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At home in the wild
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Sin Ho mountains
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On the original HCM trail
On the original HCM trail
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Beasts of burden
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Ho Chi Minh Trail Before and Now Photos

Posted on 29 Jun 2015

The Ho Chi Minh Trail enabled the North Vietnamese to keep communist forces fighting in South Vietnam. It grew from a humble foot trail in 1959 to an enormous 20,000km network of truck roads, foot trails and river ways by the war's conclusion.

It was arguably the greatest engineering achievement of the 21st century, considering it was constructed primarily by hand under a deluge of bombs. On average a US plane dropped its bombs on the Trail once every eight minutes, 24/7 for nine years.

Ho Chi Minh Trail map

The Trail was primarily in Laos because the ground there was flat, more densley covered in forest and jungle, and of course there were no US ground troops stationed there. And it was the shortest way from Hanoi to Saigon.

Ho Chi Min Trail bombing map

Each of the small red dots represents one sortie, or attack, by USAF planes. The Trail in southern Laos was attacked some 600,000 times.

Ho Chi MInh Trail map

This map should give some idea of the complexity of the Trail. This is just the central part of it. Vietnamese generals were always bemused that the US concentrated its efforts on bombing North Vietnam and fighting in a conventional manner against irregular Viet Cong guerrilla troops in South Vietnam, rather than blocking the Trail and the supplies that it fed to the war down south, from the outset.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Sepon

This is an iconic photo of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops passing through the Tha Me area, south west of Sepon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Sepon motorbike adventure

Luckily the views are just as good now, and better still, you can ride your motorbike bike up there.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure Phu La Nik

General Giap visits troops stationed at the infamous Phu La Nic pass, which was a natural choke point and hit extremely hard by bombing.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure Phu La Nik

This photo is taken just up the hill from where the photo to the left was taken.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure

A Phantom F4 in action. Notice the wing tips which are at a different angle to the main wings.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Phantom F4 wing

A wing tip from a downed Phantom F4 jet in the Mu Gia pass areas, one of 40-odd planes shot down in this region.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck

At any given time there were anything from three to six thousand trucks operating on the Trail.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck wreck

They were a prime target.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck

Trucks were heavily camouflaged, and typically traveled only at night, back and forth between way stations.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck wreck

Notice the bullet holes in the roof.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Each driver would ply a specific route, night by night.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck wreck

Near Kaelum.

The war ends as North Vietnamese tanks take control of the Presidential Palace in Saigon

This tank, north of Attepeu, did not make it though.

North Vietnmamese tanks driving through Saigon at the end of the war.

In 2016 the area around the tank was swept for UXO. No less than 38 cluster bombs were found the area seen in this photo.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank Lam Son

A captured US tank used by south Vietnamese forces during operation Lam Son, an unsuccessful attempt at blocking the Trail.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank Ban Dong Lam Son

A similar tank, from the same operation in 1971, that incurred 50% casulties, left abandoned in the village of Ban Dong in central Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail jet bombs

Thud F105 jets in formation.

Ho Chi Minh Trail plane

Interesting approximation in a house east of Saravane.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 559 corps headquarters

The HQ of the 559 Engineering  Corps was some 200m long and hidden in the hills to the west of Sepon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 559 corps headquarters

That is until a collapse caused it to be moved at the end of 1968.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 559 corps headquarters

It housed over 8 offices, and some 100 staff, including a switchboard.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 559 corps headquarters

Its western entrance is all but lost in the jungle now.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 559 corps headquarters

Nguyen Dong Sy instructs the high command once the 559's headquarters was relocated back to Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 559 corps headquarters

I found out its exact location by tracking down a former Vietnamese colonel who worked there as the AA commander.

Ho Chi Minh Trail rpg

RPGs were a cheap, simple and formidable weapon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail rpg

And on certain parts of the Trail, they litter the jungle, like here in Ban Bak.

Ho Chi Minh Trail mortar

As were mortars.

Ho Chi Minh Trail mortar

Seen here as a pretty fancy indicator light on a truck.

Ho Chi Minh Trail mortar

Setting up a mortar.

Ho Chi Minh Trail mortar cow bell

Local farmers make good use of old mortars as cow bells.

All told some 2 million tones of ordinance was dropped on Laos, making it the highest per capita country bombed on the planet.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

South of Muong Nong.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

Many of the bombs remain unexploded.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Heading out to Ban Laboy ford.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs B-52

A B-52 getting loaded.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs La Hap

A live 500 pound bomb, just off the track, north of La Hap.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

Phantom F4.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs Sepon

Sepon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

One load from a B-52.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

Two live 500 pound bombs in Ban Phanop village.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

F-100F Super Sabre escprts a B-52.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

A unexploded 500 pound bomb in the hills above La Hap.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

B-52.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

2000 pound bombs in Saravan.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

Phantom F4s.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

750 pound bombs at the Mu Gia pass.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

A-6 Intruders.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombs

Sepon.

 
 

Ho Chi Minh Trail Dong Si

Nguyen Dong Si, the chief of staff for the 559 Engineering Corps that managed the Trail, meets with an AA gun crew.

Ho Chi Minh Trail helmet

Similar helmets in a village near the Mu Gia pass.

Ho Chi Minh Trail


AA gun crew in action.

Ho Chi Minh Trail helmet


Their helmet now used to grow onions.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Mu Gia pass Dog House

The Mu Gia pass was notorious with pilots and almost 50 planes were shot down there. It was called the Dog House. It was one of two main routes where Vietnamese trucks passed into Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Mu Gia pass

One such unfortunate Phantom pilot was shot down just south of the Mu Gia pass, and if you click on the above photo, you can read the story of his dramatic rescue.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure Mu Gia pass

Ban Karai pass. The other main route into Laos, which also had to negotiate the notorious Ban Laboy ford and the Phu La Nik pass.

Ho Chi Min Trail cobblestone

Many sections of the original cobblestones remain to this day.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure Mu Gia pass

Mu Gia Pass.

Ho Chi Min Trail cobblestone

Though many are being covered by new roads.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Ban Laboy crossing was the most heavily hit river crossing.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Two US pilots return with us to the exact same crossing in a vintage US army jeep in 2013.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

One crossing point, called Ban Laboy, is reckoned to be the most heavily bombed place on the planet.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

The rocks in the centre still show the scars of bombing. This photo was taken from the middle of the left hand side of the photo opposite looking to the right.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Nicknamed the 'Dogs Head' by US pilots, it was a natural 'choke point' which involved a river crossing and a steep pass that the trucks had no choice but to traverse.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy motorbike adventure tour

This photo was taken looking down on the same set of rocks, but from a different angle.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure Lum Bum

The intersection at Lum Bum, where route 20 (the road over Ban Laboy) met route 128 (the route which crossed over at Mu Gia.

Ho Chi Min Trail motorbike adventure Lum Bum intersection

The same intersection today.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

Of all the ordinance dropped on Laos, it was the cluster bombs that have had the most lasting lethal effect.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb casings

Each canister contained up to 600 bombies.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War (210 million more bombs than were dropped on Iraq in 1991, 1998 and 2006 combined).

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

The casings at least can be put to good use. You can grow onions in them.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

Up to 80 million bombies did not detonate.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb Seng Peng

You can support your house with them.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

Nearly 40 years on, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb house

Or even your rice storage shed.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

Between 1995 and 2013, the U.S. contributed on average $3.2M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

The U.S. spent as much in three days bombing Laos ($51M, in 2010 dollars) than it spent for clean up over 16 years ($51M).

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

Unfortunately they are a common site. Click the photo for a recent story in the New York Times newspaper.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

Even in river crossings. The Gopro camera has distorted the bombie a bit. Click the photo above for a recent story in the Guardian newspaper.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

There are many commercial and non commercial UXO clearance operations all around Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

Land is termed 'contaminated', as farmers are unable to use plots for fear of striking a cluster bomb. Due to their shape, bombies tend to stay near the surface.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO metal detectors

Unfortunately, every time the price of steel gets to a certain level, local people take cheap metal detectors and search for potentially fatal items.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

Local education campaigns do their best to keep children informed.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO

A common site warning people which areas are safe.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb UXO motorbike adventure

Best to stick to the yellow side, south of Chavan.

Ho Chi Min Trail

Entertainment troupes performing for Trail workers.

Ho Chi Minh Trail graffiti

This graffiti still remains from one such performance in a cave south of the Mu Gia pass.

Perhaps its the same cave....

Ho Chi Minh Trail graffiti

Graffiti from the same cave is a stanza from a popular song played at that time. "Night and day I think of my loved ones at home".

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

The Trail was protected by a formidable AA gun network like his 100mm AA shell from a KS-19 Russian AA gun.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

Spent shells found in the jungle west of La Hap.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

Groups of AA guns would typically target a 'box in the sky', and only fire five rounds when a plane approached it.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

Spent shells on the side of the road near Ban Laboy.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

The guns were transported by armored tractors.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun Nong

Like this one seen in Muong Nong.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

Commander Nguyen Dong Sy inspects a 57mm AA gun team.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AA gun

Like this one seen in Dak Cheung.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 50 Cal gun

The Russian DShK 12.8mm machine gun was also an effective gun against low flighing planes.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Though here it is only guarding the coop.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Russian 50 cal

It could be used as stand alone, fixed or attached to armour.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Russian 50 cal

Spent shells in an old bunker north of Ban Bak.

Ho Chi Minh Trail 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.

Ho Chi Minh Trail OV-1 Mohawk plane crash motorbike adventure

I came across this aircraft part very close to the village marked in the map below.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

If you click on the map above, you will get the full story of the lost OV-1 Mohawk which I believe the star comes from.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

To keep the trucks going, the North Vietnamese had to build a pipeline, one of the longest in the world at the time.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

Great for supporting houses.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

It could carry diesel, kerosene and petrol.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

All told it was some 1,400km long.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

There were numerous fuel depots along the length of the Trail.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

A much better alternative to the original plan which saw porters carry bladders of petrol on their backs.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

The entire network was installed by hand.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pipleline

Notice the couplings are the same.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Along the Trail were numerous rivers. Some were crossed by fords.

Ho Chi Minh Trail river crossing

North of Bualapha.

 

Ho Chi Minh Trail river crossing

Others were crossed by ferries.

Ho Chi Minh Trail ferry Ban Bak

A remnant of which still exists at Ban Bak.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Ban Laboy crossing was the most heavily hit river crossing.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Two US pilots return with us to the exact same crossing in a vintage US army jeep in 2013.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

One crossing point, called Ban Laboy, is reckoned to be the most heavily bombed place on the planet.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

The rocks in the centre still show the scars of bombing. This photo was taken from the middle of the left hand side of the photo opposite looking to the right.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy

Nicknamed the 'Dogs Head' by US pilots, it was a natural 'choke point' which involved a river crossing and a steep pass that the trucks had no choice but to traverse.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Laboy motorbike adventure tour

This photo was taken looking down on the same set of rocks, but from a different angle.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Leghorn

In southern Laos near the tri-border with Vietnam and Cambodia, US special forces set up a staging post called Leghorn.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Leghorn

Its imposing location can still be seen while riding the Trail near the Cambodian border.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Leghorn

It proved unassailable due its location on top of a steep limestone cliff, and assisted in many operations in that region.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Leghorn

Local villages though made a trail to it some 10 years ago and removed most of the scrap metal left behind.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile

SAAM missiles were not used extensively on the Trail, as they were used primarily to defend North Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

But they were used in the Mu Gia and Ban Laboy regions, and a number were left behind at the war's conclusion while on their way to south Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile

They proved effective is forcing planes to fly lower, thereby brining them within range of normal AA guns.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile

At the base of the Mu Gia pass.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile tube

They were transported in large cigar like tubes.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile tube

Parts of which still litter the Trail.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile

All told some 205 planes were shot down by them.

Ho Chi Minh Trail SAAM missile

The explosive warhead was at the front.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

Early in the war a basic type of cluster bomb was used, which saw pineapple shaped bombies dropped out of tubes, in this case from an A1 Skyraider.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

The tubes make useful housing foundations.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

The A1 Skyraider proved a real workhorse due to its ability to soak up fire, high ordinance portage and ability to stay in the air for a long time. A favorite for search and rescue missions.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb

Notice the triangular shape of the tubes, here seen in a UXO camp in Attepeu.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb lamp

The cluster bombs dropped from these tubes proved to be useful as lamps, as can be seen in the bottom centre of this photo.

Ho Chi Minh Trail cluster bomb lamp

As they still do so today, but this time next to a DVD player.

Ho Chi Minh Trail telephone line

There was a wire and wireless communication system, some 13,000km in length.

Ho Chi Minh Trail telephone line

North of Villabury. Notice that the insulators are the same.

Ho Chi Minh Trail telephone line

All laid by hand.

Ho Chi Minh Trail telephone line

Discarded wire reels north of Ban Bak.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ho Chi Minh Trail AK-47

As was the AK-47 assault rifle.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AK-47

Typical breakfast on the Trail!

Ho Chi Minh Trail AK-47

Simple, tough and effective.

Ho Chi Minh Trail AK-47

A scrap yard near Paksan

Ho Chi Minh Trail water bottle

Notice the water bottles at the centre bottom of the photo.

Ho Chi Minh Trail water bottle cow bell

Water bottles also find a modern day role as cow bells!

Ho Chi Minh Trail bomb fuses

There were many kinds of fuses used. Timed, impact, chemical etc.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bomb fuses cow bell

They make good cow bells.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bomb fuses

Notice the fuses at the front of the bomb. There was typically a backup on in the tail as well.

Ho Chi Minh Trail bomb fuses cow bell

Another fuse cow bell.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Gatling gun

The multi barrel M-61 Gatling gun was very lethal.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Gatling gun

And found itself attached to helicopters, jets and gun ships.

Especially when mounted out of the left side of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship.

With infrared, night vision, 2 Gatling guns and a 105mm cannon, these Spectres were highly effective against trucks.

The M-61 could shoot an astonishing 6,000 rounds per minute.

An unspent M-61 shell south of the Mu Gia pass.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank Lam Son

The PT-76 light amphibious tank in action in the 1971 Lam Son operation.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Lang Vey

A similar tank that was used to overrun the Lang Vey special forces base, just to the west of Khe Sanh, in 1968.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs Sepon

The bridge at Sepon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs motorbike adventure

A crater north of Ban Bak.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

A heavily bombed river crossing, location unkown.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs Ban Phanop

Craters in the Ban Phanop choke point.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs chokes alpha

The Trail north of Villabury. Notice the fresh crater in the middle of the photo.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

A crater south of Muong Nong.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

 

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

A crater at the base of the Mu Gia pass.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs falls

The Falls choke point in far south Laos.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

A crater in the Mu Gia pass area.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

Results of a series of B-52 strikes along the Foxtrot choke point north of Sepon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail craters bombs

Crater in the Ban Phanop valley.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White

Thousand of seismic listening devices were dropped on the Trail as part of the elaborate 'Igloo White' program.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White motorbike adventure

The idea was to listen into night time activity on the Trail, so as to coordinate attacks in the regions where the trucks were heard.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White

Early on they were dropped by hand.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White

The Vietnamese counter measures included simply moving the sensors, fooling them with toads filled with tobacco, or having workers start up truck engines on bamboo poles at random locations each night.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White

But as the Trail became more dangerous, they had to be dropped by jet.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White

For more details about the Igloo White program, click on the photo above.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White Nakhon Phanom

The entire program was controlled by the ultra secret base just over the Mekong river in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Igloo White

Which housed the largest computer in the world at the time.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck steering wheel

An NVA officer leads an attack during Operation Lam Son.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

A similar pistol found in a scrap metal shop in Khe Sanh.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

A truck driver.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck steering wheel

Notice the same steering wheel in this river bed.

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck steering wheel

 

Ho Chi Minh Trail truck steering wheel

A similar steering wheel in a scrap yard near Sepon.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Women accounted for a large percentage of trail workers.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

A rocket or artillery shell found by road workers while widening the Trail north of Villabury.

Ho Chi Minh Trail APC

A Russian BTR troop carrier.

Ho Chi Minh Trail APC

A BTR gun turret in Muong Nong.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tools

Some 30,000 people, many of them women, kept the Trail open.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tools

Their tools litter the Trail.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tools

Many were only 18 or 19 years old.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tools

A pick head found near Ta Oi.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tools

Workers use mallets to install traffic signs.

Ho Chi Minh Trail tools

Notice that the hammer to the right is made from the clamp from a bomb.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Seng Peng

The Ban Phanop area was a natural choke point as the trucks heading southwards had no choice but to drive through a small opening in the karst rock formations.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Seng Peng

The karst there still shows signs of having been shattered.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

At regular intervals along the Trail were way stations, which housed hospitals, repair stations and protective bunkers for the trucks.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

A truck axle dragged out of the jungle south of Ta Oi.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

At the Trail's height, there were some 70-odd such stations.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Truck parts found north of Kaleum.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Early on in the conflict all bridges of note were cut off.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

This old French bridge remains destroyed.


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