Our guide for the trek on the Ho Chi Minh Trail is known as the “Midnight Mapper.” I don’t where the “Midnight” part of his “handle” came from, but he has been mapping the Ho Chi Minh Trail (and the rest of Laos) for many years. He probably knows more about The Trail than any human alive… probably more than the NVA and Pathet Lao who ran the place from the late 1950s till the mid-1970s.
A few years ago, I made the trip back to Southeast Asia. My planning then included riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At the time, I thought to myself, “Why do I need a guide?… I’m a big boy… I’ve ridden a motorcycle all over Western Europe by myself…. and I’ve got all the right toys (Garmin GPS & SPOT Satellite device.)” I bought a Laos map from the Midnight Mapper for my Garmin, and it showed the Trail with all the places to go.
I figured if I planned carefully, I could go on my own, go where I wanted to, and do it at my own pace. I could rent a CRF250L in Vientiane for much less than doing it with a guide. I gathered up everything I could possibly need and headed out. The plan was for three weeks riding all over Thailand and another three weeks in Laos.
I was even prepared to even walk out of the jungle if necessary. There was no one to call to bring in a Jolly Green if I had a problem. I had to carry a ton of extra stuff for that contingency… tools, spare tire tubes, water purifier, hammock & mosquito net, MREs for several days, and much more. More than half of the stuff with me was for the HCMT contingency.
Well… the first half went pretty well. After all, I spoke enough Thai to get by. You know… “sawadee,” “cow pot,” “kop kun mak.” And let’s not forget bi-leo (go fast) and Singha.
Then… somewhere in the middle of nowhere Thailand, I came upon a police roadblock. I have no idea why it was there, nor understood anything the policeman said. I just handed the policeman every bit of paperwork I had. My butt puckered up. I prayed I wouldn’t end up in a Thai jail for something I couldn’t understand. Then it hit me… this is Thailand. What would happen in Laos?!!! Alone!!! Camping in the jungle… ALONE!
It turned out something else caused me to cut my trip short at the end of the Thailand loop. Even though I badly wanted to go to Laos, I was relieved I would not be taking such a risk. By the way… I’m sure the CRF250L I rented in Thailand still has a big cone poking up in the middle of the seat cover.
So, that brings us to Mr. Mapper.
Mr. Mapper’s real name is Don Duval. Don lives in Vientiane, Laos and has lived there for quite some time. Amongst his many talents, you can list “movie star,” “movie producer,” and “tough guy.” No, he’s not a “tough guy” as in a syndicate crime boss. Rather, he’s more like a Timex watch… he takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
OK… you’ll have to watch the movie, “Blood Road,” to see what I’m talking about. Click to see the “Blood Road trailer.” (Opens in a new window) The movie is available on Amazon (included in Prime), iTunes and others.
Don knows all the ins-n-outs of Lao custom and language. Imagine if you broke down by yourself in the middle of nowhere, the Ho Chi Minh Trail. However, when Don takes a group, he brings along a support vehicle with spare stuff and sometimes a spare bike. The support vehicle means we only need to carry minimal stuff with us on the bikes. Bags, etc…. in the truck.
There’s lots more to going with Don. He knows where to eat, where to sleep and probably most important, where not to go. You can’t just go to some places I hope to go to like LS-20A (Alternate). I think Don knows all the tricks to get into and out of places like that… or at least when not to go.
I should also add… Don’s organization is a licensed tour company. He organizes hotels, guest houses and anything else we might need along the way.
To me, it’s a “no brainer” to go with Don as the guide. If you want to do a Laos “Trail” ride but can’t make this one, Don can probably help you out. For more information, he has two websites you can go to: www.laosgpsmap.com and www.hochiminhtrail.org. (There’s a ton of useful information and killer pics on the laosgpsmap web.).