In the late 1990s, Virginia and her husband Clive became the first westerners in peacetime to walk the full length of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Their book ‘The Road to Freedom, A History of the Ho Chi Minh Trail’, is the story of that astonishing expedition, with interviews from key players. Your Tour will pick up their original journey at the Mu Gia Pass, and trace their steps heading south towards the Cambodian border where the trail ends. Along the way we will stop at many of the points of interest mentioned in the book so enjoying the stunning Lao countryside and meeting its warm hearted people.
Not forgetting the ride, the maze of trails that is the Ho Chi Minh Trail, few know it better than us. After 10+ years riding the trail there are not many places we don’t know, well take you through streams, rivers, sand, mud, mountain ranges and dust as we ride the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. We have an option to camp on this trip if you wish for the ultimate outdoor experience, get in touch for the adventure of a life time.
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Our adventure begins as we take the road out of Vientiane to Nahin. Once clear of the town the countryside opens up and during their growing season, we are flanked by lush fields of rice. Riding on we go into Khammouan Province where the Karst Mountains appear, a view which remains visible to us until we reach the Limestone Forest. After which we are surrounded by stunning vistas as we near the Vietnamese border before we arrive at our overnight stop, Nahin. At Nahin we stay at the beautiful Sainamhai Resort beside the Hai River, dining at the Grand Palace in the evening.
After breakfast we head up to the Mui Gia Pass, which was a major entry point for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) on its way into Laos during the Vietnam War. Their more Northerly entry point to the Nape is now a reservoir and the Trails have gone forever. As we arrive at the bottom of the Mui Gia Pass, we’ll see if we can take the old Trail up to the top. It’s overgrown in the wet season and not always possible. From the top of the Pass you can see the challenge ahead, as we look down the Annamite mountains and some of its great views.
An early awakening this morning to enjoy a view the sunrise and the pass. Then we head off onto the local trail to visit some key villages. This area was a hot spot in the war. It was also the focus of one of the biggest search operations ever mounted in Laos. An operation to rescue a pilot shot down in the Phanop Valley. From there we’ll ride to visit the caves, where people lived for an incredible nine years to escape the bombing campaign. This whole area was a maze of trails during that time and some remaining cobblestone paths can still be seen. We won’t cover much distance today, but there will really be a lot to see.
We have a fantastic day ahead of us. Our first job is to cross the awesome fords of the Xe Bang Fai River. Depending on the time of year it will definitely get your attention and might get your feet wet! Our destination is the Xe Bangfai River Cave. The cave swallows the river for 7 km and is the longest river cave in Laos. It is not only 76 metres wide and 56 metres high, but also a spectacular piece of wonderment and natural beauty. The cave was used during the war as a link between Vietnam and Laos. We will stay overnight at a home-stay in Ban Nongping Village.
The Trail today is all dirt. Dirt tracks all the way to the Vietnamese border. The Ban Karia Pass and Ban Laboy Ford also awaits us. A Ford that holds the unenviable record as the most bombed out area in the Indochina War. In spite of that rained destruction, a pristine section of cobblestones still remain up to the Ban Kari Pass. Once done, we will head back on Route 912 which was a key one out of the pass. It’s a great stretch of trail down into Vilabury and our overnight accommodation in a local guest house.
Today is an easy ride down to Xepon via Muang Phine. Xepon is an interesting area, as it houses a museum that honours the Battle of Lam Son 719. The battle was a last ditch attempt by the South Vietnamese Army to try and stop the flow of arms down the Trail,. However, it didn’t go to plan for them. The afternoon can be spent relaxing, tomorrow we have a full day of activities.
Halfway point of the tour and we will explore the Cave Complex west of Xepon. This complex carved through a mountain is yet another incredible construction created in extreme conditions. After the caves, we’ll ride to Phu Tamok and some fantastic scenery. This mountain was used for fire bases in the Battle of Lam Son 719. It’s quite a climb to the top, with a few steep sections, but the views are well worth the doing of it. From there we’ll go back to last night’s accommodation.
After two days exploring Xepon, we’ll take the jungle track down to Ta Oy via Nong. Here we traverse a fast disappearing piece of the Trail which offers some fantastic scenery. As roads are developed, this section of the Trail is also becoming shorter. Some stretches still house the cobblestones which proved to be fantastic as all weather roads. On arrival into Ta Oy, we take twisty tarmac roads over the mountains and finish our day in Salavan where we will overnight.
Today will mainly be on tarmac. The mountain pass has been upgraded over the years and makes for a great journey with some wonderful views. On the way down, we need to negotiate quirky forest tracks before arriving in Xekong for our overnight stay. The old ferry here is now redundant as a new bridge spans the river. More Trail gone forever, but its history still remains. We stay overnight in a Hotel by the river, where you should enjoy a great sunset.
With a lot of riding behind us, there’s still more to go. We now take the Trail to Dakchung where some really remote sections await us as we head into the mountains close to Vietnamese border. This was a busy trail back in the day. Progress, though, has seen parts of the Trail now being closed due to hydropower projects. Still some great riding to be had in a countryside nothing short of beautiful. Not too many tourists travel these roads and for the evening we ride to a rural spot. Overnight accommodation will be in local guest house.
After a night in Dakchung we will head back towards Attapue. These trails are being upgraded so we are back onto the tarmac stopping off to see a few sights. A SAM missile site reminds us of how active this area was during the Vietnam War. As the Trail got closer to Cambodia, it saw countless action during the war with much of it still evident. On arrival at Attapue, we’ll will dine by the river sampling the locals’ generous hospitality.
After breakfast we will head on the tarmac towards Vietnam. From that surface, we switch to the dirt road up to Nong Fa Lake where Virginia and Clive had a marriage ceremony in 2005. Nong Fa Lake may have been a stopping of point for soldiers making their way south as its rumoured they would rest up there before completing their journey. A far cry from that, it is now a natural beauty spot. We will take a ‘packed lunch’ and enjoy the area before heading down the mountain to our overnight accommodation.
We will ride the tarmac back to Attapue before heading onto Route 18b, an interesting dirt road. Then we head north through the forest and see some stunning waterfalls before arriving at Tad Fane. Tad Fane is a local beauty spot which houses some interesting activities and has some majestic waterfalls and some scary zip lines. We will overnight in one of local Guest Houses close by.
Our final day, it’s also an easy one as we roll into Pakse. Our activity for today is discovering Wat Phu. Wat Phu is an area of ancient temples spread across a huge site. At this point, you have covered the Ho Chi Minh Trail from its most Northern entry point to its most Southerly exit point at Cambodia. Along the route you will have learnt much about the Trail and the people of Laos. Memories that you will surely hold dear forever.
Lao Adv Tours:Reserves the rights to change routes and planning due to road problems. Weather conditions can change very quickly. All rights reserved.