The Ho Chi Minh Trail: Then and Now (Part 3)


another Vietnamese truck driver

Relentless bombing devasted the Laotian countryside. Check out part 4 of our gallery of images of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, taken before and after the war.


Pipeline Network

North Vietnamese building a pipeline
To keep the trucks running, the NVA built a 1,400-km-long pipeline supported by 33 fuel distributions stations and 113 pump stations.
old pipe supporting a house
Local people use sections of old pipe to hold up their houses.
Vietnamese workers installing fuel pipes
The entire network was installed by hand.
couplings on a length of fuel pipe
The sections of straight pipe were linked by couplings.
a fuel depot on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
There were numerous fuel depots along the length of the Trail.
a ruined fuel tank
Early in the war, porters carried bladders full of petrol; an effort quickly realised to be highly inefficient.
enormous petrol storage tanks north of Sepon
Enormous 500,000 litre storage tanks in a cave north of Sepon.
blast wall protecting petrol tanks
Blast walls protected the tanks from US bombs, which hit the Trail only 50 metres away from the cave.


barrels on the HCM Trail
The NVA also stored fuel and supplies inside 44-gallon steel barrels.
buried barrel on the Laos Ho Chi Minh Trail
Local people dig up the barrels to sell as scrap metal.
NVA floating barrels on the HCM Trail
During the monsoon season, the NVA floated supplies down streams and rivers, especially the Sekong River.
barrels covered in bullet holes on the HCM Trail
Bullet holes pockmark these rusting barrels.

River Crossings and US Black Ops Bases

a river crossing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Trail crossed numerous rivers where the NVA built fords.
a river crossing north of Bualapha
A river ford north of Bualapha.
Vietnamese military ferry crossing
Deep rivers were crossed by ferries.
a remnant of a ferry at Ban Bak
A remnant of which still exists by the Sekong River at Ban Bak.
US special forces staging post called Leghorn
In southern Laos near the border with Vietnam and Cambodia, US MAC-SOG special forces set up a relay post named "Leghorn".
the view of Leghorn from the Cambodian border
Its imposing location can still be seen while riding the Trail near the Cambodian border.
Leghorn from above
Leghorn proved unassailable due to its location on top of a steep limestone cliff.
leghorn from the trail
Local villages cut a trail to the former site in the late 90s and removed most of the scrap metal left behind.

AK-47s and Communication Systems

Vietnamese troops with AK47s
The iconic AK-47.
breakfast on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Sometimes we find AK-47s while riding the Trail.
a Vietnamese soldier with an AK
AK-47s were simple, tough and effective.
old AK in a scrap yard near Paksan
An old AK-47 in a scrap yard near Paksan.
Vietnamese soldiers carrying wires
The NVA installed a wire-based communication system, some 13,000 km in length.
old wire poles
An old pole north of Villabury still has the original insulators attached to it.
Vietnamese soldier laying cable by hand
The wired network was installed by hand.
discarded wire reels north of Ban Bak
Discarded wire reels north of Ban Bak.

SAAMs, Aircraft and Gatling Guns

SAAM missiles in the Vietnam War
SAAM missiles were not used extensively on the Trail, as they were used primarily to defend North Vietnam.
Explore Indochina riders by a SAAM missile
They were, however, stationed at Mu Gia Pass and Ban Laboy Ford, to deter B-52s, and a number were abandoned at the war's conclusion while on the way to south Vietnam.
Vietnamese soldiers with surface to air missiles
SAAMs proved effective at forcing US planes to fly lower, thereby bringing them within range of smaller AA guns.
missile casing at the base of the Mu Gia pass
A SAAM at the base of the Mu Gia Pass.
missiles being transported during the Vietnam War
SAAMs were transported in large cigar-like tubes.
part of a missile on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
This front section of the cigar-like tube that protected SAAMs during transportation lies discarded in a village north of Villabury.
a surface to air missile being fired
All told some US 205 planes were shot down by SAAMs.
Digby holding a missile warhead
The explosive warhead was located at the front of the SAAM.
a soldier by an A1 Skyraider
The A1 Skyraider proved a real workhorse due to its ability to soak up fire, carry a wide range of ordinance and ability to stay in the air for a long time.
missile tubes in a UXO camp in Attepeu
These triangular shaped tubes, as seen in the photo to the left, carried a primitive type of cluster bomb.
a cluster bomb being used as a lamp
The cluster bombs dropped from these triangular shaped tubes were converted into lamps, as seen in the bottom-centre of this photo.
a cluster bomb being used as a lamp
Such cluster bomb lamps can still be found in villages along the Trail.
Vietnamese soldiers drinking
Trail workers fill their water bottles at the centre bottom of this photo.
army water bottle being used as a cow bell
The same type of water bottle used as a cow bell.
bomb fuses
The US emplyed scores of different kinds of fuses to make their ordinace explode, such as timed, impact and chemical fuses.
bomb fuses being used as cow bells
Local people often use them to make cow bells.
American checking bombs
A fuse was located at the front of ordinance, but there was typically a backup fuse attached to the tail as well.
a fuse being used as a cow bell on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Another cow bell made from a discarded fuse.
multi barrel M-61 Gatling gun
The multi-barrel M-61 Gatling gun was very lethal.
an old Gatling gun found on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
It was attached to helicopters, jets and gun ships.
a gunship in the Vietnam War
When mounted to the left side of an AC-130 Spectre gunship, the M-61 Gatling gun proved lethal to trucks on the Trail.
American Spectre
The AC-130 Spectre gunships were equipped with infrared, night vision, two Gatling guns and one 105 mm cannon. They were were highly effective at destroying Vietnamese trucks.
Americans with M-61 ammunition
The M-61 Gatling gun could shoot an astonishing 6,000 rounds per minute.
an unspent M-61 shell south of the Mu Gia pass
An unspent M-61 shell south of the Mu Gia Pass.
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.