A few years ago we left home for a short overnight ride (hence the open face helmet and sunglasses in the picture) with my wife and a few friends. Only to end up leaving our friends behind and touring Lapland and visiting Nordkapp in Norway by the Barents see, altogether some 4500km. The picture has a glue of where it was taken😀.
Now that covid-19 has seriously fu**ed up everyone’s riding plans for the summer, it is time to visit Lapland and the north again.
Well, Lapland is no second prize, it is a great destination on its own and well worth visiting even several times.
Jungle trails on Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos vary between barely a single track in the bamboo forest to a newly built logging or mining road for trucks. This time of the year however, after the rainy season, most of the jungle roads have been washed away and only some main national roads can be driven by cars. So we spent days without seeing a single car on the road!
Mostly the trail was dry and hard – this was literally vital as any unexploded bombs would not be disturbed when riding over them. The wet places were like riding on soap! Very, very slippery!
The main excitement was obviously finding the old Ho Chi Minh Trail tracks, the cobblestone trail in the jungle, mostly reclaimed by the growth but still visible. Sometimes surrounded by bomb craters, sometimes next to cliffs and sometimes in the cover of the jungle. Sometimes even still used as a cobblestone road. Obviously parts were rebuilt into national road system as well.
Video compilation from Ho Chi Minh Trail Water crossings
Bound to get your boots full
Our ride in November took place after the rainy season and roads and paths had deep meandering grooves carved by the water to make the ride more interesting.
In some occasions the road was completely washed away and just big canyons were left, making crossing even more interesting.
The power of water is incredible and even large concrete bridges were washed away and only pillars were left standing askew. The only bridges that were left almost unscathed were the concrete slabs on the bottom of the river, so called bottom bridges. They are designed to allow the water to flow over them, making the bottom more even and safer to ride. Still some of those were moved by the force of the water.
In the beginning of the dry season, many villages build temporary bridges across streams. The most spectacular are the bamboo bridges, some of which can be more than a hundred meters long. Villages make income by charging a fee from anyone using the bridge.
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!
… that elusive day we keep putting good things off to…