Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Once a network of supply routes for war and destruction, the Ho Chi Minh Trail today offers one of Vietnam's most beautiful experiences. This magnificent road, running the length of the country from the Chinese border to the Delta, winds through the mountains and valleys along the Cambodian and Laos borders. Though the road is surfaced and wide enough for cars and small trucks, only a few vehicles travel this route. It is a motorcyclist's dream.

It takes about twenty minutes to get through the traffic and chaos of the populated cities before you head west across the rice fields and into the mountains. The roads are unmarked and there are very few places where English is spoken. But for those who have a sense of adventure, it is an experience to remember.

I have traveled the trail between Da Nang and Hue at least six times now (all the way to Khe Sanh a couple of times) and am still in awe of the beauty and wonder of it all. It's a four day trip through the mountains and jungles, skirting the Laos border, offering a unique view of the mountain people and their way of life.

There always seem to be magic moments that come along when you least expect them. On one trip, we passed by an old veteran with one arm who was needing a ride to the next village. Of course, we couldn't pass him by so we gave him a lift and had a couple of beers with him once we reached a local watering hole.

I've started working for an outfit that will guide you through the trail, either driving a vintage, Russian Minsk bike or riding on the back of an experienced driver's bike. I usually take my own bike for the long trips. I like it because it has more padding in the seat. Of course, I wear a helmet and proper riding attire on the road, not as shown.

We offer day trips around Hoi An or four and five day trips up to the DMZ. We wind our way through areas where some of the heaviest fighting of the war took place. It's pretty incredible to cool off in a fresh mountain stream where armies once clashed.