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.

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 – Xepon Part 2

Xepon was another of those places where you might think saturation bombing would close it all down. It didn’t. As everywhere on the HCMT… all the war for that matter… the NVA used grit, determination, and resourcefulness to overcome airpower.

Another map showing all the roads, trails, bypasses, and alternates into and out of Xepon at the center of the map. This is a pic of a map at the Xepon War Museum.

Even before 1970, it became clear the interdiction effort was not working. In the early years, the goal had been to inflict enough damage to cause the North Vietnamese to give up. The thinkers in Washington, DC (I use the term “thinkers” loosely) believed that Continue reading

Places to go – Xepon Part 1

The town of Xepon appears in more after-action reports, CHECO, and Corona Harvest documentation about the war than any other place on the HCMT. So much went on at Xepon I’m dividing this into two or three parts. I’ll post the other parts in the next few days.

I discovered this song, Tchepone, on YouTube. The lyrics tell a lot about flying near Xepon and perhaps are a microcosm of the entire air war over the Ho CHi Minh Trail. Click on it and let it play as you continue on. (Click Here to read the LYRICS)

Xepon is another of the places Continue reading

Sidebar 7 – Operation Junction City, Jr.

Knife 61 and Knife 62 were shot down during Operation Junction City, Junior. (Don’t confuse this with the US Army 1967 “Operation Junction City.” The ’67 operation was named after the Kansas town, “Junction City.” Google it, and you’ll find lots of info.)

Perhaps the name for this operation (Junction City, Jr.) was well chosen because the goal was capturing the city at the junction of Ho Chi Minh Trail (HCMT) Routes 9 & 23. Route 9 came into Xepon from the east, and Route 23 was a main artery to the southern portion of the HCMT. The town was Muang Phin (also spelled Phine amongst others.)

Road Watch Teams (Operation Shining Brass/Prairie Fire) had unconfirmed reports of American prisoners Continue reading