HCMTrail Ride Update 1 Oct 20

I have been holding hope that we could make our November date for the HCMTrail Ride. But it appears that the Cootie Bugs have foiled us again.

Don’t let the Cootie Bugs get you!

Even though Asia is opening up for travel, it appears as of today that Laos is still not issuing tourist visas. While I suspect that may change soon, I don’t think it will change soon enough to make the advanced reservations, airline, overnight stays, etc, that we would all need for this adventure.

So… I think it will be best to further postpone the HCMTrail Ride. For now I am looking at the last part of February or through March, 2021 as the potential time frame. Before I pick specific dates, I would like to hear from anyone still interested in this trip. You can post here in the comments or contact me directly at:

 rdennard@memoriesofnakedfanny.com

In the meantime, I will begin posting more about places to go, things to see, and information about Laos in general. I will be writing more about places and events of the HCMT as well as the Laotian people.

My first new posts will be a series about the Hmong… the best allies the United States ever had. Since there are many books written on the subject, I can’t possibly tell a lot in a few 2000 words or less posts. But I will at least tell you something about these brave people and post some places where you can find out more.

Again, please contact me if you are interested in making this trip.

Part 2 – What The Well Dressed Person Wears… on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

This is the second part of what to wear on the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride. The first part was about riding gear. I wrote about the gear first, because that gear will fill up a lot of your suitcase. Now you need to figure out what will still fit in there and stay under the weight limit. Keep in mind that the smaller airlines you are going to fly on have a 20kg (44lb) weight limit for checked baggage.

Although Part 2 does have stuff about what to wear, it’s more about what to take with you… being prepared, a little about clothes, but also about gadgets like cameras and things like that. And although I’m usually the most guilty, this is about not over-packing.

Before I get started, I need to tell you that I didn’t just run out and buy all this stuff for this trip. Like my riding gear, I have accumulated most of it over time. In my last post, I said you could ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail in jeans, combat boots, gloves, and a helmet. The same goes here. You need little more than that backpack you already have, some socks & undies, and a couple pairs of shorts. Take your cell-phone so you have a camera and you’re good to go.

This adventure is about the experience of a lifetime for most of us. It’s the experience that counts. Most of the rest of the stuff I’m going on about is just fluff. Perhaps the one thing that isn’t fluff is hydration and I’ll get to that in a minute. So read through this keeping in mind that very little of this stuff is required to have an amazing experience. Pick up on the bits and pieces you want and disregard the rest.

So… let’s get started.

The weight limit is more than worrying about your suitcase(s). You need to consider what you want to carry with you on the dirt-bike as you ride down the trail.

Jussssst a bit loaded down. (Pic courtesy of Don Duval)

If you in the special forces and accustomed to making 18-mile forced marches with a 50-pound rucksack, then you can ignore most of what follows. But for the rest of us, the key here is to go as light as possible.

We may or may not have a support vehicle depending on how many people end up going. With a support vehicle, you can take a little (but not a lot) more than I’m going to talk about. The support vehicle will meet up with you at days end. By the way, support vehicle or not, suitcases will be brought from Vientiane to our end destination at Pakse.

I will go through all this as if we don’t have a support vehicle. If you plan that way, and we do get the support vehicle, you can take a few more “undies.”

First and foremost, most of what you are going to carry will be on your back or in saddlebags on the bike. Don’t figure you can bungee-cord a bag on the back and head down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It makes the bike top-heavy. It will move around some and make the bike a bit unstable… or it may even fly off into the jungle.

When I rode like this across Thailand, I had to stash the bag anytime I went off road. We won’t be able to stash stuff on the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride.

At the other end of things, you could head down the HCMT with virtually nothing on your back or on the bike. I suppose the absolute minimum would be a pair of flip-flops, a t-shirt, shorts, and a toothbrush. You could wash out your socks and undies at night and be on your way the next morning. I don’t think that’s very practical, so I’m telling you what I think is essential. Then you be the judge.

Backpack

I can’t imagine life without a backpack. But I don’t want one of those 50-pound rucksacks. I suspect most folks already have a backpack of some kind, and that’s probably just fine. But, if you need to look for one, here’s a little info.

A backpack’s volume is specified by how many liters it can contain. I don’t know about you, but I only know a liter is about a quart and I know how big a quart is… a quart of oil, right? But I have no idea how many pairs of undies can be stuffed into a 20 Liter bag.

So, I checked. I have a shoebox from my sized 10.5 Nikes. It measured about 400 cubic inches, which is about 6.5 liters. Let’s call this 6 liters for simplicity. Stay with me here because I want you to keep the image of a 6-liter volume in your mind as I go on.

I stuffed the shoebox with three pairs of moisture-wicking undies, three moisture-wicking- tee-shirts, and two pairs of cotton athletic socks. It was full. I tried to get three of everything with the third pair of socks, but they are bulky and wouldn’t fit.

So… with the idea of how much you can stuff into 6 liters, let’s return to the backpack. Even if you already have your backpack, don’t skip this next part because it’s about carry-on restrictions.

 First, it must be able to fit as an aircraft carry-on. Some of the big backpacks don’t. Sure, you see some people with monster-sized carry-on stuff, but you don’t want to get to Hong Kong and find out they won’t let you carry on your backpack. I would never risk checking a bag when changing planes in some airport. (There are no nonstops to Thailand or Laos from the US.) If you go all the way to Laos there will be at least three stops and multiple carriers. The smaller carriers to/from Laos have the most restrictive dimensions. The dimensions are not as restrictive as the weight because you can scrunch your backpack a bit if you haven’t overstuffed it.  The table below shows the airlines and their restrictions. American Airlines is shown for comparison.

AIRLINECARRY-ONWEIGHTPERSONAL ITEMWEIGHT
Lao Airlines24″x12″x7″15.4 lb“handbag, pocketbook”?
Thai Airways22″x18″x10″15.4 lb15″x10″x5″3.3 lb
Air Asia15.7″x11.8″x3.9″15.4 lbnot allowed
Bangkok Airways19″x14″x9″         11 lbnot allowed
Nok Air19″x14″x9″15.4 lbnot allowed
American Airlines22″x14″x9″No restrictions18″x14″x8″No restrictions
Table of airline carry-on allowances.

As you can see… weight can become a problem. So my advice of “travel light” carries even more meaning. The other advice is to wear cargo pants when you’re traveling. All those extra pockets may come in handy for stuff you have to take out of your backpack.

Second – The bag itself needs to be light. An extra two or three pounds may not seem like much, but some days you may have it on your back all day. Also, as you can see from the carry-on weight restrictions, an empty backpack that weighs ten pounds isn’t going to serve you well.

Third – No metal frames. These might be nice for hiking through the woods or camping, but they might beat you to a pulp bouncing along on unimproved roads.

Last – You should be able to put a hydration bladder in your backpack. This isn’t an absolute must, but it sure is nice to get a drink of water without having to stop and unpack stuff just to get a sip. For me, easy hydration is a must. (I’ll say a little more about the bladders in a minute.)

If you do all the math on the various airline restrictions, you’ll come up with a maximum size of about 40 liters. That will hold a lot of undies and socks, but you’ll probably need it for more than that. I like lots of pockets and zipper compartments so I don’t have to dig through everything just to figure out where I put my GoPro batteries. If you just dump such things in the bag, then you know they will end up in the bottom below everything else. Here’s my backpack:

(From here on, clicking on the pictures will open up another window to the items on Amazon where you can get more details. Since commissions are earned with these links, please check the “#WeaselWords” at the bottom of this page.)

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Camelbak

There is another option other than a “full tilt” backpack. I sometimes ride with a “CamelBak” and a fanny pack. We’ll have saddlebags available to put stuff in, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. This option would be a lot easier on the body than a backpack full of stuff.

A camelback is sort of a baby backpack mainly intended to carry water. Most of them have little pouches or zippered compartments to carry little stuff you want easy access to. Some people get carried away with this and end up with an expensive, elaborate backpack.  Keep in mind, the object of a CamelBak is to go lightweight yet carry water. If the empty CamelBak itself weighs more than a pound, then you’ve defeated the purpose.

If you go with a CamelBak or equivalent, don’t get anything with water capacity above 3.0L or smaller than 2.0L. (One liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds.) One more thing if you consider a CamelBak… go with the CamelBak brand. There are lots of cheaper knock-offs out there, but none are as lightweight or well-constructed as a CamelBak. They are worth the extra bucks.

I chose the one I have because it also has 3L of cargo capacity and 3L water capacity. I never fill the water all the way up. The empty pack weighs only 10oz. Here’s the link to my CamelBak:

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Fanny Pack

No one wants to call them a “fanny pack” anymore. I think that’s because it conjures up images of Barney Fife in a pastel blue leisure suit wearing a fanny pack. That’s not what I’m talking about. Today they call them “waist belts,” “hip belts,” or “tool pack”… anything but “fanny pack.”

Of course that’s Don Knotts in the role of Mr Furley on the TV sitcom, “Three’s Company.” But I knew you would know who it was if I said Barney Fife.

For the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride, I’m not talking about the foo-foo kind of fanny pack Barney Fife would wear. What I use is designed for motorcycle riding. It has the advantage of keeping all the weight down low… on your hips. I wear mine quite low so that when I’m sitting down all the weight is on the seat. When I did my Thailand ride, I carried about 15 pounds on tools plus other stuff in it.  The one I had then is no longer available, but here’s a link to one that’s almost the same:

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I should talk about the saddlebags we’ll have available before I go on. Don Duval has “Giant Loop Coyote” saddlebags. I think they aren’t exactly like the ones in the pic, but this will give you an idea of how much stuff you can take. The pic really is better than a thousand words.

These saddlebags have a 39L capacity. That’s a bit more than my backpack, so I could just use the saddlebags. But stuffing the saddlebags full of stuff isn’t a good idea. You don’t want the bike to get top-heavy. I think it would be better to limit it to 20L or 25L at the most. Remember that shoebox full of undies I talked about in the beginning… well, this would be good for the contents of three or four… of those shoe boxes. That’s a lot of undies.

Bladder

One last thing to mention is a bladder for your backpack. There’s not much to say here. This only applies if you aren’t going with a CamelBak. The bladder needs to be sturdy enough so it won’t spring a leak. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I didn’t have one when I planned for the trip last March (always used my Camelbak instead), so here’s the one I bought. It’s only about eleven bucks.

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Now… what the well dressed person (me) is to wear. For this trip I plan three of each of the following:

  • synthetic moisture-wicking t-shirts
  • cargo shorts
  • pairs of socks
  • moisture-wicking underwear

I should note that I also will take three pairs of riding boot socks. These are very bulky, but I want to be able to change if they get wet. There’s nothing worse than riding all day with wet socks.

Other stuff will be one pair of jeans, flip-flops, and sneakers. I going to take a swimsuit too… I’m not sure why except… who knows when we might go for a swim. I figure a swimsuit might double as another pair of shorts. There are a couple of places I can think of that would be interesting for a swim: the Nam Ngo River where Boxer22B spent two nights, or at the Ban Laboy Ford.

Now I know what you may be thinking… with 14 days on the HCMT and only three of everything, I’m probably going to stink by the fourth day. Well… I was worried about the same thing, but I would rather have that than be over-loaded. Keep in mind that we aren’t going to be staying in five-star hotels. It will be mostly a combination of guesthouses and homestays. That should give us some chance to wash stuff out at night. If worst-comes-to worst, I figure I can wash stuff out in the klong.

A big reason for not bringing a large wardrobe is I need room for all my cameras, gadgets, and toys. I would rather go naked than without my toys. And you certainly don’t want to go with me if I’m naked, so toys it is.

I wanted to keep this post from getting too long… but didn’t succeed. At this point, I’ve given you what I think is the necessary info for the trip. If you want, you can quit here and you won’t miss any essential stuff.

But if you want to see all the toys I’m taking and what I think are a couple of good ideas, go on to the next page.

What The Well Dressed Person Wears… on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

A few days back I was asked a question about what to take on the HCMTrail ride. In particular, the essence of the questions were, “What riding gear do we need” and “What should we take on the trail. At first, I was going to give a short answer. But as I was writing the email, I realized that if one person was asking, anyone interested would probably want to know. Besides, there is no short answer.

When you look at a lot of the videos of riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail Don Duval has posted, you will see the riders dressed from head to toe with every piece of riding gear you can imagine. But I always think it amusing when in the video you see a family of five going the other way on a scooter wearing little more than shorts and flip flops.

A “screen grab” from one of Don’s videos. A little fuzzy, but you get the idea.
A family getting their scooter back home from a day of shopping. At least they have helmets on but notice the flip-flops. (Photo courtesy of Don Duval AKA The Midnight Mapper.)

HERE’S THE LINK TO LAOSGPSMAP VIDEOS

So yes… if you really wanted to, you could ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail in shorts and flip-flops. But I don’t think it would be a very good idea.

A few years ago I rode all over Thailand wearing a helmet, combat boots, over-pants (I’ll explain over-pants in a minute), a jacket, and gloves. I consider this to be the minimum. As I go through the stuff, I’ll show you a recommendation or two. I’ll also include some of the recommendations Don Duval has made.

Me, on my way from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom.

On the trip from Chiang Mai to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) I went via the towns of Phitsanulok, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani (Udorn)… about 1000km. The pic shows the gear I wore all the way… “combat boots,” over-pants and the blue vinyl jacket hanging from the handlebars. The helmet is hanging on the handlebr underneath the jacket. The bike is a Honda CRF-250L. More gear is in the red bag, but I wasn’t wearing the extra stuff for the easy (tarmac) parts of the ride.

I should mention that I’m one of those that wears every possible piece of gear you can imagine. I often ride motocross tracks. I rarely race these days, but just the same, I prepare for the worst. I’ll tell you about my gear as I go along, but for now, I think this video will tell you the story best. I made the video because I was testing out a new GoPro mount. I was also wearing the new helmet and riding pants I intended to take on the HCMTrail Ride. (I didn’t think my Red-White-and-Blue themed gear would go over well riding in Laos. Here… watch the video.

Just a little test ride.

Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be putting in little pics of the stuff I’m talking about. Each pic is a link to Amazon so you can check out the items. All the links open up in a new tab. (Since commissions are earned with these links, please check the “#WeaselWords” at the bottom of this page.)

This first item if for the GoPro “chin” mount… not the helmet.

Must Have Gear:

Before I go on I need to tell you that I go off-road riding two or maybe three times a month. That was the first “crash-n-burn” I’ve had in over six years. In the last two years, I haven’t even had a little “boo-boo” get-off. So all of this stuff is not likely to be “used,” but it’s needed just in case. Our trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail won’t have a lot of risks. Still… shorts & flip-flops just aren’t a good idea.

Helmet – I don’t need to say much here. You need your own properly fitting helmet. Some old, worn a million times brain-bucket isn’t good enough for my head. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Don Duval recommends a “dual-sport full face” helmet… not the kind you wear with goggles. He says the dual-sport give you better peripheral vision to look out for ” that dog, Cow, Goat, or Water buffalo approaching from the limit of your peripheral vision!”

Like most gear, you can spend a zillion dollars, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. The dual-sport helmet below on the left is one Don recommended. It is like the one he wears, is a DOT approved helmet, and is only about $60. The other one is the one I wear and bought to take instead of my Red-White-and-Blue helmet. As to its cost, to mimic the words of the great Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) in the movie, Major League… it costs juuuuussst a bit more.

(A reader told me that I should mention that if you are looking at this on some devices (like a cell phone), the items are not shown side-by-side. Instead, the “left” one is the first one shown, and the “right” one is the second one.)

Boots – As minimum, military combat-type boots. Today these are called “tactical boots.” The Bates boots shown below are the ones I wore all over Thailand. These are great because they are almost as light as sneakers. I still wear them all the time for riding my street bike (Honda) or for just out in the woods. The problem with these specific boots is with any water crossings… even little streams, your feet will get wet. Even though we are going in the dry season, a little rain in the morning could have you soggy all day. Bates does offer waterproof boots, but they cost juuuuussst a bit more.

Proper off-road boots will do a better job of keeping you dry. They’re also like armor for your feet and lower shin. Unfortunately, they aren’t much good for anything but dirt bike riding. Like all the gear, you can spend a small fortune if you are independently wealthy. As for me, the boots shown below are what I ride with.

I should mention, I’ll be wearing my combat boots as I travel to Laos. That will be my back-up if something happens to the motocross boots along the way. The Bates “Tactical Boots” on the left and my motocross boots on the right.

Gloves – These are essential. Don’t try and go with some $3 cheapie you can get from Harbor Freight. Good ones aren’t expensive and working up a blister your first day out won’t be fun. You can get proper off-road gloves for about twenty bucks. For years I have worn both Oneal brand gloves (left – about seventeen-bucks) and my current Fox gloves (right – about twenty-eight bucks).

That does it for the absolutely, positively must-have stuff. There’s more that’s highly recommended, but first, I want to talk about pants.

Pants

Obviously cargo shorts won’t do. Getting a bad case of road rash would ruin your day. Once again, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, or you can indenture your firstborn for riding pants. At the bottom end, you could go with just jeans. When I was poor, I did a lot of desert riding just wearing denim jeans. They will prevent a lot of road rash and keep dirt from getting ground into bare skin. But they are the least effective. I’m going to let you be the judge, but I’ll suggest something more effective.

“Over-pants” may be the most cost-effective. When I rode through Thailand, I just pulled these on over my Wrangler jeans. At the end of the day, I just pulled off the over-pants and was ready for a night on the town. Ok… the jeans were probably juuuuussst a bit stinky, but at least I could check-in someplace to wash up. Besides… these days stinky jeans might help with that “social-distancing” thing. Of course, you could wear cargo-pants or some such underneath but then you wouldn’t be as protected as well to road-rash.

Proper off-road pants, in my case motocross pants, are the best way to go. They will give you the most protection to road-rash. They will also be cooler than the other options… even jeans… because the ones I’m suggesting have venting to let in a little bit of air. They will also be the most comfortable because they have flex & expansion panels in all the right places. The ones I’m showing also have a little bit of padding in the hips and knees. (I’ll say a bit more about padding when I get down to “Overkill”.) While not waterproof because of the venting, they will keep a lot of water away. Since it’s a vinyl/polyester fabric, splashed water runs right off.

The over-pants I wore through Thailand are no longer available. Although the ones I’m showing here (on the left) are similar, I can’t personally vouch for them. They are about $40. The motocross pants (on the right) are the ones I bought and will be wearing on the HCMTrail Ride. They cost about $70.

Highly Recommended Stuff

Most trail-riding “get-offs” are not like the massive tumbling down the highway, getting smoothed out by a car sort of crashes you get riding down the interstate. Don’t get me wrong… some off-road crash-h-burns can hurt a lot. I was hurtin’ after the one in the video I showed you at the top. But most trail-ride get-offs are more the boo-boos and rash type. Helmet, boots, pants and gloves take care of a lot of that. But there’s more stuff that will lessen your aches and pains if you get some boo-boos.

Arms, Elbows & Knees

I suppose you could call an old sweatshirt arm protection if you are brave. In fact, I used to wear little more than that when I was on a motocross track. But now-days I want more. As a minimum, a modern motocross type long sleeve shirt should be worn. These shirts are vented and moisture-wicking to help keep you cool. They also have a little padding on the elbows. The one shown here is what I sometimes wear on a motocross track now-days if I’m not wearing more. (I wear a “chest-protector”/”roost-guard” / “flack-jacket underneath when I’m just wearing the shirt but I won’t go into that here. I also have a red-white-&-blue shirt not appropriate for this trip.)

Don Duval (and I) recommend you wear knee and elbow guards of some kind as a minimum. These are inexpensive and will save you a lot of grief even if you have just a little tip-over. That little bit of padding those motocross jerseys have won’t protect you nearly as much as some plastic “armor.” The set below will do the job, and are only about twenty bucks. But… before you order up any of these for the HCMTrail Ride, Don has some of this stuff you may be able to borrow from him. So check first.

Body Armor

One option to go with instead of some kind of long sleeve shirt and elbow armor (you still need something for knees) is to go with “Body Armor.” Both Don and I will be riding with this. Besides armor for your elbows, this provides you with a lot more… chest, shoulder, and back.

Remember I mentioned I wear “flack-jacket” worn under my motocross jersey just a minute ago? On a motocross track, the bike in front of you can spray you with little pebbles and rocks from his back tire. Except those pebbles and rocks are coming at you like “flack.” Sometimes the competition in front of you “roosts” you on purpose. The chest protection Body Arnor has does the same thing as a “flack jacket.” Of course I would never roost you on purpose… unless you roosted me going through a water crossing.

One other advantage of body armor is that you can wear a t-shirt underneath. The “jacket” part is made of a mesh and is far cooler than anything else.

I was wearing body armor in the crash-n-burn in the video at the beginning. Believe it or not, I didn’t have a scratch on my elbows, shoulders, or back. When you see me, I’ll show you all the scratches my body armor has from that. Is it a bit of “over-kill” for most trail riding? Yeah… probably so… especially for the HCMTrail Ride. We’ll be taking it easy. Just the same… I won’t leave home without it.

The body armor shown on the left below will do the job and then some. It’s only about sixty bucks. The one on the right is what I will be wearing on the HCMTrail Ride.

OVERKILL

This is all the stuff I took when I went a few years ago. I was riding by myself and it was to be 3 weeks in Thailand and 3 weeks in Laos. I took everything I thought I could possibly need… tools, water-purification stuff, a hammock, sleeping bag, mosquito net, and even MREs. I think the partridge-in-a-pear-tree is there somewhere. It turned out that I only made the Thailand part of the trip. Notice the Red-White-and-Blue pants that won’t be going this time.

There are a few more things that I wear any time I get on a dirt-bike. Most of this stems from my racing days and is far more than you will need for the HCMTrail Ride. When you are racing, you are always riding at your limits… sometimes over your limits. For the HCMTrail Ride, we are just going along at a pace for “sight-seeing.” Just the same, I’ve worn this stuff for so long, I feel naked without it. So, if you don’t mind spending some of your kid’s inheritance, here’s some more stuff.

“Base-Layer” – This is what you wear under all of the other stuff. There are a variety of different types and price points. The main idea of these are to provide some extra padding to protect you from boo-boos. I always wear shorts like these. They’re kinda like regular outerwear shorts, but with padding. After a day’s ride, I’ll wander around the house with these on until I take a shower… even if my daughters are around. And they don’t even say ewwwwwww. If you are going to ride with only jeans, this becomes sort of a recommended item. The one shown on the left is a low-cost version… about twenty-five bucks. What I wear is on the right… about sixty-five bucks.

Kidney Belt – I’m only going to show one here… the one I wear… because it really is in the beyond overkill category. My Body Armor (and the other one I showed) has a built-in kidney belt and I still wear a second one. Part of the reason is because I’ve always worn a kidney belt… long before I started wearing body armor. It’s one of those things I feel naked without.

The biggest reason for a kidney belt now-days is because it keeps my shirt tucked in. I wear the kidney belt down low… partly under the belt-line of my pants. (The pants don’t actually have a belt, but you know what I mean.) Now that might not seem like a big deal, with all that other stuff on. But without the kidney belt, my shirt always comes un-tucked just above the beltline. And no matter what… any time I’ve ever gone sliding, the dirt seems to always find any exposed skin. Here’s the one I wear… about thirty bucks.

Knee Braces – Ok… now I’ve gone off the deep end. This purely stems from my racing, but it’s still that naked thing. I’ve worn these for so long now, I just can’t get on a dirt bike without them. There are no worthwhile knee braces under about $350 a pair… and they go up to over $750. But just think… I get to save twenty bucks on knee pads.

Socks – Yes, you’ve got to have some kind of socks under whatever you are wearing for boots. Sure… the best thing to do is to run down to Walmart and buy a pack of six athletic socks for less than the price of these overkill kind. But these overkill kind are oooooh so nice. Both of the ones below are O’Neal socks. The socks shown on the left ($17.50) are over-the-calf with moisture-wicking material for most of it, but thick knit heel and sole. The ones on the right ($28) are what I wear because they go almost up to my Yaa-Haa. The Yaa-Haa socks go under my knee braces to prevent chaffing.

All of the pics and links I’ve posted take you to Amazon. I can also recommend getting the same stuff from one of three places: rockymountainatvmc.com, btosports.com, and Chaparral Motorsports (chapmoto.com). I have received good service from all three, and have been doing business with Chaparral since they were a little ma-n-pa store in San Bernadino, Ca. in the early 80s.

I use mostly Amazon these days mostly because I have “Prime.” In normal times I (all Prime subscribers) get free shipping… 2 day on almost everything. I think it likely most of you have Prime by now. If not, they have a free 30 day deal. Even if you don’t want Prime, it would be worth their free deal if you are going to order a bunch of this stuff. You also get free Prime Movies, which during the Covid-19 thing might be a good idea for the next 30 days. Just click on the pic below.

I want to say again that the Ho Chi Minh Trail ride is in no way about pushing the limits. We won’t be doing anything any member of the group is uncomfortable with. I’m bringing all my stuff just because I have it… not because I intend to “test it out.”

When I started to answer the email about this stuff, I started out with, “I’ll make this a quick answer and let you ask questions.” Then I started writing the email. The email was growing into the monster you see now. So you see why I never sent that “quick” email.

I still invite you to ask questions or make comments. There are a million possibilities for this stuff, and I’ve only given you a few options.

Now… about what to bring. I’m working on a “quick” email for that and you’ve probably already figured out how that’s going. So that will be my next post. Stay tuned.

I wanted to add a little about Chaparral Motorsports. Their retail store may be one of my favorite places in the world to spend a day… yeah, a day. They are by no means a little store anymore. For me, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Except it’s a candy store that seems as big as an aircraft carrier… and that’s just their showroom. I won’t go into it all here, but they have about every brand of motorcycle you can think. And… they carry so much in the way of accessories & clothing that I can’t begin to name it all..

Although my flight itinerary to Laos has changed now, when I planned for last March, I arranged it so I could visit Chaparral during my 24-hour stay-over in the Los Angeles area. I don’t miss living in California, but I do miss being able to go to Chapparal.



 

#WeaselWords about the links to products on Amazon. All of the costs and labor associated with this web site are paid for out of my pocket. As such, to help defray the costs I have begun to include pics/links to products I use. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases when you click on the product links. In all cases, the links are to items I have purchased with my own money or have been recommended by a trusted source. I have never been supplied any of these items for free or at a discount. I have never been paid to endorse any product.

New Dates Set

This post is to announce new dates for the “Great Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride.” I’ll also answer some questions I have been receiving.

Sound the trumpets – We will head out for the trail on 9 Nov. 2020. It will be 14 days, and the itinerary will be as before. We are going to LS20A (AKA “Alternate” or Long Chieng + others), the Plain of Jars (PDJ), and riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail from the Mu Gia & Ban Karai passes to almost the Cambodian border. We will end with a day riding through the Bolaven Plateau. (CLICK HERE FOR THE ITINERARY.)

I don’t think November is too optimistic. All indications are that things will get back to some kind of “normal” in the next couple of months. Businesses will be opening up again soon, and people will get into their new routines. Yes, COVID-19 will still be with us, but most aspects of life will resume. With appropriate care, we will be out & about… resuming our lives.

Over time, I have received some questions but never answered them here. So, I’ll try to answer the most often asked:

Question: What dirt-bike/riding skill level do I need?
Answer: Keep in mind that this is not going to be a race. You will be riding at your own pace. If you owned a trail bike any time in your life, then that’s probably fine… even 50 years ago. Time on a street bike is probably okay too. Lots of the riding will be on dirt and “country” roads. We will build-up to the off-road stuff anyway. Don Duval is a pro at this. He will select roads and trails according to ability. We are not going to ride long distances nor spend too many hours in the saddle. Our goal is to see stuff along the way. As it stands, the longest distance on any day will be about 150 miles (4th day out). Keep in mind; we won’t be going at interstate speeds, so you can expect five or six hours in the saddle on that day. Again, the ride will be tailored to skill level, and we will build up as we go.

I should also note that if at least 5 people are going, we will have a support vehicle – crew-cab going with us. The support vehicle can take at least two non-riders.

Part of Don Duval’s fleet of “bikes.” Shown are Honda CRF250L and XR400 bikes. Don also has KTMs available. The XR400 and KTMs are an additional cost.

Question: What will it cost?
Answer: There are two parts to this answer; 1) the HCMTrail Ride itself and 2) Getting there:

  • 1. The HCMTrail Ride is all-inclusive (almost). Don Duval will pick us up at the Wattay airport when we get there. Throughout our time with him, he will provide all the food, water, and places to stay. The motorcycles (Honda CRF250L, most likely), gas, oil, etc. are 100% included. The cost will be $200 per day… or $2800 for the 14 days.

    The reason I said “almost” is it doesn’t include alcohol, souvenirs, or other stuff you might buy along the way. Beer Lao is really cheap. Also, you will likely discover some stuff made from war scrap… old bombs, CBUs, and such. Somehow, having a set of spoons possibly made from CBUs I helped deliver seems like the right thing to do. Other than that, I’m not much for Beer Lao or souvenirs, so I probably won’t spend a hundred bucks. However, I suspect most folks should figure $200.
Spoons from recycled war scrap. We will be going to the area where these are being made.
  • 2. Getting there is the biggest variable for everyone. There are almost endless possibilities… extra days in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos or even Vietnam, for example. The other thing, of course, is the airline cost, and that depends on where you are flying from. The tables below show the round-trip costs from various places to either Bangkok or Vientiane. I used Expedia for this. You can figure this for yourselves, depending on where you will depart.

    If you fly to Bangkok, it will cost up to about $170 to fly to/from Laos. Flights to VTE (one way) are about $80. There are three logical ways to get back to Bangkok. The first (which is what I am doing) is to fly from Pakse to Bangkok ($90). For those that want to go back to their old stomping grounds; Ubon, Udorn, or NKP, you can cross over the Mekong and fly back to Bangkok from one of those airports. In all three cases, the flights back to Bangkok Don Mueang cost about $40. (I’m not sure of the cost for a mini-van, bus, or boat to cross into Thailand. For Udorn, you would need to return to Vientiane and then cross over.)

I’m flying to Bangkok and spending an extra two days there at the beginning and one day in the end. How many days you spend will be up to you. Thailand is still really cheap. A hotel with air conditioning is ~$35 per day; “Western” breakfast (eggs, toast, hash browns) ~$3.50; A big plate of chicken “Cow Pot” and soda ~$6.00; Singha Beer ~$3.75 – Thai Massage Parlors – priceless.

For my 3 days, I’m allowing for $200 total and that’s probably high. With a little hocus-pocus on the math, here’s the bottom line for me:
HCMTRide = $2800
Souvenirs & Beer Lao = $100
Flights To/From Laos = $170
3 Days in Thailand = $200
—————————————–
Grand total ~ $3300 + airfare.

So there you have it. The tables below show the airfare prices to Bangkok and straight into Vientiane. Keep in mind that these prices are changing almost daily. As of right now, most airlines allow will allow you to make changes without change fees as long as you book by 31 May.

Round-trip cost of Flights to Bangkok (BKK)

AIRPORTPRICEAIRLINES @ PRICE POINT
Los Angeles (LAX)$575-$600American, Delta, Korean Air
Atlanta (ATL)$950 – $1150Delta, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific + others
Chicago (ORD)$625Delta, Korean Air
New York (JFK)$570 -$600Delta, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines (?)
Boston (BOS)$650Delta, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific + others
Dallas (DFW)$625Delta, United, Korean Air + others
San Francisco (SFO)$572 – $612Eva Airways (?), Delta, + others slightly more $
Miami (MIA)$625 – $650Qatar Airways, Delta, American, United, Korean Air
Fort Walton Bch (VPS)$921 – $973Puddle Jumpers R Us + American or Delta

Round-trip Cost of Flights to Vientiane (VTE)


AIRPORTPRICEAIRLINES @ PRICE POINT
LAX$575-$600American, Delta, Korean Air
ATL$950 – $1150Delta, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific + others
ORD$625Delta, Korean Air
JFK$570 -$600Delta, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines (?)
BOS$650Delta, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific + others
DFW$625Delta, United, Korean Air + others
SFO$572 – $612Eva Airways (?), Delta, + others slightly more $
MIA$625 – $650Qatar Airways, Delta, American, United, Korean Air
VPS$921 – $973Puddle Jumpers R Us + American or Delta


As always… questions or comments are welcome. Keep in mind that this is moderated, and your postings may not appear for up to 24 hours.

Silver Linings and Plan Update

Somewhere back in the beginning of my dreamin’-n-schemin’ for the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride, I quoted General Dwight D. Eisenhower saying, “Plans are worthless, planning is everything.” Later, as President, Ike said, “In an emergency, the first thing to do is take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window.”

Well… we have found ourselves in the middle of an emergency and the HCMTrial Ride plan is certainly out the window. So I begin to plan again. My current “planning” is for this coming November.

I’m the kind of guy that can find a silver lining in almost everything. So it is in this case:

Silver Lining #1 – I checked today’s weather and it will be near 100 degrees(F) out on the HCMT. (102 in Vientiane). It would have been “toasty” in the days we would have been there this month. If the new plan takes us there in… say the middle of November, the highs will be in the mid 80s and lows in the mid 60s. November will be a much better time to ride.

April is the hottest time in Laos… especially this year.

Silver Lining #2 –  If we are there in November, it will be before the “slash & burn” season has begun. During slash & burn, most of the region is smokey and otherwise great photo-opps are just hazy grey. One of my goals is to get drone pics of all the areas of significance. November will be a much better time for that rather than this April. April is in the worst of the slash & burn season.

Silver Lining #3 –  There were a few guys wanting to go, but couldn’t go in April. Now, they may have a chance to go.

Silver Lining #4 –  My schedule for April limited how much time I could spend in Laos. I was required to be back home by 15 April. That meant only 14 days of exploration. With November as the new target, the schedule can be extended and we may be able to go a few places that were omitted.

So… with all that said, here’s the new planning. Since November is the beginning of the “Dry Season” it makes sense to wait till then to go. Any attempt to go earlier would likely result in impassable places. Even late October might be ok, but for the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Second Indochina War, not much started moving in October. Then, right at the first of November it was like the “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain. But on the HCMT, it was the “Running of the Trucks.” Therefore, for the new plan, I’m picking mid-November for the “Running of the Great HCMTrail Ride.” (Yeah, yeah, I hear ya… it’s corny.)

Running of the bulls Great HCMTrail Ride begins in November.

Ummmm… actually, except for date changes, there’s not much to changing the plan. The itinerary will remain essentially the same. I may add in a few days. I really wanted to see and go through the Kong Lor Cave. That takes an full extra day but I think the experience will be worth it.

I also want to be able to go “off script” a bit. With a couple extra days we could make side trips and even venture into some unexplored areas. With that said, for now,  I’m adding 3 extra days to the “plan;” plus another day for the Kong Lor Cave. I’ve now picked November 16 as the day the HCMTrail Ride will begin.

I still plan to fly to Bangkok first. For me, November 10 is the new date to depart the US. With all the travel and jet-lag, I’ll spend through  the 13th in Bangkok to recover. Then I’ll fly to Vientiane on the 14th. Allowing a day in Vientiane, we head out on the 16th.

None of this is cast in blood yet. Don Duval may want to suggest changes. But I’m not going to wait long to make new airline reservations. Tickets are as cheap now as they are ever going to be. The chart below shows examples of costs to Bangkok (BKK) from various airports in the US. Note that all prices shown are round-trip.

  • Los Angeles (LAX)– $589 (American Airlines)
  • Atlanta (ATL) – $1007 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • Chicago(ORD) – $607 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • New York (JFK) – $552 (Asiana Airlines)
  • New York (JFK) – $657 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • Boston(BOS) – $723 (Cathay Pacific)
  • Dallas – $760 (Delta & Korean Air)
  • San Francisco(SFO) – $606 (EVA Airways)
  • Miami (MIA) – $746 (Qatar Airways)
  • Fort Walton Beach (VPS) – $1067 (Puddle Jumpers-R-Us)

Of course you can fly straight into Vientiane for around $200 to $500 more. As one example, you can fly Chicago to Vientiane for $908. My price checks came from Expedia. You can check for yourself on your favorite site.

As always, your comments are welcome, but remember they are moderated and may not appear to the public for a few hours. If you are interested in going, then contact me directly. rdennard@memoriesofnakedfanny.com