Man vs. Wild Vietnam


Sue Perkins for the UK TV show, World's Most Dangerous Roads
For BBC: World's Most Dangerous Roads, we guided Sue Perkins and Liza Tarbuck down the original Ho Chi Minh Trail.


Location Scout for Bear Grylls

In 2009, I helped scout a national park for Bear Grylls for an upcoming Man vs Wild show. If you are a fan of the show, don’t read the following!

We were given very clear instructions to find various locations in the magnificent Khe Bang-Phong Nha National Park, where the world’s largest cave is. Then, their safety guy would fly in and prep all the dangerous bits so that everything would be ready when Bear flew in for three days of actual filming.

Sleeping Rough

The roadside cave we found for Bear Grylls to sleep in
We had to find somewhere for him to sleep rough for one night. We found a cave. The other nights, Bear would sleep at a hotel where all the rooms had to be booked so no one from the public could get a photo of him by the pool.

Eating Something Disgusting

The ant nest we found for Bear Grylls to eat
We had to find something disgusting he could eat. We found an ant nest in a tree, which local people cut down to eat the eggs. It looks grim, but when fried, it’s sweet and delicious; a local delicacy, actually!

A Cliff to Climb and a River to Swim and Fire to Make

The cliff we found for Bear Grylls to climb up
The stream we found for Bear Grylls to swim across
We had to find something he could climb—no problem, as many cliffs are there.

We had to find something for him to swim across – no problem, a river follows the road into the park.

He had to start a fire – not an issue as various kinds of wood have high levels of flammable oil in Vietnam.

An Animal to Eat

We had to find something he could hunt and eat. This was a bit of an issue because it was a national park, and you weren’t allowed to eat endangered animals. So, the plan was to buy a cobra from a local snake restaurant and film him eating it outside the park.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

The original Ho Chi Minh Trail
We also had to provide some research because the whole idea was for Bear to act as if he was a downed USAF pilot during the Vietnam War.

We were excited because they liked the idea that at the end, Bear would spot an army guy riding one of our 650cc Ural motorcycles down the cobblestoned remnants of the actual Ho Chi Minh Trail. All we had to do was buy a uniform and get one of our mechanics to ‘rescue’ him.

The Truth

But check this. All these spots had to be no more than a 20-minute walk from a road, and, ideally, right next to the road. Next time you watch the show, notice how he’s always running around, giving the impression that he is covering lots of ground. In reality, he just runs around in circles.

Now for the funny part. Our national park was too far from Hanoi, meaning the helicopter ride was too expensive (US$50K). This meant the scout had to be repeated down south near Ho Chi Minh City. There are plenty of national parks close to the city’s airport; the problem was that none of them had all the bits described above. So, in the end, they filmed in two different national parks!!

I was not involved in the second scout nor the filming of the show, but I got all the gossip from my fixer friend who was.

Man Made Flash Flood

The stream before the dam manager opened it
Bear Grylls and the flash flood
In the show, Bear walks along a stream bed and says that flash floods are common in SE Asia. Suddenly, the water starts to rise alarmingly quickly despite there being no rain. It was serious, and the entire crew had to high-tail it up the gorge. The reason is hilarious as it is cynical – the manager of an upstream dam, whom they had given a ride in the helicopter for free, had opened the gates to simulate a flash flood. The problem was he opened them too much, but luckily, no one was washed away!!

Cobra Tied to a Tree

Cobra tied to a tree
Bear Grylls eating a common toad raw
The whole snake in a national park issue was solved by buying a massive cobra in a snake restaurant outside the park and then tying it to a tree. Bear comes across it, says some BS about it being a spitting cobra, and goes around it!! Talk about survival, that snake could have fed 20 people for two days! In the show, they were clever. Bear just eats a common toad raw, which is not endangered, so no problem!

Health and Safety

Bear Grylls Health and Safety
Bear Grylls wears a safety harness
Bear Grylls safety belay rope outline under his clothes
Bear Grylls always has one appendage just out of the shot
They had arranged for Bear to cross two small ravines on a thin tree they had cut down and a vine they had rigged up. Remember, Bear is worth a lot of money, so there was no way the production team would put him in danger. Here in lies one of the tricks they always employ when filming the show. Bear is wholly rigged up with a safety harness under his clothes. If you watch carefully, you will notice that one of his appendages is always off-camera. That is where the thin belay rope comes out from under his clothes. Also, if you get the pause button ready, you can sometimes see the outline of the belay rope pushing against his clothes.

So, whether you are a fan of the show or not, just remember it’s entertainment TV, and the cameraman has to do everything Bear does, but with the bonus of carrying the heavy camera! And apparently, fame had gone a little bit to his head, so the production team joked that the show should be called Bear vs Camera Crew!!

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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.