The Ho Chi Minh Trail: Then and Now (Part 2)


a soldier by an A1 Skyraider

The Trail was a vital logistical network involving comms and pipeline networks. Keep exploring one of the largest collections of HCM Trail pictures ever.


Old Helmets

Nguyen Dong Si, the chief of staff for the 559 Engineering Corps
Nguyen Dong Si, commander of the 559 Engineering Corps, which managed the Trail, meets with an anti aircraft gun crew.
old helmets from the Vietnam war
A similar helmet was found in Ban Phanop Village.
Vietnamese AA gun crew
A NVA AA gun crew in action.
old helmets being used to grow onions
Old helmets used to grow onions.

Vital Interdiction Chokepoints

old map depicting the Mu Gia mountain pass
The Mu Gia Pass was one of three major entry points where Vietnamese trucks crossed over into Laos. Nicknamed the ‘Dog House', it was notorious with US pilots because almost 50 US planes were shot down there.
location of a pilot shot down over the Mu Gia pass
An F4 Phantom jet, code-named Boxer 22, was shot down just south of the Mu Gia Pass, setting off one of the largest, most intense rescue operations of the entire war.
an old photo of Ban Karai pass
Ban Karai Pass was the other main route into Laos. Trucks which plied it also had to negotiate the deadly Ban Laboy river ford and the Phu La Nik Pass.
cobblestones on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
The original Trail cobblestones on the Laotian side of Ban Karai Pass remain to this day.
Mu Gia Pass
The Mu Gia Pass.
cobblestones on the Ho Chi Minh Trail about to be covered over
Original Trail cobblestones south of Ta Oi.
Ban Laboy river crossing
The Ban Laboy river ford was one of the most heavily bombed sections of the Trail.
two US Vietnam veterans crossing Ban Laboy in a Jeep
Two US pilots return with Explore Indochina to the same crossing in a vintage US army jeep.
Ban Laboy from the sky
The area around the 'Dog's Head', which included Ban Laboy Ford and Ban Karai Pass, is reckoned to be one of the most heavily bombed places on earth.
scarred rocks near Ban Laboy
This photo is from the perspective of the yellow arrow in the image to the left. The rocks still bear heavy scars from the bombing.
'Dog's Head' choke point from the sky
Ban Laboy Ford, a set of two crossing visible in this photo, was a natural 'choke point' that US pilots targeted because the difficult river crossing was followed by the steep, exposed Pha La Nik Pass.
Explore Indochina riders looking out over Ban Laboy and the Dog's Head
This drone photo was taken from the perspective of the yellow arrow in the image to the left, looking down at the same set of shattered rocks. The small village is Ban Laboy.
the intersection at Lum Bum
The intersection at Lum Bum, where Route 20, the road that crossed Ban Laboy Ford, met Route 128, the road that crossed over the Mu Gia Pass.
the Lum Bum intersection today
The same intersection today.

UXO (Unexploded Ordnance)

cluster bombs attached to a bomber
Cluster bombs are the most deadly type of UXO found in Laos.
an unexploded cluster bomb on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Each canister contained up to 600 individual tennis-ball-sized cluster bombs.
a soldier transporting cluster bombs
Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos.
onions being grown in a cluster bomb shell
Local people often use the cluster bomb casings to grow vegetables in.
an American bomber being flown
Experts estimate that up to 80 million cluster bombs failed to explode and remain potentially lethal to this day.
a house supported by cluster bomb casings
Cluster bomb canisters support a house in Ban Sen Phan Village.
an American jet ready for takeoff
Less than 1% of the remaining cluster bomb UXO in Laos has been destroyed. More than half of all the world's confirmed cluster UXO casualties have occurred in Laos.
a rice storage shed being supported with bomb casings
Cluster bomb canisters prop up a rice storage shed.
old cluster bomb submunitions in the jungle
Between 1995 and 2013, the USA donated, on average, $3.2M per year towards UXO clearance in Laos. Compare that to the $13.3M (in 2013 dollars) spent every day for nine years while bombing Laos.
old cluster bomb submunitions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
The USA spent as much money in three days bombing Laos ($51M, in 2010 dollars) that it spent cleaning up Laos over 16 years ($51M).
standing by a piece of cluster bomb submunition
Tragically, unexploded cluster munitions are still a common sight in Laos.
a bomb under the water
Cluster bombs often end up in rivers and streams. The arrow points to a cluster bomb that is distorted by the camera's fisheye lens.
Explore Indochina riders with locals and their metal detectors
When the price of scrap metal gets high enough, local people use metal detectors to search for shrapnel and UXO.
children's book in Laos warning of the dangers of UXO
Local education campaigns inform children about the dangers of playing with UXO.
how people are warned of areas made dangerous by unexploded ordnance
A common site in Laos are painted sticks warning people which areas are safe.
a sign in Laos warning of unexploded bombs
Many UXO clearance teams operate all over Laos.


US soldier in Vietnam holding a flare tube
Phosphorescence flares lit up the Trail every night to assist bombing missions.
flare tubes in the dirt in Laos
Local people cut the aluminum tubes in half and craft them into many useful objects.
manually loading up flares
AC-130 transport planes from the Blind Bat Squadron manually dropped the flares over the Trail each night.
metal box in Laos made from pieces of UXO
This suitcase was made entirely from flare tubes. The rivets came from an old type of cluster bomb nicked named "the pineapple".
US soldier in Vietnam handling flares
The Blind Bat missions were terminated in 1970 when the NVA started using radar-assisted AA guns.
bucket in Laos made from UXO
A bucket made from a flare tube.
plate in Laos made from UXO
A food tray made from flare tubes.
tableware in Laos made from unexploded ordnance
Eating bowls made from flare tubes.

Entertainment on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

graffiti in a cave south of the Mu Gia pass
A Vietnamese soldier wrote this graffiti in a cave south of the Mu Gia Pass in 1970.
entertainment troupes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Entertainment troupes traveled up and down the the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
a stanza from a popular song from the period - 'Night and day I think of my loved ones at home'
This graffiti in a cave south of Mu Gia Pass quotes a stanza from a popular song enjoyed by Vietnamese soldiers and Trail workers. It says, 'night and day I think of my loved ones from home'.
entertainment troupes performing for Trail workers
Entertainment troupes performing for Trail workers and soldiers.

Big Guns

soldier operating an AA gun
The Trail was protected by a formidable AA gun network including the 100 mm KS-19 Russian anti-aircraft gun.
shells found in the jungle west of La Hap
Spent 100 mm rounds in an old bunker west of La Hap.
AA guns
Groups of five AA guns would typically aim at a specific target box in the sky and only fire rounds when a plane approached it.
spent shells on the side of the road
Spent 100 mm rounds on the side of the road near Ban Laboy Ford.
AA guns being transported
AA guns were transported by armored tractors.
a destroyed, abandoned AA gun near Muong Nong
Like this one seen in Muong Nong.
Commander Nguyen Dong Sy inspects a 57 mm AA gun team
Commander Nguyen Dong Sy inspects a 57 mm AA gun team.
gun scrap
The remains of an S-60 57 mm AA gun in Dak Cheung.
Russian DShK 12.8mm machine gun
The Russian DShK 12.8 mm machine gun proved an effective weapon against low flying planes.
a Russian gun and a chicken
An old 12.8 mm gun at the entrance of a motel in Muong Nong.
machine gun being operated by Vietnamese troops
The DShK 12.8 mm gun could be used as a stand-alone unit or attached to armour.
spent shells in an old bunker north of Ban Bak
Spent 12.8 mm shells found in an old gun bunker to the west of Ban Bak.
Picture of Digby Greenhalgh

By Digby Greenhalgh

Digby Greenhalgh is the founder of Explore Indochina, and a recognized expert on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. All motorcycle tours are designed and guided by Digby.