Sidebar 9 – Royal Laotian Government

From 1954 to 1975, the term “Royal Laotian Government” was used indiscriminately. This government took many forms over the years, depending on the latest peace agreement or latest coup d’état. This adds to the mess and difficulty in understanding Laos and the Second Indochina War. To try and clear it up just a little bit, I’ll divide it into three different governments: RLG1, RLG2, and RLG3. (There were actually more than this as a result of coup d’états, but these were short-lived, so I’ll stay with the three.)


RLG1.

Laos was established in 1953 and further confirmed as an independent country in the 1954 Peace Accords, which divided up French Indochina. RLG1 began as a “constitutional monarchy.” In practice, this meant that the King would give his “approval” for stuff, but the real power rested with the Prime Minister (parliamentary elected) and his Cabinet. The United States supported this government. However, it was never stable. From 1953 to 13 Dec 1960, there was a succession of nine Prime Ministers. (There were only seven different individuals as two were in and out of office during the period.)

There was never any real unity in this government. The King tried to use his influence to establish a coalition government with the “Three Princes” leading the government: Prince Souvanna Phouma, who would end up being Prime Minister four different times; Prince Souphanouvong, who supported the Pathet Lao; and Prince Prince Boun Oum who was a neutralist.

The Three Princes held most of the power. Unfortunately, they were given their positions because of their relationship to the King and not because of any ability to govern. Moreover, ministers were appointed under the Princes based on nepotism, alliances, and friendships. Again, abilities had nothing to do with appointments to positions of importance and influence. Perhaps the most damning feature of this government was the rampant corruption. Those appointed only wanted to advance their own interests and not that of the country. This served to destroy rather than bolter any national unity that was supposed to be developing.

The United States sent foreign aid with the intention of nation-building so that the “hearts and minds” of the people would be pro-western in general and pro-US in particular. This included military aid sometimes sent directly to the Generals. Note once again that the Generals were appointed to their positions based on relationships, etc. It had nothing to do with the General’s military ability. These generals and the rest of most in government we mostly interested in advancing their own interests. Foreign aid was used for advancing their position for status and lining their own pockets.  

The United States fueled the situation by threatening to withhold aid or actually did withhold some aid when the various officials didn’t do what they were “directed” to do. This simply added fuel to the fire as opposing sides used this to levy accusations of corruption at each other. (Usually, the claims of corruption were absolutely true.) Still, the United States continued to supply aid to those favorable to the United States.

Throughout this time frame, the North Vietnamese backed Pathet Lao attempted to establish themselves. Starting immediately after the 1954 accords, the Pathet Lao engaged in a low-level guerrilla war against the Royal Laotian Government. There were attempts to integrate the Pathet Lao into the government, but none succeeded.

By 1959 an ongoing Civil War had broken out between the Pathet Lao and the remaining Royal Laotian Government (RLG1). By this time, RLG1was mostly in disarray. Those Pathet Lao who had been participating in the government pulled out. The civil war continued, and RLG1 remained in turmoil into 1960. In mid-1960 Kong Le’s coup was followed by a counter-coup led by General Phoumi.

General Phoumi was a Right Winger, and controlled Southern portions of Laos still under RLG control. (The North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao had gained large portions of the region to be used for the Ho Chi Minh Trail.) Phoumi had the support of the third prince (Prince Bunum). Since General Phoumi was staunchly pro-western, the United States sent him massive aid… especially military aid. In December 1960, Phoumi’s counter-coup successfully ran Kong Le out of Vientiane. General Phoumi installed Prince Bunum as prime minister.

The civil war between the re-constituted RLG1 and the Pathet Lao raged on. The Pathet Lao, with the North Vietnamese Army leading the way, believed they could conquer the whole country. General Phoumi, on the other side, wanted a victory, but his forces never faired well against the North Vietnamese Army.

(See what a mess all this was. Even RLG1 was a mish-mash of differing factions and ever-changing government. The government was reformed in some fashion of another ten times between 1954 and the middle of 1962.)


RLG2

When President Kennedy took office in 1961, he pursued a negotiated peace in the civil war. The superpowers (the USSR supporting the Pathet Lao & the US supporting the RLG) coerced their “puppet forces” into accepting the 1962 accords, thus creating another tripartite government. This time Prince Souvanna, representing the Neutralists, became Prime Minister for the 4th time. Prince Souphanvong, representing the Pathet Lao, and General Phoumi, representing the right-wing, becoming deputy prime ministers.

For a short period between July 1962 (Geneva Accords) and May 1964, the RLG was a coalition tripartite government. The Right-Wing was headed by Prince Boun Oum but mostly controlled by Laotian Army Generals, a Neutralist Wing with Prince Souvanna Phouma as the country’s Prime Minister, and a Left Wing headed by  Prince Souphanouvong but controlled by the Pathet Lao and North Vietnam. (Note that Prince Souvanna and Prince Souphanouvong were half brothers.) The United States always supported the Right-Wing and Souvanna Phouma… but only gave “lip service” to supporting the tripartite government.

As before, aid (especially military aid) was sent to those who were at least “western leaning.” There was a continued attempt at “nation-building” with civic works and educational projects. When he was assassinated in November 1963, whatever scheme President Kennedy had for Laos was lost. Things went downhill for RLG2 after that. By 1964, actions in South Vietnam were gaining more attention, so Laos became of less importance. The US had deployed the Air Commandos to Bien Hoa airbase in South Vietnam. As that operation grew, the USAF 1st Air Commando Wing was established to give direct US air support to South Vietnam.

In May of 1964, full-scale civil war broke out (again) in Laos. There had never been complete peace among the factions, but until this time, there were continuing attempts at conciliation and compromise to make RLG2 work. However, after May 1964, the tripartite government fell apart. Although there was never an “official” end of the tripartite government, for all intent and purposes it ended over the next couple of months.


RLG3

The Pathet Lao, under Prince Souphanoubong, became a separate entity and claimed the remaining Royal Laotian Government to be invalid. Without saying it “out loud,” the Pathet Lao broke ties with the King. The Right-wing and Neutralists unified (sorta) and stayed with the “Royal Laotian Government.” North Vietnam, China, the USSR, and most Communist countries did not “recognize” the Royal Laotian Government. For the remainder of the war and until 1975, the United States only “recognized” the Royal Laotian Government with Souvanna continuing as the Prime Minister till the bitter end. In fact, the United States continued to recognize the RLG under the pretense of respecting the 1962 accords establishing Laos as “Neutral”.

In fairly short order, several things happened. First, in late 1964, William H. Sullivan became the ambassador to Laos. Taking control, Sullivan used Kennedy’s presidential order that “all U.S. military operations in Laos were under the direct supervision of the Ambassador.”  Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson did nothing to dissuade Sullivan from operating upon that premise. From that point and forevermore, the “secret war” in Laos also became known as “Sullivan’s war.” He controlled all aspects of military operations, including those covered by the CIA, US airpower, and other covert operations.

Second, the North Vietnamese increased their use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Sullivan thought Laos should be handled as part of the total Southeast Asia problem. To that end, he set up the rules of engagement for US air operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trail… which areas could be bombed, which could not and granted/denied permissions for air operations.

Third, the Pathet Lao were making gains throughout the country. By late 1964 they had occupied most of the PDJ. Laos was in danger of being taken over by the Communists.

This map, from the 26 Jun 64 issue of Time Magazine shows the divison of laos. The pink(ish) areas were controlled by the Pathet Lao, and the white areas were controlled by the Royal Laotian Government.

To stay in power, RLG3 needed the support of the United States. Without that, they would have been taken over by the Pathet Lao/North Vietnam in fairly short order. The United States needed to keep RLG3 in power to obtain tacit approval for the effort to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail (#1). The United States was able to say they were requested by and had permission from the Laotian Government to take “certain limited actions.”

So the relationship between RLG3 and the United States continued as one of necessity for the two countries. As long as the US helped keep the Pathet Lao from taking over in Northern Laos, the US was allowed to bomb the Ho Chi Minh trail. Indeed, the bombings to support the Royal Laotians in the North, combined with the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, made Laos the most bombed country in the world… ever.

The US continued to support operations, albeit dwindling support, in Laos even after the Vietnam War ended with the Paris Peace Accords of 27 Jan 73. When the Case-Church Amendment effectively cut off US Military support (air support) in Laos on 15 Aug 73, the CIA and Air America continued to support RLG3 into 1974 when even that support ended.

RLG3 managed to survive until the Pathet Lao took over in April 1975.  Soon after, the King, his family, and officials of RLG3 were sent to “re-education” camps where most died.


#1 – While researching, I found an interesting report. In July 1965 Ambassador Sullivan stated in a secret meeting, “… that he was prepared to encourage the use of overt U.S. or Vietnamese force Westwards along Route 9, gradually extending the SVN border, while publicly denying that the troops were in Laos, all the way to Tchepone (Xepon) if necessary.” Throughout the existence of RLG3, Prime Minister Souvanna was adamant that while permitting certain limited US involvement, he would never permit US ground troops in Laos. Therefore, Sullivan went on to say that the operation would have to be secret and the US would deny any such operation.

It wasn’t until nearly six years later that there was any attempted operation to “take” Tchepone. Operation Lam Son 719 was a South Vietnamese Army (with limited US Air Support) attempt to interdict Route 9 and capture Tchepone. The operation failed. But… this is another story and I’ll leave it at that for now.

(Route 9 ran from the NVA transportation hub at Tchepone into South Vietnam. It is still a major transportation route from the border at Lao Bảo Vietnam into Laos. Today is paved all the way from the border to Xepon.)

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

Sidebar 8 – Great HCMT Ride Schedule

As mentioned elsewhere, this is not an absolute schedule. The only absolute dates will be TBD. The rest will be adjusted to suit our exploration and severity of our Monkey Butts. We can spend more or less time in each place along the way as long as we make Pakse in time to make our departures. 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