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 anemergency and the HCMTrial Ride plan is certainly out the window. So I begin toplan again. My current “planning” is for this coming November.

I’m the kind of guy that can find a silver lining in almosteverything. 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 –  Therewere a few guys wanting to go, but couldn’t go in April. Now, they may have achance 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 acouple extra days we could make side trips and even venture into someunexplored areas. With that said, for now,  I’m adding 3 extra days to the “plan;” plus anotherday 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 Bangkokfirst. For me, November 10 is the new date to depart the US. With allthe 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

Sidebar 8 – Great HCMT Ride Schedule

As mentioned elsewhere, this is not an absolute schedule. The only absolute dates will be the start (9 Nov) and end (23 Nov). The rest will be adjusted to suit our exploration and severity of our Monkey Butts. Continue reading

Places to go – Mu Gia Pass Part 3

There is lots to see and do around the Mu Gia Pass. If you’ve been following along in parts 1 & 2, you know just how much effort the US put into trying to interdict this area. Part 3 is the final installment for the Mu Gia Pass. I hope this has given you a glimpse of what went on. I’ll finish talking about those efforts, and then I (and Don Duvall) will go over the places to go and things to do.

In the sixteen months from Nov 68 through Mar 70, there were 30 more aircraft shot downs near Mu Gia; 22 KIA and 2 POW. There were also Continue reading

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