Many of the villages we visited on the trail were very small and very remote with only a footpath leading to them. Life must be very hard and simple, though people were usually friendly and generally looked happy.
Different villages had their distinct feel about them, which was easily felt. Some were very welcoming and eager to meet and chat, some more reserved, even fearful.
I should think there is a reason behind this. Either past experience or simply a way of keeping safe. Might be religious. After all, it certainly is not an everyday occurrence that two white guys in their motorbike gear turn up from the woods.
I did not feet threatened at any time. Naturally however, on a few occasion, if we did not feel welcome or it seemed that the people had some reservations meeting us, we continued our way.
Naturally some places are more urban commercial markets and traveling salespeople on their scooters are usual sight on the roads and trails.
Regardless of how urban or how remote the village is, modern world is slowly creeping in. Sanitation and schools are a good example.
In the following film, I tried to collect faces from the trail. Nothing I can do makes justice to these people, but I tried to capture the faces on the real Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The original trail is still visible in places. As a network of paths, some have continued to be in use and some have been reclaimed by the jungle. As the trail generally was made from cobblestone, it is easily identifiable.
For nine years (1964 to 1973), every eight minutes a full B52 load of bombs were dropped during the Vietnam war – 24 hours a day. Per Wikipedia: The American air campaign during the Vietnam War was the largest in military history. The US contribution to this air-war was the largest. Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Curtis LeMay stated that “we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age”.
On the other hand, the Vietnamese / Lao people directed bombings to the karst mountains and used the stone rubble to build the trail.
A total of 7.6 million tonnes of bombs were dropped during the Vietnam war. Some 2,5 million tonnes were dropped on Laos and Ho Chi Minh Trail. Compared to 2nd World War, where”only” 2 million tonnes in total was dropped, this is a huge amount.
Most of the metal from the war: bombs, tanks, trucks, barrels, fuel pipeline, etc on the ground has been since collected by scrap metal hunters over the years.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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 legend is that this rock is held in place balancing on a single hair of Buddha.
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.
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.
If you choose the truck ride, it is adrenaline filled on the steep climb up.
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 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.
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.