also from the sauna.

Nice cabin on Finnlines

My ferry sailed around 8PM and arrived to Naantali 7AM.

Most ferries from the Stockholm region also make a stop in Åland and you may want to take the option to explore the island as well.

Well, now you are in Naantali, ready to explore the south-wester corner of Finland or to head north or east. Both good choices with very different things to offer. Enjoy your trip!

PS. The Costs

Both ferries about the same – under €150 each. Thats one person, motorbike and a bed. Shared cabin on Polferries, private cabin on Finnlines.  On Finnlines also all meals. Check offers available.

The Golden Rock, Death Railroad, Buddha Caves

The Golden Rock – Kyaiktiyo Pagoda

The legend is that this rock is held in place  balancing on a single hair of Buddha.

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda Golden Rock

A very popular pilgrimage site for the buddhists, many coming from Thailand. Golden Rock is located in the Mon State at Mount Kyaiktiyo (Kyite Htee Yoe). 

As in most holy places, it is strictly no shoes and as my shorts were just about knee length, I had to wear a local skirt-type cloth that is common for the Burmese men.

A pilgrimage day out

People  spend a day praying, eating and wondering the marvel.  The place is also very busy and takes a little time to get to.

First you will be taken half way up the mountain on a tightly squeezed lorry ride 6 aside on each bench.

Half-way up you can opt for a Kyaiktiyo Cable-car (like a ski-gondola) at a slightly higher cost – recommend the investment.

Waiting for the truck to take people down

If you choose the truck ride, it is adrenaline filled on the steep climb up.

Death Railroad

Thanbyuzayat Death Railroad Museum

This Burma-Siam railroad was built by the Japanese during their conquest of Thailand and Burma in 1942-43. Well, actually the Japanese did not build the railroad but their war prisoners and imported Asian labourers from Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia workers did. The building of the railroad took a toll of some 100.000 lives, again mainly Asian.

Also Australian, Dutch, British and American POWs were used to build the railroad.

Thanbyuzayat museum

Thanbyuzayat museum marks the start / end of the railroad in current Myanmar

Notably the film Bridge over the River Kwai tells about the railroad and there are several museums along the railroad line.

The Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Pindaya Caves

These very large caves contain some 9000 Buddha statues, earliest possibly from 1750’s. Many of the statues have the donor’s name on them. The statues are all different and interestingly, represent the time when they were donated.

The caves are another popular tourist and pilgrimage attraction. Access to the caves is through a line of stalls selling food and memorabilia and on a lift taking you to a very nice view across the town of Pindaya. The actual caves available for a visit are some 150m long. Some areas you need to crawl to. 

The other Caves, Stupas and Bagotas

There are thousands of Buddhist sites around the country everywhere you go. They are in small towns, some in caves and some in magnificent natural formations. When you go to Myanmar, you will see them. Perhaps it is a good idea to include only some of the main sites in your itinerary and just see the rest as they appear along the route.

Typical statue
Buddha Cave
White Stupas
Red toenails of a Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar

Long Neck People

Indigenous Artisans, Floating Gardens, Long Neck People

Lake Inle (or how the Burmese say, Inle Lake) in the Shan state is the second largest lake in Myanmar, largest being Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State.

We started our trip from the town of Nyaungshwe on a  narrow-boat, which is a long-tail-boat, passengers sitting in single file, all facing front. The sound of the old motors on these boats is deafening  even for the loudest biker, with hardly anything to dampen the noise of the engine.

The scenery however is serene as soon as you exit the long canal leading to the lake. The first things you see are the fishermen, who show off their skills in the hope of a tip from the tourists passing.  These fishermen paddle in a unique way, standing on one foot and using the other foot to paddle. They keep one end of the oar under one arm and use one leg to paddle.

Houses are on bamboo stilts

There are some 70.000 Intha-people of different origins and tribes living on the lake. All tribes have different skills – fishermen, blacksmiths, silversmiths, boat makers, silk weavers, cigarrette rollers,…

Hpaung Daw U Pagoda Golden Buddha Statues

Naturally there is a very large Hpaung Daw U Pagoda with golden buddha statues, which today are just lumps of gold as people have for years attached leaf-gold on the statues. These statues a paraded on a special boat each October around the lake in huge festivities. Even boat engines are not allowed to be used that time.

Floating gardens produce 90% tomatoe, the rest being beans, cucumbers, flowers, and gourds. According to our guide, Inle Lake gardens produce some 60% of the tomatoe used in Myanmar.

The sticks in the floating gardens hold tomatoes upright and also keep the gardens from floating away!

It was a busy market day when we visited the lake.
Me and the Long Neck Girls

The Long Neck decoration has also a history from the time when the people were not at Inle Lake – they are not indigenous for the area. The decoration was protection agains tigers! Tigers attack legs and neck – hence protection around the neck and legs/knees!

Inle lake should not be missed if you head this way. A wonderful day out!

Save the beer!

Time for a swim at the end of the day

… that elusive day we keep putting good things off to…