Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 2

The more I learn about the Mu Gia Pass… and the more I look at images of the area, I can’t figure out why the US couldn’t shut it down. I guess that’s part of why I want to go there… to see for myself.

Before Nov 68, the Laotian side of the Mu Gia pass, indeed all the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, was secondary to the US bombing in North Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh trail in general and Mu Gia Pass area in Laos received comparatively few dedicated missions. Many attacks in Laos were made on return trips with munitions not used up in North Vietnam.

This makes sense. It was far easier to hit targets in the relatively flat areas in North Vietnam before getting to the pass than it was to hit them after they entered Laos. It would have been even easier to hit the truck depots in the Haiphong harbor and other mass staging areas, but that’s a story for another discussion.

This recon photo and “intel” analysis (above) shows the amount of truck traffic to the Mu Gia pass typical during the dry season in 1967. In the pic there are seven trucks going through a bombed out area. This is likely a section of “The Trail” inside North Vietnam. The “intel” analysis also suggests Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 1

The Mu Gia pass will probably be our first area to explore on our trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail (HCMT). There’s so much to talk about that I decided to break this into three parts rather than one very long posting.

The Mu Gia Pass enters Laos through a gap in the Annamite Mountains. In this area, this mountain range forms the border between North Vietnam and Laos. The pass sits in the bottom of a canyon with 3,000-foot ridges on either side. As it enters Laos, elevation at the bottom of the canyon is about 1275 feet and is only about 1/3 mile wide.

Party suit patch. Not really any snow there, but the “100 Exciting Trails” part is true.

The HCMT (Route 12) winds its way through the canyon as it drops down out of the mountains until it enters Continue reading

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Featured

From around 1963 to 1973 the US waged a secret war in Laos. A large portion of that war was against the Ho Chi Minh Trail… or the “Trail”… or just the HCMT.

Even though I’ve been writing about the “Secret War” in Northern Laos, the biggest goal of this “Trail ride” is to see the Trail  up close and personal. So, I thought I should start writing a little about that.

Since my time there, I’ve had a growing desire to see The Trail for myself. Now I’m going to do it on a “trail bike”… on an on/off-road motorcycle. Check out the following video for a glimpse of what I’m talking about:

Ho CHi Minh Trail Ride.

Starting in the early 1960s and for over ten years, Americans waged war on the HCMT. It was mostly Continue reading

Sidebar 2: Down The Rabbit Hole

This morning I got an email from Don Duval, AKA The Midnight Mapper. He attached a link to a newspaper article about a SOG guy who spent time in Southern Laos. The guy, Sgt. “Rap” Peavy, was at a place called “Leghorn.”

I thought Leghorn might be interesting to write about. But… I try to be as factual as possible. The article about Sgt. Peavy had a few niggly errors. I always worry about the attempts at “stolen valor” we see all too often these days. So… I started to check it out.

Before continuing, I need to tell you the “niggly errors” were probably poor reporting, not problems with Sgt. Peavy. He and the place known as “Leghorn” are for real.

US Army communication site Leghorn (Golf-5) on top of a mountain in southern Laos.

After reading the article, I started my search to validate the story. When writing about the Second Indochina War, I try to get at least two sources that confirm the story. I prefer three or more.

One of the best sources are the CHECO reports written to document and chronicle the war. Over the years, I have collected hundreds of these in PDF format. There are also thousands of other government documents I’ve collected. (Again in PDF format.)

Unfortunately, at least half of these documents can’t be scanned with a word search. So I have to read or at least scan through them. While going through the documents, other things catch my attention. I get side-tracked and go off down another rabbit hole.

Then there are the internet searches. Wikipedia usually has something on the topic. Once again, that’s often “flakey” at best and a fairy tale at worst. Yeah, you got it… that sends me off down another rabbit hole to get the facts. (Just the FACs ma’am… just the FACs. Yes… that’s a blatant “plug” for a chapter in More Memories of Naked Fanny )

A problem I have is injecting my own bias into stuff I write. I try not to, but I can’t help it. While writing about LS-36 (soon to be finished), I was including a section about the “heroes” of the battles there. Then it dawned on me… the other side probably has their own heroes and view our guys as villains to their story.

I do wish I had some sources from the “other” side’s point of view… but I’m not sure it would make a lot of difference. We all see the world through our own corrective lenses.

That brings me back to this morning. I spent 4 ½ hours checking out Sgt. Peavy and Leghorn. That barely scratched the surface. It will take at least twice that much more time doing research before I can write about Leghorn… it could take days.

And… during all this, I have a “day job” I should be working. It’s a good thing I’m my own boss. Well… sorta my own boss. My real boss is the woman I’m married to.

So for now, rather than writing about Leghorn, I’m just going to give you the link Don Duval sent me. You may want to check it out for yourself. If so… welcome to my rabbit hole.

Here’s the link:     Sgt. Peavy Story (Opens in a new tab.)

Meet Mr. Mapper

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.

Bombs now inert
Duds made inert. UXOs are found all over Laos.

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.

Don Duval
The Midnight Mapper – Don Duval

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.

Support Truck and Bikes
Support truck and bikes.

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.).