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The Ho Chi Minh Trail: Then and Now (Part 1)

Explore riders with a ruined tank on the HCM Trail in Laos

The Ho Chi Minh Trail Then and Now

We’ve spent more than 20 years exploring and photographing the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and have compiled this set of images comparing what it looked like then with now. This is part 1.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

map of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Laos was the most direct route from the north to the south of Vietnam. There were no US ground soldiers stationed there, and the area was flatter and more densely covered in forest and jungle.
map of US attacks in Vietnam
Each of the small red dots symbolizes a single US plane sortie or strike. The Trail in southern Laos was attacked approximately 600,000 times.
detailed map of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
This map should give you an impression of the Trail's complexity. It represents only a small portion of the Trail, around halfway down. Vietnamese generals were always perplexed as to why the US focused its resources on bombing North Vietnam and battling irregular Viet Cong guerilla fighters in South Vietnam rather than blocking the Trail from the very start of the war.

Historical Photos

an iconic photo of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops passing through the Tha Me area
This is an iconic photo of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops passing through the Tha Me area, south west of Sepon.
cliff in the Tha Me area
Luckily the views are just as good now, and better still, you can ride your motorbike bike up there.
General Giap visits troops stationed at Phu La Nic
This is an iconic photo of NVA troops passing through the Tha Me area southwest of Sepon.
the Phu La Nic Pass
This photo is taken just up the hill from where the photo to the left was taken.

Jets, Trucks and Tanks

OV-1 Mohawk
The OV-1 Mohawk, whose star on the fuselage is very similar in size to the part used as a window to the right.
part of an American aircraft fuselage being used to cover a window
I came across this aircraft part very close to the village marked in the map below.
PT-76 light amphibious tank
The PT-76 light amphibious tank in action in the 1971 Lam Son operation.
an amphibious tank from the Vietnam War
A similar tank that was used to overrun the Lang Vey special forces base, just to the west of Khe Sanh, in 1968.
Phantom F4 in the Vietnam War
A Phantom F4 in action. Notice the wing tips at a different angle to the main wings.
wing tip from a downed Phantom F4 jet in the Mu Gia pass area
A wing tip from a downed Phantom F4 jet in the Mu Gia pass area, one of the 40-odd planes shot down in this region.
trucks in the Vietnam War
At any given time there were anything from three to six thousand trucks operating on the Trail.
a destroyed truck from the Vietnam War
They were a prime target.
camouflaged truck in the Vietnam War
Trucks were heavily camouflaged, and typically traveled only at night, back and forth between way stations.
Explore Indochina tour members in a destroyed truck
Notice the bullet holes in the roof.
row of trucks photographed during the Vietnam War
Each driver would ply a specific route, night by night.
a destroyed truck near Kaelum
Near Kaelum.
a North Vietnamese tank entering Saigon
An NVA tank storms the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam on the last day of the war.
destroyed tank on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
This tank, north of Attepeu, did not make it though.
North Vietnamese tank rolling through Saigon
North Vietnamese tanks driving through Saigon at the end of the war.
Explore Indochina motorcycle tour members sitting on a destroyed tank
The area around this tank was swept for UXO (unexploded ordinance) in 2016. Some 38 cluster bombs were discovered.
a captured tank in Lam Son
A captured US tank used by south Vietnamese forces during operation Lam Son, an unsuccessful attempt at blocking the Trail.
an abandoned tank in Ban Dong, Central Laos
A similar tank, from the same operation in 1971, that incurred 50% casulties, left abandoned in the village of Ban Dong in central Laos.
Thud F105 jets in formation
Thud F105 jets in formation.
F150 and star cut into the side of a house in Saravane
Interesting approximation in a house east of Saravane.

HQ of the 559 Engineering Corps

HQ of the 559 Engineering Corps
The HQ of the 559 Engineering Corps was a tunnel complex, some 200 metres long, hidden in the hills to the west of Sepon.
visiting the HQ of the 559 Engineering Corps
A soil cave-in forced it to be abandoned at the end of 1968.
woman photographed during the Vietnam War
It housed over eight offices and some 100 staff, including a switchboard.
western entrance to the 559 Engineering Corps HQ today
Its western entrance is all but lost in the jungle now.
Nguyen Dong Sy instructs the high command
Nguyen Dong Sy, the commander of the Trail, instructs staff officers after the 559's HQ was relocated back to Vietnam.
Explore Indochina tour riders at the 559 Engineering Corps HQ
Explore Indochina found the HQ's exact location by talking to a former NVA colonel who commanded the Trail's anti-aircraft forces.

Bombs, Mortars and other Explosives

Vietnamese soldier armed with an RPG
RPGs were a cheap, simple and formidable weapon.
discarded explosive shells litter parts of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
And on certain parts of the Trail, they litter the jungle, like here in Ban Bak.
female Vietnamese soldier carrying mortars
As were mortars.
explosive shell casing being used as a truck indicator
Seen here as a pretty flash indicator light on a truck.
Vietnamese soldiers setting up a mortar
Setting up a mortar.
shell casing being used at a cow bell
Local farmers make good use of old mortars as cow bells.
bombs being dropped on Laos
Some two million tons of ordinance were dropped on Laos, making it the highest per capita country bombed on the planet.
bomb casing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
South of Muong Nong.
bombs being dropped during the Vietnam War
Many of the bombs remain unexploded.
riding past a bomb on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Heading out to Ban Laboy ford.
500 pound bomb, just off the track north of La Hap
A live 500 pound bomb, just off the track, north of La Hap.
riding past a bomb on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Heading out to Ban Laboy ford.
a Phantom F4 dropping bombs
Phantom F4.
Explore Indochina rider taking a photo next to a huge bomb
Sepon.
one load from a B-52
One bomb load from a B-52 could number around 100 bombs.
two live 500 pound bombs in Ban Phanop village
Two live 500 pound bombs in Ban Phanop village.
F-100F Super Sabre escorts a B-52
F-100F Super Sabre escorts a B-52.
an unexploded 500 pound bomb in the hills above La Hap
A unexploded 500 pound bomb in the hills above La Hap.
B52 bombers in the Vietnam War
B-52.
2000 pound bombs in Saravan
2,000 pound bombs in Saravan.
Phantom F4s
Phantom F4s.
750 pound bombs at the Mu Gia pass
750 pound bombs at the Mu Gia Pass.
A-6 Intruders
A-6 Intruders.
bombs in Sepon
Sepon.

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