A solo motorcycling adventure down the Ho Chi Minh Trail
At some point a few years ago I decided it was time for a proper adventure; the sort where I would find myself lost in the middle of the Southeast Asian jungle with nothing to survive but twigs and peanut butter; the sort where I’d be well and truly On My Own. So in the spring of 2013, after several months of worrying about tigers, spiders and UXO, I headed East for a solo motorcycle trip down the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Constructed between 1959 and 1975, the Ho Chi Minh Trail once spread 12,000 miles through the mountains and jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Arguably one of the greatest feats of military engineering in history, the Trail was a paragon of ingenuity and bloody determination, the means by which the North Vietnamese fed and fought the war against the US-backed South. Without it there could have been no war, a fact which the Americans knew only too well: in a sustained eight year campaign to destroy it they flew 580,000 bombing missions and dropped over 2 million tonnes of ordinance on neutral Laos, denuded the jungle with chemicals and seeded clouds to induce rain and floods. At one point Nixon even mooted the notion of deploying nuclear weapons.
While scores of travellers ride a tourist-friendly, tarmac version of the Trail between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, only a handful follow its gnarly guts over the Truong Son Mountains into Laos. Even fewer trace it south into the wild eastern reaches of Cambodia. I wanted to do both. Unlike the hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese who walked, drove and worked on the Trail in the sixties and seventies, I wouldn’t have to deal with a daily deluge of bombs. But UXO, unexploded ordnance, littered my route south, cerebral malaria, dengue fever and dysentery were still prevalent and the trees slithered and crawled with unpleasant creatures.
Riding a 25-year old Honda Cub known as the Pink Panther, I rode south from Hanoi, the cacophonous capital of Vietnam, through some of the remotest regions of Southeast Asia. Battling inhospitable terrain and multiple breakdowns, it was a journey that ranged from the hilarious to the mildly terrifying, during which I encountered tribal chiefs, illegal loggers, formers American fighter pilots, young women whose children had been killed by UXO, eccentric Ozzie bomb disposal experts and multiple mechanics…
My two-wheeled odyssey ended six muddy weeks later in Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon.
Over the course of my trip, I was raising funds for Mines Advisory Group, a fantastic NGO who work to clear Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (as well as a host of other countries) of the thousands of tonnes of UXO that still litter them.. To make a donation through my Virgin Money Giving page just click here.
A book about this adventure, A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle, is available now.