China's Spratlys Airstrip Will Raise South China Sea Stakes
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

China’s Spratlys Airstrip Will Raise South China Sea Stakes

Late last week, an IHS Jane’s report corroborated claims that China was embarking on an island-building project in the South China Sea. Based on satellite imagery, Jane’s reported that China was building an airstrip-capable island on Fiery Cross Reef, a group of three reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China claims the territory as part of Hainan province’s Sansha prefecture and exerts de facto control over the area. The reef’s central location in the broader South China Sea renders it a strategic position for an island-based airstrip.

The Jane‘s report substantiates speculation earlier this year that China was constructing an airstrip on a man-made island in the South China Sea. Based on the most recent satellite imagery, Jane’s notes that “Chinese dredgers have created a land mass that is almost the entire length of the reef.” Fiery Cross Reef is an underwater reef, but China is looking to develop a new island that is roughly 3 km long and 200 to 300 m wide — just wide enough for a functional airstrip. The strategic advantages of an airstrips in the middle of the South China Sea include shorter resupply routes for deployed PLAN patrols, a base for reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned system, and a potential permanent installation for anti-submarine warfare equipment including undersea radar arrays. For China, this island on Fiery Cross Reef could fulfill the strategic role of an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” As Beijing continues to raise the stakes in the South China Sea, developments such as this airstrip will cause concern among the other claimants.

Of all the major claimants of South China Sea territory, China is the only one without an island-hosted airstrip in the region (outside of Hainan Island, off the Chinese coast). As a result, Beijing has claimed a disadvantage vis-a-vis the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and even Taiwan (Brunei is the only claimant without a similar asset). In real terms, however, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) remains the most capable navy in the region, both in terms of sheer size and in terms of modernization. Additionally, in recent years, China has significantly expanded its interest in backing up its territorial claims in the South China Sea with kinetic action — in 2012, it seized the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines and in 2014, it sent naval and coastguard ships into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to support the activities of an oil rig. China bases its claims to the South China Sea on historical maps that it argues are evidence of the South China Sea’s long-standing status as Chinese territory.


Vietnam’s Tale of Two Cities
Street Art in Hanoi
Image Credit: Flickr/ Mike Hauser

Vietnam’s Tale of Two Cities

The first time she visited Ho Chi Minh City, Le Thuan Uyen wanted to move there. For the UK-educated arts manager, whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in Hanoi, the southern city offered an easier alternative to life in the capital.

“Everything was structured. It wasn’t as chaotic. I wouldn’t have to worry too much about money,” Uyen told me. “But once I got more deeply involved with the arts scene in Hanoi, I decided to stay.”

Ho Chi Minh City has been Vietnam’s commercial center since the 1800s, when the French-built port made the city a regional trading hub. In recent years, its soaring GDP and friendly environment for foreign investment convinced many that the city was Vietnam’s success story. A recent Bloomberg article crowed that Ho Chi Minh City had “turned the tables on Hanoi” for economic growth.

But many in the north argue that the thousand-year-old capital, where foreign retail and fast food chains have been slow to make inroads and government bureaucracy is often impenetrable, has a unique spirit that fosters creativity.

“I find Hanoi more artisanal. You can sustain a business model by developing a local product in your own way rather than selling out to industrial brands,” said Dan Dockery, co-owner of bar CAMA and restaurant Highway 4. “You could look at the lack of Western chains as conservative and backwards, or you can see it in a more positive way. We have good coffee. Why do we need some low-quality foreign brand that’s three times the price?”

To outsiders, the Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City divide may seem to reflect the structural tension between communism and capitalism, with the southern city’s more developed economy indicating more openness to individual enterprise. But in fact, Vietnam’s tale of two cities  — like the age-old differences between Beijing and Shanghai or Kyoto and Tokyo — has more to do with history and culture than with ideology. Hanoians don’t dispute Ho Chi Minh City’s economic success. What they take issue with is the notion that such success is necessary or desirable, or that the forms that success takes make a city attractive. “Saigon feels a bit like Bangkok,” said art dealer Minh Nguyet Bui, whose family has lived in Hanoi for generations. “It’s not real Vietnam.”

“Real” Hanoians like Bui are fiercely proud of the city’s long cultural history. Hanoi has held the reputation of being the country’s “cultural capital” since the 11th century, when aspiring mandarins first studied at the Temple of Literature. Today, the city’s creative community is thriving, particularly when it comes to the arts. Explaining why she decided to stay in Hanoi, Uyen told me: “The creative energy in Hanoi is more intense.”

While Ho Chi Minh City also has a developed arts scene, its polished shows and market-oriented artists contrast sharply with Hanoi’s more experimental brand of creativity. “Saigon people tend to prefer pretty-looking, easy-to-digest art,” said Ho Chi Minh City-based artist Thao Nguyen. “The art in Hanoi can be more critical and conceptual.”

Something about Hanoians’ attachment to the city seems to defy economic rationality.

“Most Hanoians will acknowledge that life in Ho Chi Minh City is probably more comfortable, with relatively higher wages and lower prices. But they stay in Hanoi because of the spirit of the place. There is an energy here that in part stems from this choice of putting spirit and meaning above material comfort,” said Mathias Rossignol, co-owner of Ham Hanh, a cafe and art space in Hanoi.

Ham Hanh came about as a side project of The Onion Cellar, an alternative culture collective that organizes offbeat film screenings, concerts and other events. Onion Cellar co-founder Hung Tran said that for “most Vietnamese people,” the difference between the cities was “obvious”: “Saigon is more commercial. Hanoi is more creative.”

Tran’s blunt distinction highlights the strong belief among Hanoians that commercial and creative success are mutually exclusive.

“The commercial ethos is clearly more developed in the south. In some ways, Hanoi’s artistic integrity is a rally against this. For Hanoi to maintain its uniqueness, it almost has to rebuff the concept of business and art being bedfellows,” said artist and designer Dorian Gibb, one of the founders of creative workspace Work Room Four.

Bill Nguyen, co-founder of Manzi, a well-known art space and cafe, contrasted the “almost too developed” arts scene in the south with Hanoi’s more “down-to-earth” culture. “Everything feels safe there because it’s so structured and institutionalized. But that doesn’t leave room for the imagination,” he said. “Here there’s still room for experimentation.”

However, Nguyen made clear that the lack of a business mindset also had its drawbacks.

“Friends from Saigon say that creative people here don’t know how to make money using their creativity,” he said.

The gap between Hanoi’s creative achievements and Ho Chi Minh City’s commercial success is pervasive in all of Vietnam’s cultural industries. Most of the Vietnamese movies screened at international film festivals are made in Hanoi, such as “Dap Canh Giua Khong Trung” (Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere), which won an award at the Venice Film Festival in September for best director’s debut, and “Bi, Dung So!” (Bi, Don’t Be Afraid!) which won prizes at the Cannes and Stockholm film festivals in 2010. Yet domestic cinemas are dominated by Hollywood-style action flicks and romantic comedies produced in Ho Chi Minh City.

“In the south, they want to make films that Vietnamese people will pay to see. I don’t think that any film made in the north has ever made a profit.  In fact, most films made in Hanoi never even play in the cinemas,” said Gerry Herman, director of Hanoi Cinematheque.

What the film sector really needs, Herman said, is a “middle ground” that would combine Hanoi’s artistic aspirations with the southern city’s commercial acumen — something you could say for all of Vietnam’s cultural industries.

“A lot of Vietnam’s economy is based on either outsourcing or copycat products. That’s a very fragile model which cannot sustain long-term growth,” Ham Hanh owner Rossignol said. “No really new ideas can be born without an environment of creativity and originality.”

Yet Hanoi has a growing number of innovators who combine creativity and tradition with commercial know-how, like designer Vu Thao, who won the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur Award last month. Her designs, which she produces under the label Kilomet 109, draw inspiration from the colorful garments handmade by ethnic minority tribes in rural northern villages.

“Economically, Saigon is more exciting. People there are easy to work with and more open, and so are the authorities. But even as my business grows internationally, the things that make my work stand out are the things that are from the north,” Thao said.

Many of the city’s newest creative endeavors are both determinedly non-commercial and local collaborations. Last year, a group of Hanoi DJs and musicians launched Quest, a music festival without a single sponsor. Rather than inviting international headliners, the festival featured local talent; tickets sold out within weeks. Co-organizer Luke Poulson, who teaches English while moonlighting as a DJ, drew a sharp contrast between Hanoi’s “experimental evenings” with the “huge club nights” taking place in Ho Chi Minh City.

“The fact that we could create a full lineup for an entire festival by using mostly people from Hanoi just shows how much creative output the city has,” Poulson said.

An even better example would be Zone 9, a creative space in a former pharmaceutical complex that signaled a new era for the arts scene when it opened in 2013. Although Zone 9 was closed after a fire burned down a bar that was under construction, many of the venues that set up shop there have re-opened elsewhere, including Work Room Four.

The creation of Quest and Zone 9 suggests that a city’s success is not only defined by skyscrapers and foreign investment — something that has often been overlooked in the quest to build modern Asian urban superpowers.

“The benefit of creativity and the arts has nothing to do with money,” said John Kis, who owns Hanoi Social Club cafe. “A city without performances or music or galleries is not a city I want to live in.”

Elisabeth Rosen is a journalist based in Hanoi.

19 Under-The-Radar Places In Southeast Asia That Will Actually Change Your Life

Posted: 03/22/2014 7:00 am EDT Updated: 03/22/2014 7:00 am EDT

Print Article

If the flocks of postgrad travelers in elephant print pants haven’t told you already, Southeast Asia is having what we like to call “a moment.”

It’s not an area of the world that tops everyone’s bucket list, but Southeast Asia does have its share of over-touristed sites, and tourist traps certainly exist.

Want to know which authentic places backpackers really get amped about?

1. Pai, Thailand 

If you uprooted the hippie neighborhoods of San Francisco and plopped them into the jungles of northern Thailand, you’d (roughly) end up with Pai. Ride your motorbike a few hours into this mountain town for a chillaxing weekend of zenning out at Rasta bars, napping in woven hammocks, and — if you can manage to leave your field hut — exploring the waterfalls and hot springs. pai thailand

2. Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam 

Almost everybody agrees that Phu Quoc is about to become Vietnam’s next hot destination, but thankfully the perfect beaches are still mostly empty. You can rent a motorbike (no license needed, no questions asked) and zip up, down, and around the red dirt roads of this island paradise. Then, take a snorkeling or scuba dip. Hurry up, before other people discover the secret. phu quoc

3. Bagan, Myanmar 

Temples seem to pop out of nowhere in Bagan, which has the highest concentration of Buddhist ruins the world. A hot air balloon ride over the temples during the quiet dawn or sunset hours is an absolute must.bagan

4. Mui Ne Sand Dunes, Vietnam 

They’re not far from Saigon, but these sand dunes seem like they belong on another continent entirely. You can sled, bike, or just freely frolic down both white and red mountains of bliss. Be sure to find the Fairy Stream, a magical river with a soft, sandy bottom that flows between dry rocks. mui ne sand dunes

5. Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar 

This is a pristine chain of hundreds of tropical rainforest islands in the Andaman Sea. Check in at one of the two hotels and kayak or sail the uncharted blue waters, where you might run into sea gypsies who, for part of the year, live on boats while they dive for pearls.mergui archipelago

6. Cameron Highlands, Malaysia 

This is one of Southeast Asia’s most popular hill stations, holiday towns at the base of lush, low mountains. Travelers agree the Cameron Highlands are a perfect escape when you’re too hot to withstand another day of astronomically-sizzling Malaysian temperatures. You can tour one of several authentic tea factories before cozying up to a mug overlooking the rolling green hills. cameron highlands

7. Ngwe Saung Beach, Myanmar 

Weary travelers looking to literally escape it all should head to Ngwe Saung, an astonishing NINE MILES of beach that just recently opened to the public. It’s unspoiled, uncrowded, and some of the best scenery you’ll see in Myanmar. ngwe saung beach

8. The Mekong Delta, Vietnam 

The Mekong River creates a rich marshland responsible for the bulk of Vietnam’s rice crops. There are oodles of tiny villages and floating markets to visit, with kindly locals who will gladly let you sample their fruit or teach you to birdwatch. Avoid feeling like a yuppie in a tour boat by biking the Delta— that way, you can see the impressive rice paddies and stop off at destinations on your own. mekong delta

9. Sapa, Vietnam 

There’s nowhere on Earth like Sapa: tiers on tiers of bright-green rice fields are dotted with the colorful clothes of hill-tribe dwellers and roofs of French colonial villas. Sometimes the view gets clouded by a warm, jungle-y mist, but it only makes your day of hiking even prettier. sapa

10. The Marina Bay Sands, Singapore 

This $5.7 billion hotel — which also boasts shopping, a dinosaur museum, and a concert hall — has a yacht-shaped infinity pool teetering on the 57th floor. When you take a swim, it feels like you’re about to spill over the edge and onto glittering Singapore beneath you. 125891354

11. The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand 

It may look ancient, but the White Temple (technically named Wat Rong Khun) was actually designed by a Thai artist in the 1990s, and it’s still a work in progress. A tangle of gnarled statues and outstretched hands — symbolizing the cycle of rebirth — lead you into the temple, where you’ll find intricate (although haunting) murals of Keanu Reeves and planes hitting the Twin Towers.white temple thailand

12. Luang Prabang, Laos 

UNESCO named Luang Prabang a World Heritage Site, partly for its architecture that fuses Asian and European styles together. As in much of Asia, elephant tourism is huge here. But not many places have four-day mahout courses where you can learn to expertly (and humanely) ride elephants as their keepers do.luang prabang

13. Kep, Cambodia 

This seaside village was a hip getaway for wealthy Frenchies in the early 1900s, and it’s about to tip over into another big tourist boom. For now, though, you can feel like a total local in Kep’s tranquil beaches, where cute seafood spots on stilts serve some of the yummiest crab in the world.kep cambodia

14. Mae Sot, Thailand 

“Perfectly remote” might be a good way to describe Mae Sot, which teeters right at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. The crowd here is a zesty mix of Burmese, Thai, hill-tribe natives and Westerners making visa runs. Locals hang out at the town’sherbal sauna and open-air markets, and visitors get a kick out of adorably furry rescued apes at the Highland Farm Gibbon Sanctuary. mae sot

15. Angkor Wat, Cambodia 

This larger-than-life temple complex really is as epic as it looks. The biggest religious monument in the world is surrounded by a wide-open moat– you’ll march down a massive stone causeway to enter a village of temples, life-size stone-carved faces, and giant tree roots that have grown to twist over and around dark, windowed hallways. angkor wat

16. Inle Lake, Myanmar 

This massive, shallow lake is over 13 miles long and a big draw for visitors, as it’s inhabited by many local tribes who set up waterside “workshops” for intriguing traditional crafts. Despite the touristy-ness of it all, most agree Inle is unmissable because of its peaceful floating gardens and entire towns hoisted onto stilts. inle lake

17. Ko Lanta, Thailand 

When backpackers want to visit one of the hundreds of islands off Thailand’s coast, they normally head for the “big names” like Ko Tao (known for its scuba diving) or Ko Phangan (home of the famous full moon parties). These islands are pretty and so are the foreigners that visit them, but for a true Thai experience, try the blissfully emptyKo Lanta, where the National Marine Park protects unpolluted oceans that explode with angelfish. ko lanta

18. Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon, Vietnam 

Viet Cong soldiers used these narrow, claustrophobia-inducing tunnels as hiding places during the Vietnam War. Trap doors in the jungle led down into the underground network, where soldiers suffered from malaria and parasites while guarding food sources. The eeriness is all too real during a modern-day tour. c chi tunnels

19. Chiang Dao, Thailand 

This forested region is a Disneyland for nature junkies complete with waterfalls, hot springs, and incredible limestone cliffs. The biggest attractions of all are the Chiang Dao Caves, which consist of about 100 caverns that extend as far as 40,000 feet into the mountains. You can enter five of the caves alone or with a guide to explore narrow rocky hallways, hanging stalactites and hidden Buddha statues.

chiang dao cave

March 11, 2014, by Editor

Vietnam’s Balancing Strategy

Written by Zachary Keck.

In the face of the growing threat it faces from China, Vietnam is pursuing a shrewd diplomatic strategy that seeks to balance against Beijing while preserving as much autonomy as possible.

Traditional international relations theory suggests that states facing a security threat will balance against that threat in one of two ways. The first is internal balancing—building up one’s own military forces in order to deter or defeat a challenge from a powerful neighbor. If possible, this form of balancing is preferable because it is the most reliable and allows states to retain their autonomy.

The second form of balancing is referred to as external balancing—states pursue alliances with other states that also perceive the powerful neighbor as a threat. External balancing is less desirable to states for two reasons. First, it is less reliable as there is no mechanism to ensure that an ally will come to one’s aid.

Second, alliances force states to surrender some of their autonomy albeit just how much depends on the nature of the alliance. In the worst case scenario, a state that forms a security alliance can become entrapped by an ally in a conflict in which it has no interest in fighting. But even if it avoids entrapment, the prospect of surrendering any autonomy can be a particularly unattractive option for a country like Vietnam which has a long history of colonialism.

Not surprisingly, then, Vietnam is taking some steps to balance internally by building up its armed forces. For example, between 2003 and 2011 Vietnam increased its defense budget by 82 percent. It is also seeking to mitigate tensions with China to the degree that this is possible. Indeed, last October Vietnam hosted Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for a state visit, and the two sides agreed to set up a working group on the South China Sea issue. In December government delegations held border talks.

Then, in January of this year, three Chinese navy ships docked in Ho Chi Minh City for a five day goodwill visit. During the same month, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, vowed to deepen their bilateral comprehensive strategic cooperation. Clearly, then, Vietnam enjoys much more positive relations with China than countries like Japan and the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Hanoi recognizes that relying on Chinese goodwill alone is a losing strategy over the long run. It also understands that it cannot possibly balance against China through internal means alone. After all, China boasts a population that is over 15 times the size of Vietnam’s population; a GDP that is over 58 times larger, and, as of 2011, had a military budget that was almost 52 times the size of Vietnam’s.

Thus, Hanoi’s dilemma—which is not unlike the dilemma facing many middle powers—is to find a way to balance China through external means while preserving the greatest amount of its autonomy. It is achieving this by strengthening ties with as many major powers as possible, without becoming overly reliant on any one country.

In particular, it has been seeking to revive ties with Russia following a post-Soviet nadir in bilateral relations; taking important steps to overcome its historical animosities towards the U.S.; deepening ties with India on a number of fronts, much notably energy cooperation; and pushing for a greater consensus in ASEAN on the South China Sea issue, even as it strengthens bilateral relations with some of ASEAN’s maritime states that share its concern over China’s growing naval power. Recent years has also seen Vietnam and Japan strengthen ties, and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang will in fact be visiting Tokyo for three days next week.

Vietnam’s ability to strengthen ties with all these nations is made possible by a number of different factors. The first is simply the widespread concern in the region over China’s growing power and more assertive diplomatic posture. To some degree or another, China factors into all of the bilateral relations listed above. For some of them, notably Japan and the United States, China is arguably the dominant factor in the relationship.

The second factor is Vietnam’s prized geography and ability to harness these geography to make itself a valuable asset to its various partners. As Asia and particularly Southeast Asia’s economic potential grows, Vietnam’s central maritime real estate makes it important hub connecting different regions. As Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, has put it: “Vietnam is the pivot point of Southeast Asia, occupying a key position along the major corridors that connect the Strait of Malacca with the Northeast Asian economies, as well as those connecting the northeast to the smaller, dynamic economies to the south.”

Nearly as important, Vietnam has been careful to tailor the way it harnesses this geographical centrality to fit the needs of each particular partner. For example, given the prospect of a declining European market, Russia is hoping to greatly expand its oil and natural gas exports to Asia. While much of these will go to Northeast Asian nations, Vietnam can help Russia reach Southeast Asian markets because Vietnam is accessible by water from ports in Russia’s Far East region.

On the other hand, India has to contend with a growing appetite for energy imports that will only continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Thus, Vietnam has made joint energy exploration projects in the South China Sea the cornerstone of its bilateral relationship with India. This has the additional benefit of giving Delhi a larger stake in the outcome of China’s maritime disputes with its Southeast Asian nations.

For the United States and Japan, Vietnam offers an important potential inroad into ASEAN economic markets, and all three states are notably parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. For Washington especially, however, military access is a paramount concern. As a result of China’s growing precision strike missile capabilities, the U.S. is reorienting its military posture in the region to reduce its reliance on large permanent bases in places like Japan and South Korea, which China could destroy in a surprise strike or early on in a conflict. Instead, the U.S. is hoping to gain access to a larger number of more dispersed bases, as well as boost its ability to project power in the South China Sea.

Regaining access to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay naval base is thus an attractive prospect for the United States, and Washington has courted Hanoi accordingly. For example, U.S. Secretaries of Defense and State have made numerous trips to Vietnam throughout the Obama administration, and last year President Obama hosted President Truong Tan Sang at the White House. During this latter meeting Washington and Hanoi established a comprehensive partnership, elevating bilateral relations to the next level.

The benefits for Vietnam of pursuing stronger ties with such a diverse group of nations should be obvious. By not becoming overly dependent on one nation, Hanoi doesn’t have to worry as much about the reliability of any single partner. Similarly, it can retain more of its autonomy, which is especially important for Vietnamese elites in light of the country’s history.

Zachary Keck is Associate Editor of The Diplomat where he authors The Pacific Realist blog. He also writes a monthly column for The National Interest. You can follow Zachary on Twitter @ZacharyKeck.

Vietnam and China: A Dangerous Incident

A new Chinese documentary offers startling revelations from a 2007 confrontation in the South China Sea.

By Scott Bentley
February 12, 2014

In early January 2014, video of a recent CCTV4 documentary “Blue Frontiers Guard” appeared online, providing a detailed history of the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) spanning from roughly 2007 up until the present. The documentary, in Chinese with English subtitles, begins with footage of an incident that occurred on June 30, 2007 between various government vessels from Vietnam and China in the disputed waters off the Paracel islands in the South China Sea. The incident, having previously gone largely unreported, is covered in tremendous detail, providing a new frame of reference for analyzing wider debates over Chinese assertiveness and the U.S. “rebalance” to the region. In addition, the video also provides a number of new insights into organizations such as CMS and its parent organization, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), including the tactics and command and control arrangements of their vessels when out at sea.

The 2007 incident apparently resulted from an attempt by a China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) survey vessel to conduct what the documentary termed “normal operations” in the waters off the Western Paracel islands beginning on June 26 of that year. Such operations are seen as anything but normal by the Vietnamese, who continue to claim the islands despite China having forcefully occupied them since 1974. Hanoi dispatched a fleet consisting largely of naval auxiliary vessels to prevent the Chinese from surveying the waters. A tense standoff ensued, culminating in reckless maneuvers by Chinese CMS vessels that led to a number of serious collisions, threatening the safety of all crews.

The Vietnamese vessels initially expelled the CNPC survey vessel from the area, and the China State Oceanic Administration (SOA) responded by promptly organizing a “rights safeguarding and law enforcement” campaign, dubbed Enforcement Action Code 626. According to the documentary, such operations exist outside the scope of regular enforcement patrols, and in addition to CMS ships already in the vicinity, SOA dispatched CMS vessels numbered 83 and 51 to the area as part of the campaign. They arrived on June 29 and formed up in “alert order,” with two ships both fore and aft on either side of the CNPC vessel, attempting to escort it back into the area for the second time.

After failing to verbally persuade the Vietnamese vessels to leave the area and allow the survey to commence, the CMS vessels first initiated a protective cordon around the CNPC ship, then began to initiate a number of offensive naval maneuvers. These maneuvers began at the lower end of the spectrum with shouldering, but subsequently escalated to direct bow to bridge ramming after the Vietnamese naval auxiliary vessel DN 29broke through the cordon. The offensive actions were undertaken on direct orders from the CMS higher command at SOA, who commanded the captains of the vessels to intentionally initiate collisions with the Vietnamese ships. According to the Deputy Director General of SOA’s South China Sea Bureau, he and other commanding officials were “stressed” over the risk to their own crews’ safety, but nevertheless “asked them to hit other vessels.” Such offensive maneuvers are considered by senior leadership at SOA to be more effective as they preempt possible aggressive maneuvers by the other side. The same SOA official is quoted in the video as stating that “based on our years long operational experience, it is much easier to attack than to defend.” These comments serve as a strong indication that at least some ranking SOA officials have a preference for preemptive action, and that the organization itself, now in charge of the restructured China Coast Guard, could be promoting an offensive operational doctrine.

Rather than rogue or overzealous captains misinterpreting vague guidance, this incident provides conclusive evidence that the impetus for the collisions originated with very specific orders from the upper levels of the organization’s central leadership back on the Chinese mainland. The captains of the CMS vessels view such tactics as tools accessible to them, but only use them following orders from their higher command. As the captain of CMS vessel number 84 states in the video: “as long as the commander gives an order, be it hitting, ramming, or crashing, we will perform our duty resolutely.”

The tactics used in this incident are reminiscent of encounters that took place at sea between the U.S. and USSR in the early years of the Cold War. Recent encounters between the American and Chinese navies elsewhere in the South China Sea, such as that involving the USS Cowpens in December, bring such parallels into stark contrast. While some commentators stressed the role of the activities undertaken by the Cowpensin causing the incident, the 2007 incident off the Paracels begs the question of whether or not the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) shares the same operational doctrine as its ostensibly civilian counterpart. The Cowpens incident reportedly involved the use of similar tactics, with a Chinese amphibious ship shouldering the U.S. destroyer after it was asked but failed to leave the area, eventually leading to a near collision between the two vessels. That there would be doctrinal overlap between the PLAN and SOA is a distinct possibility, with the two organizations continuing to strengthen already close ties as part of plans outlined at a recent annual meeting held between their senior officials.

The CCTV4 documentary is remarkable not only for the level of detail it provides on collisions that occurred in 2007 as a result of Cold War-era tactics, but also because it provides this information in a tone that seemingly condones and even endorses such actions. In addition to comments from SOA officials discussing the “glorious end” to the confrontation, the narrator in the documentary describes it as a “grand battle,” of which the outcome is apparently regarded as successful. The Chinese leadership has reportedly viewed similar incidents as having been settled in China’s favor, including the 2012 standoff at Scarborough Shoal, and may even have begun reformulating a maritime strategy based on the “Scarborough Model.” Yet the CCTV documentary suggests that the “Scarborough Model” is by no means new, and that the operational concept of using civilian maritime law enforcement vessels to conduct maritime “rights safeguarding” or “rights protection” campaigns has quite possibly been in the works for some time, since at least 2007.

These insights also illuminate an important point in the wider debate over what has been referred to as amore assertive or even aggressive Chinese foreign policy, and its relationship to the “pivot” or “rebalancing” policy undertaken by the Obama administration. Despite the initial signs of this newly assertive foreign policy often being traced to the 2009-2010 period, China had already begun as early as 2007 to undertake a series of provocative actions that seemed designed to assert greater authority and jurisdiction over its claims in the South China Sea. The resulting confrontation described above indicates that Chinese assertiveness not only predated the rebalance, but the Obama administration itself.

Scott Bentley is a PHD candidate at the Australian Defence Force Academy (UNSW@ADFA), researching maritime security strategies in Southeast Asia.

Lessons from the Battle of the Paracel Islands

Forty years on, the battle has enduring lessons for Vietnam’s naval modernization.

By Ngo Minh Tri and Koh Swee Lean Collin
January 23, 2014

On January 16, 1974, the Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVN) discovered the presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Crescent Group in the western Paracel Islands, which was held by South Vietnam. This was an unexpected development, because notwithstanding the reduced U.S. military assistance to Saigon after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, and subsequent reduction of South Vietnamese garrisons on the islands, the Chinese had not taken unilateral actions to subvert the status quo – by which the Amphitrite Group in the eastern Paracels and the Crescent Group were respectively under Chinese and South Vietnamese control.

Over the next two days, the opposing naval forces jostled with one another in close-proximity maneuvers off the islands, before a firefight erupted as the South Vietnamese troops attempted to recapture Duncan Island. The skirmish subsequently escalated with overwhelming Chinese reinforcements deployed to the clash zone, including close air support staged from nearby Hainan Island and missile-armed Hainan-class patrol vessels. Shorn of American naval support, given that the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet was then scaling down its presence in the South China Sea following the peace accords of 1973, the RVN was utterly defeated. Beijing swiftly exploited the naval victory with an amphibious landing in force to complete its control of all the Paracel Islands.

The Battle of the Paracel Islands has since gone down history as the first Sino-Vietnamese naval skirmish in the quest for control over the South China Sea isles. The Sino-Vietnamese naval skirmish in the nearby Spratly Islands in 1988 was the second and final such instance. Since then, tensions have eased. There have been continued exchanges at the ruling party level and between the countries’ militaries (including the hosting of a PLA Navy South Sea Fleet delegation to a Vietnamese naval base). Beijing and Hanoi have also recently inaugurated mutual consultations on joint marine resource development in the South China Sea.

However, the Battle of Paracel Islands in 1974 yields some useful and enduring lessons for Hanoi and its ongoing naval modernization in the South China Sea, particularly in the face of geopolitical developments.

Enduring Lesson #1: Diplomacy is the First Recourse… But Not the Sole Recourse

No international and regional treaties constitute perfect safeguards against unilateral action, including threat or use of force. The landmark Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea inked in 2002 between China and the Southeast Asian claimants has not been entirely successful. In fact, unilateral actions aimed at subverting the status quo in the South China Sea by threat or use of force has continued to dominate. Recent video footage revealed by China’s CCTV in January 2014 showed a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese law enforcement ships off the Paracel Islands back in 2007. More recent, recurring incidents included the harassment of Vietnamese survey ships by Chinese vessels, the Sino-Philippine maritime standoff in the Scarborough Shoal in April 2012 and, later, the show of force by Chinese surveillance ships and naval frigates off the Philippine-held Second Thomas Shoal. These episodes bear an eerie resemblance to the sort of naval jostling that led to the skirmish back in 1974.

Even as the South China Sea claimants engaged in consultations on a Code of Conduct, upon unilaterally declaring an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea in December 2013, Beijing declared indisputable rights to create ADIZs in other areas if it so desired. An ADIZ over the South China Sea, if ever established, would undoubtedly strengthen Beijing’s hand over the disputed waters, augmenting regular unilateral fishing bans, an earlier expanded maritime law enforcement authority for the Hainan authorities as well as the latest Chinese fisheries law requiring foreign fishing vessels to seek permission from Beijing to operate in much of the South China Sea. These developments, if they continue unabated, will only heighten the risk of accidental or premeditated clashes in the disputed waters.

Enduring Lesson #2: Extra-regional Powers Neither Always Stay… Nor Always Help

There has been growing interest among extra-regional powers in the South China Sea. Besides the U.S. Asia-Pacific rebalancing, Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has intensified its Southeast Asian diplomatic offensive, one of the objectives being to promote Tokyo’s territorial stance in the East China Sea. Vietnam has become one of the major beneficiaries of this development. During the 4th U.S.-Vietnam Defense Policy Dialogue held in Washington in late October 2013, an agreement was reached to enhance maritime security cooperation. In the same month, Tokyo was reportedly keen to supply patrol vessels as part of a plan to bolster Vietnam’s maritime security capacity-building efforts. Also notable, Hanoi is enjoying budding defense ties with New Delhi, having hosted regular Indian Navy port visits in the past decade.

Still, none of the extra-regional powers has taken any side on the South China Sea disputes, preferring to focus only on freedom of navigation. This means that even though Washington or Tokyo have legitimate reasons to intervene if vital sea lines of communications through the South China Sea are threatened by the specter of armed conflict, any extra-regional help is far from certain. For instance, even if the U.S. Pacific Command is able to detect tell-tale signs of unusual Chinese military movements in the South China Sea, it may not be able to react in time. The U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet, as part of the rebalancing strategy, has intensified maritime surveillance in the area: the new Littoral Combat Ship U.S.S. Freedom is said to be conducting more than mere training missions in the area while the U.S. Navy was reported to have stepped up maritime aerial surveillance since July 2012.

However, during the skirmish in 1974 Saigon sought assistance from the U.S. Seventh Fleet, but it was under orders not to intervene in the disputes and no help arrived for the RVN off the Paracels. Washington is likely to adopt the same stance today, even if a renewed Sino-Vietnamese naval clash were to erupt, especially in localized contexts that do not necessarily impinge upon freedom of navigation by other users. Moreover, the present and future PLA Navy South Sea Fleet is no longer the same run-down, coastal-oriented force operating Soviet-era small patrol and attack forces it used to be. With its steady accumulation of force projection capabilities, including amphibious assault, the PLA Navy is in a better position than back in 1974 to deploy sizeable forces over sustained durations at greater distances to assert sovereignty, and its overall combat power will be far more potent if ever unleashed in the South China Sea.

Enduring Lesson #3: The Need for At Least Limited Sea Control Capabilities

There is no way for Vietnam to quantitatively match the PLA naval capabilities in the South China Sea. Consistent with Hanoi’s policy pronunciations, an arms race with China is not only impossible in the first place, but is considered potentially detrimental to Vietnam’s ongoing Renovation process. Vietnam’s post-Cold War naval modernization has been predicated on filling capacity shortfalls after previous decades of neglect. In recent years, the Vietnam People’s Navy had made notable strides in acquiring new hardware to replace the ageing Soviet-era equipment. However, the new, mostly Russian-supplied capabilities, such asGepard-3.9 light frigates, Kilo-class submarines, Su-30MK2V Flanker multi-role fighters equipped for maritime strike and Yakhont/Bastion coastal defense missile batteries, Dutch-built SIGMA-class corvettes as well as locally-built coastal patrol and attack craft all point to a force modernization pathway based primarily on denying an adversary access to the disputed zone. They do not suggest an ability to secure Vietnam’s own access.

Yet, the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974 highlighted the need to not just deny an adversary from blockading the South China Sea features but also to secure Vietnam’s own access to those exposed and vulnerable garrisons. Only a shift from sea denial to sea control can hope to attain that. Given the durable peace along the land borders with her neighbors, Vietnam should logically emphasize air-sea warfighting capabilities. For status quo-oriented Vietnam, much akin to what Saigon was back in 1974, the foreseeable combat scenario in a renewed South China Sea clash will encompass the need for Vietnamese forces to recapture seized features, or at least reinforce existing garrisons in the face of hostile attack. Under this scenario, Vietnam’s defense predicament is perhaps no different from Japan’s with respect to the East China Sea dispute. Tokyo has outlined in its recent new defense strategy the need for robust, integrated mobile defense, which envisaged the need for the Self-Defense Force to recapture the East China Sea isles in times of hostilities. Certainly Vietnam cannot hope to muster the same range of capabilities as Japan could, given economic constraints. To build at least limited sea control capabilities, Hanoi ought to focus on improving early warning and expanding amphibious sealift capacity.

Existing Vietnamese early warning capabilities are vested in a static electronic surveillance network arrayed along the Vietnamese mainland coast and in occupied South China Sea features, augmented only in recent years by maritime patrol aircraft of the Vietnamese navy and coastguard. These planes are mainly designed for surface surveillance, yet are handicapped in endurance and lack adequate anti-submarine warfare capabilities especially in view of the increasing PLA submarine challenge. A high-endurance maritime patrol aircraft fitted with longer-range sensors will be appropriate, and arguably more survivable than static installations. The Vietnam Naval Infantry, which specializes in amphibious assault and has been streamlined over the decades, has become a leaner yet meaner force with the acquisition of better equipment. Still, it remains short on amphibious sealift capacity, given that the Soviet and ex-U.S. vintage landing ships were too old and mostly no longer operational. Hanoi’s fledgling naval shipbuilders have so far produced a small handful of new assault transports ostensibly to fill this gap. However, more such vessels are required to enable the Vietnam Naval Infantry to project more substantial forces with greater rapidity in order to reinforce the South China Sea garrisons or to recapture them from an adversary.

Final Thoughts

The Battle of the Paracel Islands might have happened a long forty years ago. Still, even though the South China Sea has seen relative peace, it pays for Hanoi to remain vigilant by sustaining the pace of its naval modernization attempts. While diplomacy is the preferred recourse and extra-regional powers have become more heavily involved in the region, adequate military power in the form of defense self-help remains necessary, especially when the area continues to be fraught with uncertainty. Compared to the RVN, for now and in the foreseeable future the Vietnam People’s Navy and Air Force faces a challenge far greater than before in preserving the status quo in the South China Sea.

Ngo Minh Tri is Managing Editor of the Thanh Nien newspaper, based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Koh Swee Lean Collin is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University based in Singapore. This article reflects the personal viewpoints of the authors and not representative of their respective organizations.

Interesting article about the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Legend of the Ho Chi Minh trail


Please ask, about our Ho Chi Minh Trail tours!


Ho Chi Minh trail,
painting by Veteran Larry Chambers

The Legend of the Ho Chi Minh trail, there are few brand names to match that of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the secret, shifting, network of deep jungle tracks that led to the Victory for Vietnam war.

Ho Chi Minh Trail  Sam-missile

SA 2 Surface to Air missile, Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos,
Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail huey-1 ban Dong war museum

Huey helicopter used in the Lamson battle at the Ban Dong war museum

Well here I sit in Laos again, I have been putting around the place on and off for 10 years now. Mostly traveling by motorcycle, no surprise there. However I am now into offroading. This little hobby started around 1999 when I took my first backpacking trip after 15 years sailing around the globe on my sailboat Espritdemer. This land trip took in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. All countries I was able to rent bikes with the exception of Laos. And Laos, in those years was just opening up to tourism. Well so off to Singapore and buy a bike. Were I found a trusty ole Xl600 Honda. This good ole bike made many trips up through Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Borneo. To cut a long story short eventually I moved down to a smaller more nimble bike an XR400. In around 2003 I discovered the ancient Kymer Empire known as Ankor Wat. Cambodia at the time was just coming out of the Kymer Rouge era and the country was in a shambles with and dilapidated road network, which had more oxcarts than cars in the country. Well with the combination of great offroad riding and the lure of ancient temples in the Jungles. (Indiana Jones). I spent a few seasons with my GPS mapping, discovering many ancient temples and ancient road networks across the land. Wow great fun and memories, until development caught up with the place and it became a bit ordinary. The fantastic temples, surrounded by landmine signs with skull and crossbones that I would camp inside, would now have ticket gates guards and tourists!!

So my attention turned northwards towards Laos and in the theme of ancient roads, the Ho Chi Minh trails were the next target. Of course with all the GPS gear from the boat and a few navigation skills. I used the incredible US Military maps to find the old trails which were intact, lots of war junk along the trails and the main source of income for the locals was selling the metal to the Vietnamese which was then melted down in smelters.

So blah blah blah. After a few years of this great fun I continued to map the whole of the country and produce the LaosGPSmap which you can see on the web site.

However the Ho Chi Minh trail continues to be a passion, In fact I am writing this from Xepon site of one of the biggest battles of war. The Lao and Vietnamese are have a huge celebration and dedication ceremony at the new war museum here at Ban Dong.

UXO Laos, Attepue province

UXO Laos, Attepue province


Ho Chi Minh Trail chinese built -tank

Chinese tank on road 96 Ho Chi Minh trail
appears to have toppled down the side of the hill and been buried, This tank lay underground until the ADB funded road was cut and an excavator uncovered this perfectly intact specimen, although a little dirty , live artillery shells and equipment were still inside the cockpit

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank turret

Tank turret Aimed at the Sihanouk trail Southern Laos, Ho Chi Minh trail
What a fantastic view from this road looking into the Attepue valley.

Ho Chi Minh Trail turret

Chinese built, T 58 tank with gun and turret, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail inside tank

Inside the cockpit when this tank was uncovered, the 2 squares in front of the driver, are prisms so the tank can be operated without opening the hatch, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail tank speedometer-and-black-box

speedometer and tachometer from Chinese built tank, One can only speculate that this tank fell off the side of the hill then was buried by a landslide? on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail-saved road

This section of “The trail” was “saved” When the Belgian Cooperation upgraded the road in 2008.
This road was heavily used during the war to transport guns and ammo, however the original construction was during the French era.

Ho Chi Minh Trail lookout

After a very long days exploring, many trees were blocking the road, lucky I had my saw with me. I managed to hack through the jungle and found myself on this perch overlooking Sepon.
This was the site of Anti Aircraft gun emplacements, remains of bunkers can be found along this ridge.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Lamson-battle-map

My bike. photo above, is on LZ Sophia overlooking the Xepon valley scene of the Battle of Lamson

Ho Chi Minh Trail Landing Zone sophia lamson

File Photo, March 1971 Lz Sophia,

Ho Chi Minh Trail white cliffs truck

NVA truck remains, on “the trail” known as White Cliffs by the American pilots,
Ho Chi Minh Trail Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Xe Bangfai Ford

Xe Bangfai Ford
Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos,
This recently built ford (2012) will soon be a bridge as road upgrading takes place.


Bomb Boat Nose

Bomb Boat Nose


Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Bac Ammo Dump

The infamous Ban Bac ammo dump.
My camp site was a few hundred meters to the North, I was quite surprised when I woke up from my campsite in the remote jungle, and found there were others camping in the area.
These guys were marooned here for 6 weeks as they had no fuel to get the trucks out. They told me the “company” did not have any money for fuel.

Ho Chi Minh trail jet-engine

Rusting jet engine from a crash site near Dak Cheung Southern Laos


Pratt and Whitney jet engine from a US warplane


Ho Chi Minh Trail-fuel-pod

Ho-chi-minh-trail, “Drop Tank” , Along road 12 Southern Laos, discarded during the Vietnam war.


Scrap metal yard Xekong Province Southern Laos

Scrap metal yard Xekong Province Southern Laos


Pt 76 hiding in the weeds along side the road Pou Khoud

Pt 76 hiding in the weeds along side the road Pou Khoud


Ho Chi Minh Trail-helmet

Helmet found along the trail Sekong

Ho Chi Minh Trail-helmet flower pot

Phanop Valley helmet is used as a planter in local village. Chinese or Russian perhaps.


Ho Chi Minh Trail Bombie-casings

Saravanh Southern Laos, a stack of Bombie casings waiting to be melted for scrap metal.


Ho Chi Minh Trail bomb-garden

Bombs in the garden, Xekong Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban Bac Ammo Dump weapons cache

Weapons cache found along route 96 Ho Chi Minh trail. Weapons , fuel drums and artillery, were buried along the trail to protect it from the deadly bombs that rained down continuously.
Chinese 82mm mortar shell carrier for Type 67 Chi Com mortar

Ho Chi Minh Trail Fuel Pod, kids

Village kids examining a fuel pod being constructed as a boat Phanop valley Ho
chi Minh trail Southern Laos



Having a rest on a Gun Turret Ho Chi Minh Trail

Having a rest on a Gun Turret Ho Chi Minh Trail


Ho Chi Minh Trail Kids in trough

Kids in a village Ta Oy District Southern Laos

LaosGPSmap Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh trail route 96 near Ta Oy southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail-Ta-Oy

Just North of Ta Oy Southern Laos is an old section of the Ho Chi Minh trail


Ho Chi Minh Trail-Ta-Oy Samouy-village-scene

Samouay Southern Laos a village along the Ho Chi Minh trail


Navigators information for bombing mission

Navigators information for bombing mission


Fighter pilots Mission cards

Fighter pilots Mission cards


Ho Chi Minh Trail-Ta-Oy Samouy-tribal longhouse

Tribal Longhouse Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos


Map warning Danger

Map warning Danger


Howitzer left over from the Secret war Northern Laos

Howitzer left over from the Secret war Northern Laos



Ho Chi Minh trail bomb-waterfall

750 Pound bomb lying along the Ho Chi Minh trial in Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Dakpok Kao village-water-supply

Village of Dakpok Kao fresh clear stream feeds the outdoor bathing and water supply, on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Katu Villager

Deep into the Anamite mountain chain along the Ho Chi Minh trail, local villager and child gathering wood.


Ho Chi Minh Trail River boat

A forgotten area of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a farmer clears his land to discover a Vietnamese riverboat bound for the Xekong river at Ban Bac.


Ho Chi Minh trail Bamboo tunnel

Ho Chi Minh trail Bamboo tunnel


Ho Chi Minh Trail gun

Ho Chi Minh trail Laos, gun remains near Ta Oy


Ho Chi Minh Trail gun tank-barrel

Tank muzzle appears out of a pile of rocks amid flowers along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail tribal villager

Tribal woman smoking traditional cigar, Dak Cheung, Southern Laos


Ho Chi Minh Trail tribal cerimonial-house

Ceremonial house Xekong Southern Laos along the Ho Chi Minh trail


Ho Chi Minh Trail amputee

Ta Oy villager who lost his arm while searching for UXO. White cliffs in the background


Ho Chi Minh Trail scrap metal hunters

After the war, the collection and sale of war debris turned into a valuable scrap metal industry for tribes’ people in Xieng Khouang province and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Bomb casings, aircraft fuel tanks and other bits and pieces that were not sold to Thailand have been put to every conceivable use in rural Laos. They are used as cattle troughs, fence posts, flower pots, stilts for houses, water carriers, temple bells, knives and ploughs.Kids with metal detectors are on scrap metal hunt the only source of income for many Laos, Collectors often spend weeks or even month on end in the thick jungle, dragging large pieces of Vietnam War-era scrap metal to the roadside, awaiting pickup by transport trucks …
Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail XML-mining-clearance

XML mining company Xepon Southern Laos, EOD technician clearing an area to be mined for Gold.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Tank Ban Dong

Remains M41 Walker BulldogBetween Aloui and Landing Zone Alpha, the armored column was ambushed at a stream crossing and four M41 tanks were abandoned in the middle of the stream isolating the 11th Armored Cavalry on the west bank. The airborne soldiers abandoned the cavalry and kept on marching east down QL 9. No reinforcements were sent and no recovery vehicles came to remove the abandoned tanks. The 11th fought on alone, and after three hours cleared a way across but had to leave seventeen disabled vehicles on the west side of the stream. The NVA used the vehicles as machine gun positions until the vehicles were destroyed on 25 March,Ban Dong, Laos, Ho chi Minh trailThe next day, the 1st Armored Brigade and a paratrooper battalion were ordered to go back and recover the 17 damaged tanks and APCs left behind by the 11th Cav. Once again American air cover had been promised and once again it was diverted. The brigade succeeded in picking up the vehicles and had the 17 vehicles in tow when, once again, they were ambushed crossing a river near Aloui. The four lead M-41 tanks were hit with RPGs blocking the route. For three hours the South Vietnamese fought to survive until the disabled tanks were pushed aside and the column could move. All the vehicles that were being towed as well as the four M41s were left behind and later destroyed by Cobras



A forgotten area of jungle on the Ho Chi Minh trail.


Ho Chi Minh trail bridge road 110

Near “The Falls Chokepoint” old Rt110 is a bridge used during the war still standing, A good place to hang your hammock for the night.


M 113 US Armored Personnel Carrier Laos Ho Chi Minh trail

M 113 US Armored Personnel Carrier Laos Ho Chi Minh trail


Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua


Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua


Ho Chi Minh Trail logging-truck

The Old Ho Chi Minh trail used for Logging Attepue District


Ho Chi Minh Trail pysops-flyer

Psyops campaign
The US engaged in leaflet dropping from planes, however it is not known how the NVA distributed these flyers?
These were found by the author at the Ban Bac ammo dump buried in a pit with other war supplies and ammunition. 2006
The Ho Chi Minh Trail


Ho Chi Minh Trail Psyops-Flyer

Psyops flyers from Ban Bac ammo dump, burried in a bunker. Found by the Author. 2006


Ho Chi Minh Trail Ban La Hap road, 96

Ho Chi minh trail road South of Muang Nong Southern Laos. This is road number 96


Tourism comes to the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail crash site wing

The Author,Don Duvall, with a wing from an undocumented (JPAC) F4 fighter lost near Dak Cheung Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail bombie-casings fenceHo Chi Minh Trail bombie-casings fence

Bombie casing, fence along the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail PT 76 Russian Light Tank

PT-76 is a Soviet amphibious light tank, this is a good example of this old design, at a local army base.
In February 1968 the NVA brought PT-76 light tanks down the trail to attack the Lang Vei Special Forces camp.The camp was just inside the Vietnam border from Laos. Captain Frank Willoughby, Lang Vei camp Commander, had one sitting on top of his command bunker after the attack. Although I was not involved, my unit at Forward Operating Base-3, Khe Sanh Combat Base, organized and conducted the relief operation that rescued him and the other camp personnel.

Ho Chi Minh Trail russia-tank

Derelict Russian PT-76 tank Phonsavon Northern Laos


Ho Chi Minh Trail Fac Plane remains

Fac plane used for spotting along the Ho Chi Minh trail


Ho Chi Minh Trail T 28 fighte Plane remains

Wreck of T 28 fighter Savannakhet province Southern Laos


Ho Chi Minh Trail bombie-house

Stables held up with Bombie casings, Saravanh Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Bomb Bell

Old bombs make good bells, Xekong Southern Laos


Ho Chi Minh Trail dogtag

Dogtag found on the Laos Cambodian border

Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail Pick Axe

This young boy holding a Pick Axe found on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail S-75 Dvina Sam missile

S-75 Dvina Sam missile,this missile was better known by the NATO designation SA-2 Guideline, used to knock out B 52′s Attepue
Since its first deployment in 1957 it has become the most widely-deployed air defense missile in history.
The SA-2 missile had a solid fuel booster rocket that launched and accelerated it, then dropped off after about six seconds. While in boost stage, the missile did not guide. During the second stage, the SA-2 guided, and a liquid-fuel rocket propelled it to the target
Range: Minimum 5 miles; maximum effective range about 19 miles; maximum slant range 27 miles
Ceiling: Up to 60,000 ft.
Warhead: 288-lb. blast-fragmentation
Speed: Mach 3.5
Weight: 4,850 lbs

Ho Chi Minh Trail  Sam-missile

Jan 2013 Pa am Village Southern Laos, sam missile

Ho Chi Minh Trail first-stage-sam

The remains of an unsuccessful launch of a SA-2 Sam Missile, Shown here is he solid rocket booster first stage which dropped off after 6 seconds
Xepon, Ho Chi Minh trail, Laos
The SA-2 did not operate alone, but as part of a complete system. A typical SA-2 site in North Vietnam had six missiles on launchers, control and support vans, a Spoon Rest acquisition radar, and a Fan Song guidance radar.

Ho Chi Minh Trail  Sam-missile 2

Saved from the Scrap-metal hunters by government decree.
Sam SA-2 is a popular tourist attraction outside of Attepue at Ban Paam on the Ho Chi Minh trail.


Ho Chi Minh Trail sam-support-truck

Russian Zil truck used as radar control center for Sam Missile, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Sam radar-control

Mobile radar used in conjunction with the S-75 Dvna missile system, Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail radar-control-door

Gun rack on the door to the radar control room, maybe the operator was worried he would have to defend himself against his superiors if his missile shot missed!

Ho Chi Minh Trail radar-control-monitor

Fortunately I do some mapping work with the military here, and a friend allowed me access to some of this ancient but Magic stuff!
Radar and controls inside the command module, note the curtain to keep out the light for visibility on the CRT, just to the right of the radar control is a gun rack with weapons at the ready.
I wonder how many “kills” this one had? I looked around to see if there were anything like “a notch in the gun stock” , however I did not see any thing.

Ho Chi Minh Trail radar-control intructions

Radar command instructions and rows of buttons this is well before the days of integrated circuits and computers, the success rate of this system was low.

Ho Chi Minh Trail pysops-flyer

NVA propaganda flyer found at Ban Bac ammo dump by Don Duvall of LaosGPSmap. This Psyops flyer with racial implications!
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail Anti Aircraft gun

37 mm automatic air defense gun
AAA gun emplacement, Sihanook trail Cambodia Pnom Bok

Ho Chi Minh Trail Gun Barrel

Rifliing inside a cannon at the Ban Dong war museum

Ho Chi Minh Trail scrap metal forge

Villagers using war scrap to fabricate Knives, Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail melting-war-scrap

Kamuane Province Laos, Villagers use homemade apparatus for smelting war scrap for making knives

anvil ho Chi Minh trail

Artillery shell used as an anvil Ban Phanop Ho Chi Minh Trail.


Ho Chi Minh trail bomb-carry

Villagers salvaging a partially exploded bomb from the Jungle along road 110 Southern Laos.


Ho Chi Minh Trail Target Alpha scrap-metal hunters

Ho Chi Minh trail, Target Alpha, one of the heavily bomb “Choke Points” along the Ho Chi Minh trail. 2013 there is still plenty of UXO (unexploded ordinance) to be found. These scap metal hunters from Ban Ta Hua are on a mission.


War Era Maps of the Ho Chi Minh trail Published by the National Defense Mapping Agency Washington DC

Ban Laboy Ford, on the Nam Te Le river, Now known as the Xe Bangfi, War Era Maps of the Ho Chi Minh trail Published by the National Defense Mapping Agency Washington DC


Ban laboy Ford, I camped beside the river and was awoken by villagers ( 1:00 am) whom had walked over the mountain in search of scrap metal to sell at the market. That was a cold night.
This was the area of Harleys valley, and famous rescue attempt of Lance Peter Sijan.
F-4C was engulfed in a ball of fire, due to the bomb fuses malfunctioning and causing a premature detonation on their release. The fighter went down in a fireball and Sijan ejected into the jungle.He evaded enemy forces for 46 days (all the time scooting on his back down the rocky limestone karst on which he landed, causing more injuries). He was finally captured by the North Vietnamese on Christmas Day, 1967. When captured, he was sent to Hanoi. In his weakened state, he contracted pneumonia and died in Hoa Lo Prison (the notorious Hanoi Hilton).His courage was an inspiration to other American prisoners of war and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour
“Into the Mouth of the Cat” by Malcolm McConnell, is a great book describing this story.
Ban Laboy ford,“The target was near a junction of main vehicle infiltration routes on the part of the Trail the Americans had designated LOC 101. It lay in wild, uninhabited, triple-canopy forest, surrounded by sheer chimneys and towers of limestone called karsts that rose from the narrow jungle valleys.”
Bomber air crews continued to rotate between Anderson AFB, Kadena AB and U Tapao Royal Thai Airfield allowing for the maximum number of sorties
from the crew force. A major ongoing objective in September of 1968 was interdiction of the supply routes from North to South Vietnam to preempt a
logistics buildup and offensive campaign by the enemy. The B-52 effort was concentrated in the areas of Ban Karai and Mu Gia Passes and Ban Laboy Ford.
From mid-May through mid-September, it was estimated that over 1,800 trucks moving supplies South crossed the Ban Laboy Ford. The ford consisted of a
prepared ford, a cable bridge and a cable ferry/pontoon bridge across the Nam Ta Le River. On 18 September, 18 B-52s and 12 F-105s attacked the
Ban Laboy Ford destroying the pontoon bridge and damaging the cable bridge. The main ford, however, remained intact.
From 20 September until 1 October, Tac Air continued to pound the ford but was unable to destroy it. On 1 October, six B-52s salvoed 108 bombs each,
resulting in bomb trains of 780 feet and a direct hit on the ford. For the first time in three years the Ban Laboy Ford was closed.
Repair efforts were thwarted by continuous Tac Air and Arc Light strikes.

Ban Laboy young tribal villager poses with leaning on a bomb at the Ban Laboy ford

A young tribal villager poses, leaning on a bomb at the Ban Laboy ford


Rusting pontoon ferry sits on the side of the Ho Chi Minh trail

Jock Montgomery discovers the Ban Laboy pontoon bridge, lying silent in the clear waters of the Xe Bangfai, downstream of the Ban Laboy Ford. This bridge carried a large amount of traffic down the Ho Chi Minh trail Photo Jock Montgomery Photography


December 2012 View, of the Ban Laboy Ford



Road to Ban Laboy steep karst mountains surround this valley with lots of caves.



Another view of the area known as “Harleys Valley” This small area was named for U.S. Airforce Captain Lee Dufford Harley a Forward Air Controller flying a single engine O-1 Bird Dog aircraft who was shot down by ground fire at this location and presumed killed.



Smack on the Border with Laos Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh trail, Mother and child at a scrap metal sellers house.



Scrap metal collector on the Vietnamese border, a slowly dying industry.



Ban Laboy village very few houses remain, the ones that do are used for stockpiling scrap metal for recycleing.

Armored personel carrier, turret, at a local restaurant. The restaurant is gone now making way for a new Government Administration building.Muang Nong


Suspension bridge of the Xepon river, on the Ho Chi Minh trail


Guest house with a reminder of the war, Muang Nong Southern Laos

Anti Aircraft gun poking out of the undergrowth Muang Phin Southern Laos along old RT 23 Ho Chi Minh trail


War remains outside a Vietnamese shop-house Kulum District Laos

The Red Princes bridge, a vital part of the Ho Chi Minh trail destroyed by US bombing in 1967

UXO quarantine, UXO Laos, compound at Ta Oy District

500 lb bombs under the porch at Ban Phanop Jan 2012,
Known in the business as a “quick strike mine”. 
These bombs are fused with magnetic trip mechanism, MK30 mod 0 arming device, designed to be dropped into rivers acting as mines, or detonate by the magnetic signatures of vehicles,when a tank or truck rolls past! These were often fitted with high-drag “Snakeye” tailfins used for low-altitude release
“Please treat with care and do not roll, tumble or drop”
Ho Chi Minh trail

Quick strike mines being deployed, with snakeye tailfins, from an aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh trail

Snakeye along the road, this sitting in front of a villagers house means its for sale, as scrap metal, Kaluem Southern Laos


Operation Igloo White, Spikebuoy
It began as “the McNamara Line” across Vietnam. It led to the seeding of the Ho Chi Minh Trail by air with 20,000 sensors
The sensors—a network of some 20,000 of them—were planted mostly by Navy and Air Force airplanes, although some of them were placed by special operations ground forces. They were dropped in strings of five or six to be sure that at least three sensors in each string would survive and be activated. The sensors operated on batteries, which ran down after a few weeks, so replacement sensors had to be dropped.
Most of the sensors were either acoustic or seismic. There were two kinds of acoustic sensors, both derived from the Navys Sonobuoy, to which microphones and batteries were added. These sensors could hear both vehicles and voices.


Claymore mine, a directional anti-personnel mine used by the U.S. Forces, detonation via remote control. Photo Muang Laman southern Laos


The “Vault” at Muang Xepon, one of the last things standing after the vicious battle of Lamson.

Xepon, Wat, showing scars from the battle of Lam Son
719,Operation Lam Son 719, was a limited-objective offensive campaign conducted in southeastern portion of the Kingdom of Laos by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) between 8 February and 25 March 1971, during the Vietnam War. The United States provided logistical, aerial, and artillery support to the operation, but its ground forces were prohibited by law from entering Laotian territory. The objective of the campaign was the disruption the Ho Chi Minh Trail of a possible future offensive by the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN),Gps lao, Hi Chi Minh trail
Tchepone itself was just a small village but around it the PAVN had established sanctuary base 604, the main base for attacks in Quang Tri Province, and base 611, south of 604 and closer to the border, used to launch attacks against the city of Hue and Thua Thien province. These base areas consisted of many small storage depots and five large storage areas, each between 1 to 2 square kilometers, stocked with weapons, ammunitions, logistic supplies, medical supplies and rations. Other areas around Tchepone were used for troop replacement and training. For a week ARVN troops wandered about the two base camps methodically destroying everything in sight or using artillery, tac air or gunships to destroy the depots. Over 9,700 secondary explosions were documented, sometimes continuing for a half hour after the initial strike. The NVA were in a state of shock at Tchepone, over 5,000 were killed in the depot area – mostly rear area troops or troops in rest centers – with another 69 captured as air cavalry roamed the area unopposed. Thousands of tons of enemy supplies were destroyed and a POL pipeline was cut in several places. Almost 4,000 captured enemy weapons were airlifted out and brought back to Viet Nam.


Finely crafted canoes on the Xepon river made from Downed US aircraft. Phou Tapang 649 meters, in the background, where NVA Anti Aircraft emplacements were found..

Machine gun, Karum District Laos, Ho Chi Minh trail

Very long, 100 or more, “Bombie casing “fence near Ban Laboy
Ho Chi Minh Trail Southern Laos

Armored personnel carrier Chinese type YW531 leftover from the Vietnam war.carries a maximum of 15 including crew, Mounted astern is a 12.7 mm machine gun
Ta Oy Ho Chi Minh trail


Vietnamese ammo box found at Ban Bac, Ho Chi Minh trail

Helicopter near war memorial Rt 9 and 23
Ho Chi Minh trail Muang Phin, Route 23 heavily used Ho Chi Minh trail, in the early stages of the war. Later roads were built farther East, significantly shortening the distance the supply trucks had to travel, to deliver their goods.



Finally found, tunnels that the 559 NVA commanded the Lamson battle. Dec 2012 a stroke of luck finding this cave system. I was lucky to run accross 3 elderly villagers melting war scrap for knives to harvest their rice, after a brief conversation and some quite animated talk about the war. They agreed to take me to this cave system. the surrounding area was full of bunkers and a hidden network of trenches to approach the entrance.Ho Chi Minh trail 559-Headquarters-caveInteresting they told me I was the first foreigner to ever visit this cave.



Ban Lahap at the crossroads of RT 92 and 922
Target Oscar Eight. This was one of the most important points along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This was the headquarters of the 559th Transportation Regiment of the NVA, the unit responsible for maintenance of the road network, traffic management, road security, and the correct routing of men and supplies. This was also a major choke point for truck traffic headed east along Route 922 to the A Shau Valley in I Corps, and traffic headed further south on Route 92 destined for the Kontum, Pleiku, and Ban Me Thout regions in South Vietnam.
Neither Route 92 nor Route 922 existed before the NVA decided they needed all weather access into South Vietnam for their trucks. The NVA road builders built these roads through rugged terrain, and camouflaged them well that FACs would often have to fly close to the ground to see them.
This intersection was heavily bombed by U.S. Air Force fighter bombers and B-52s. U.S. Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunships also conducted night time “truck plinking” missions here.
Recon teams from MACV/SOG made frequent insertions into this area in attempts to interdict traffic, either directly via Hatchet Force missions, or indirectly by calling in air strikes. The NVA detected practically every SOG insertion into this area and the SOG teams fought many vicious battles with NVA security regiments in this area, taking many casualties.
also the area of Target Oscar 8, a vicious series of battles took place here. On the ridge top to the left are foxholes and mortar shells from AAA artilery, along with caves were the gunners hid when B52 strikes were taking place.


Image of a jet fighter carved into this shop-house on the Ho Chi Minh trail near Xekong Southern Laos


Black smith using war materials for making knives, The two vertical tubes are flair tube canisters, operating as a makeshift bellows for the coal. Anvil is an artillery shell, Aluminum bucket most likely made from a downed aircraft of which were many in this area. Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Symbol of war, on a Ta Oy village headman’s house


Taring-meeting-house, near Dac Cheung Laos



Old woman and a baby, Ban Taloung on the Ho Chi Minh trail



A lost and forgotten section of the Ho Chi Minh trail.


These large fuel tanks built inside a cave with a small opening, obviously they were built inside the cave perfectly safe from the bombs raining down/

F 4- C, Phantom wingtip (Boxer 22) salvaged from a crash site near, Ban Phanop Southern Laos The pilot (Ben Danielson, KIA) and navigator ejected after being hit with Anti aircraft fire over the Phanop valley. Shortly thereafter, one of the biggest rescue missions of the conflict ensued. A total of 336 sorties (bombing runs) participated in this rescue. 21 different types of ordnance was used, 20mm canon fire to air to ground missiles. Ten helicopters and five A-1s suffered battle damage.This was an amazing example of the effort expended by the US to save a downed crew member. This wingtip is now Prominently displayed at the Wat in the Northern part of the village. Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

F 4- C, Phantom wingtip (Boxer 22) salvaged from a crash site near, Ban Phanop Southern Laos
The pilot (Ben Danielson, KIA) and navigator ejected after being hit with Anti aircraft fire over the Phanop valley. Shortly thereafter, one of the biggest rescue missions of the conflict ensued.
A total of 336 sorties (bombing runs) participated in this rescue. 21 different types of ordnance was used, 20mm canon fire to air to ground missiles. Ten helicopters and five A-1s suffered battle damage.This was an amazing example of the effort expended by the US to save a downed crew member.
This wingtip is now Prominently displayed at the Wat in the Northern part of the village.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos


Phanop Vally Rescue Operation

Phanop Vally Rescue Operation




262 meter Bamboo bridge at Ban Along over the Xe Lanong river, the villagers will charge you 20,000 kip to cross, a bargain at any price.
One can imagine a line of porters pushing bicycles across this bridge on the way south,The large vehicle ford is 900 meters upstream were most of the traffic during the war crossed the river.Ho Chi Minh trail Laos


Xe la Nong bridge at Ban Along


Karst formation in the Phanop valley, The NVA managed to get the POL pipeline and Anti Aircraft guns on top of these Karst pinnacles.


The Author testing Armored Personel Carrier on the old Ho Chi Minh trail

Kids having fun with a home made cart on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Kids having fun with a home made cart on the Ho Chi Minh Trail


Home Made Cart On the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Home Made Cart On the Ho Chi Minh Trail


Bamboo bridge on “the trail” built on the old French abutments, the bridge builders will charge you 5000 kip to cross


Ban Karai pass, one of the notorious passages of the Ho Chi Minh trail, time stands still. Ho Chi Minh trail with original stones laid down by hand by the slave workers ( sacrifice of the many who shoveled, dug, fought, and scraped by to get supplies of rice and ammunition to North Vietnam’s front-line forces. There is an important stress on the efforts of women to keep the supply lines open.) along the trail during the time of the Vietnam War. Note the trees overhanging the trail so not to be detectable by US spotter planes


Mag De-mining team Boulapa district Ho Chi Minh trail

UXO Laos 1280 kg bomb on display Saravan Southern Laos

500 pound bomb, smack in the middle of route 15 Ta Oy
I am not sure how all the construction equipment managed to miss this and not set off a bang!


War head SA2 S-75 Dvina Sam missile, Soviet-designed, high-altitude, command guided, surface-to-air missile,
HO Chi Minh Trail

Excerpt #1 from the MISTY FAC Book
1967 was a “build-up” year for us, the VC and the NVA. Late in 1967, Intelligence reported the movement of four NVA divisions, two artillery regiments and armor – yes armor! – to a place called Khe Sahn in Quang Tri province, I Corps. Huge movements of U. S. and NVA troops and equipment ensued in early 1968 under our very eyes, but as usual, we saw very little – no trucks, no troops, no movement, no nothing. Then, on 31 January 1968, all hell broke loose all over South Vietnam with the Tet offensive. Cities, towns, villages and compounds burned all along the coast as we went “wheels-up” from Phu Cat and headed north on daily missions.
Howie quickly flipped the camera to the right and came back with a beautiful picture of an SA-2 on a Guideline transporter with a wide-eyed NVA soldier trying to pull the cover on the missile. I still have the picture. It is one of the most amazing pictures of the war. So much for the 4500′ rule – Ed was only slightly above the height of the launcher.



Silent, in its new resting place.


Sam Missile found and disarmed by UXO Laos, Near Ban Lankham.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos


Several of these Sam missile transport containers, were found in Kamuane province in close proximity. This is the area were the rockets were fired at B 52′s


The Author posing on a S 75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) Russian built missile on the Ho Chi Minh trail.


Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua

Armored car troop carrier hiding in the Jungle Xam Neua


2004 on the Ho Chi Minh trail Sam Missile

2004 on the Ho Chi Minh trail Sam Missile


Ban Phanop, on a tributary of the Bangphai River, . The village is located in the Ban Phanhop valley, one of the “chokes”, or narrow corridors along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos that were heavily bombed by American forces during the Vietnam War
Kids playing in a “Bomb Boat” made from discarded fuel tanks, Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho chi minh trail fuel pod

Seiampang Village Southern Laos a villager pulls a fuel pod, drop tank, out of the Jungle on the Ho Chi Minh trail. These fuel pods were jettisoned over Laos when the sorties were completed and the bombers returned to base.
could this be a , F-105 Centerline drop tank.

House constructed with bombie casings (bottom) and flare tube canisters ( white colored sheathing) Ban Siampang, Ho Chi Minh trail


Medical supplies, ampules of morphine, found in a cave in the Karst mountains near one of the Choke Points in the Phanop valley, along the Ho Chi Minh trail


Ho Chi Minh trail tad-hai-bridge1

Setting sun casts a yellow glow on this spectacular sight, the Tad Hai bridge, Over the Xe Bang Hieng River, this bridge was built in 1942 and designed by Souphanouvong who became the first President of Lao PDR in 1975. It was destroyed by the American bombing in 1967.


Ho-chi-minh-trail, Ban Bac Ammo Dump

I am holding a live B-40, Vietnamese copy of the RPG-2, Deep in the jungle the Ban Bac ammo dump
In October 1970, the North Vietnamese started to move supplies into Laos across the Mu Gia and Ban Karai passes, but traffic south of the passes remained light due to heavy rain and two tropical cyclones, Kate on 25 October and Louise on 28 October. As the enemy road maintenance crews repaired the road system and the rivers subsided, truck movements increased on the Ho Chi Minh trail. During November there was an average of 252 Igloo White sensor-detected truck movements per day but most of the traffic was in northern Steel Tiger. On 27 November, a high of 889 sensor-detected truck movements was counted. The total number of sensor-detected truck movements for November was 7564. During December 1970, the number of sensor-detected truck movements increased to an average of 665 per day. The highest daily total for the month of December was 1037 and the overall total for the month was 20,601. _6/
When flooded the Xe Kong River acted as a barrier to the continued movement of the supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail system. The Xe Kong had flooded in October and continued to carry an unusually high amount of water during November. Reliable reports indicated the North Vietnamese were storing large quantities of supplies to the north of the river, awaiting a time the Xe Kong could be forded.
Studies of sensor-detected truck movement patterns, climatic conditions, and North Vietnamese supply procedures led 7th Air Force Intelligence to suspect that there was a major storage complex in the Ban Bak area. Similar indications had been noted during previous dry seasons. Between 1 September 1970 and 18 December 1970 , 25 items of intelligence relating to targets in the Ban Bak area were received. Two pertained to points within one kilometer of the storage area eventually uncovered at Universal Transverse Mercator Map (See Figure 2) coordinates XC855540. One was a
reconnaissance photo showing bunkers and a large open area containing supplies on 4 September 1970 . The other was a 20 November 1970 report from a forward air controller of antiaircraft artillery fire and supplies on the side of the road. There were-forward air controller (FAC) and photo reconnaissance reports of truck revetments, supplies, possible truck parks and storage areas located from one to – seven kilometers away from the storage area with the majority being from two to five kilometers to the north. During November 1970, Igloo White sensors detected almost four times as many truck movements into the Ban Bak* area from the north as departed it moving south. 7/ Intelligence signs indicated a major supply dump and storage area near Ban Bak and north of the Xe Kong River existed; the next task was to find it
The night was clear with a bright moon at 30 degrees above the horizon. The moon helped the FACs to find the trucks moving along the trail, but the angle of the moon acted as a detriment. The truck drivers could drive with a minimum of artificial light using the brightness of the moon to illuminate the road. The low angle of the moon also lengthened the shadows made by the tall trees along the side of the road, making it more difficult to locate parked trucks
Captain Monnig continued to track the trucks with a Model NVSF-040 Uniscope. The Uniscope had entered 20TASS supply about three weeks earlier supplementing the Starlight scope. The Starlight scope had the capability to amplify light 400,000 times.
The area where the Covey FACs worked was a high-threat area. On the plateau, the AAA fire was intense and the triangulation extremely accurate. Some hits were reported but there were no casualties and no downed aircraft. _15/
But before the F-4 aircraft could arrive, the trucks entered the triple canopy jungle plateau area and pulled east off the road into some trees. Captain Monnig raised the amplification of the Uniscope to full volume and instructed Lieutenant Browning to hold the aircraft steady and to disregard any AAA fire. The trucks continued through the jungle and all that Captain Monnig could pick out in the Uniscope were flickers of light as the truck headlights reflected off the foliage. Then the trucks turned north moving to an area 700 meters east of Route 924. _16/
Then the trucks stopped, doused their lights, turned them on again, then doused them again. About this time two F-4 aircraft, Wolfpack 93 from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Airfield , Thailand , were in position. Covey fired a smoke rocket to mark the target. The fighters were armed with Mark 82 hard bombs and CBU 24 cluster bombs. _17/ On the first pass there were no secondaries. Captain Monnig moved the fighters 100 meters to the southeast. On the second pass, a 23 millimeter (mm) AAA gun started to fire. On the third pass, “the sky seemed to open up.” A huge orange ball of fire with black smoke climbed a thousand feet into the sky. _18/
The BAn Bac Ammo dumb found, this turned out to be one of the most successful interdiction’s of the war.
Even with all of the strikes, enemy truck drivers continued to use the truck park and storage area. By 5 January 1971 , it was estimated that there had been 10,097 secondary explosions, 435 secondary fires, 43 trucks destroyed, and 11 damaged.

Ho Chi Minh trail NFL-truck

Skeleton of a NFL Truck body in the area of Ban Bac ammo dump. This truck has been picked clean of any sell-able scrap, only the thinnest metal which is not valuable remains.
Ho Chi Minh trail Laos


Ho Chi Minh trail ammo-box

Ammo box full of 50 caliber rounds found near an Anti Aircraft emplacement along the Sihanook trail.

Ho chi minh trail ammo rounds

Ho Chi Minh trail, young Souk tribesman holds 50 caliber anti aircraft rounds, on the Cambodian border.

Ho chi minh trail camp

Camp along the Sihanook trail cooking wild birds, a Hornbill and Pheasant are on the menu this day

Ho Chi Minh trail bombvictim

This tribesman from Pou Luang lost his arm to an American Bomb when he was only 5 months old. Deep in the jungle in the triboarder area harvesting what they can from the forest, scrap metal and valuable hardwoods.



Ho chi minh trail bullets

These bullets found rusting in the jungle along the Ho Chi Minh Trail



Xekong river the Ban Bac ferry crossing, (Bac, Translation from Lao is Boat crossing) Thousands of trucks full of war supplies heading south would have crossed the Xekong river here.


Ban Bac ethnic villagers, smoking waterpipe at a very young age.


View of the Xekong river valley in the area of the Ban Bac ferry crossing


The remains of the Bac ferry at a gold mining camp on the banks of the Xekong river. Thousands of trucks and untold tons of war supplies used this major crossing on the way Southward towards the war front.


One of my favorite place’s on the Ho Chi Minh trail, pine forest on Road 96 near Chavane, this was one of the Major arteries of the trail. just before the road drops down from the plateau and crosses the Xekeman river near Attepue.


Amputee victim, from gathering Un exploded ordinance, Near Ta Oy Southern Laos



Stunning beauty, along the Nam Ngo river on the Ho Chi Minh trail


Soviet artillery tractor, and Anti Aircraft gun Muang Nong
Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos

Siampang village on the Ho Chi Minh trail, Laos, kids playing in a cab of an abandoned North Vietnamese truck. This one of the notorious choke point heavily bombed areas in the Phanop valley.



Samouay villager’s along the Ho Chi Minh trail Near target Echo Eight.

North Vietnamese truck on the Ho Chi Minh trail

One of a kind, Mortar turn signal, on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Young girl and sibling near Samouy Laos, with metal detector used for scrap metal hunting


Jungle road section of the Ho Chi Minh trail. This shot taken from the seat of my Honda XR400, For mapping I use 2 Garmin GPS devices, and 4 Cameras for geo-referencing photos later used for analyzing and mapping. Also the Spot locator is a fantastic tool for relaying to LaosGPSmap, home base, All is OK I will return in a month or so….

Pilots helmet found in a village near Muang Nong on the Ho Chi Minh trail


In Vietnam War M3A1 Grease Gun was outdated for frontline duty, but nevertheless it was distributed to South Vietnamese irregular troops , such as Civil Guard, for combat duty. Thanks to it’s compact size American helicopter pilots carried M3A1 Grease Gun, in addition of their pistols, for the grave situation of being shot down behind enemy lines. Other US users included USMC and US Army special forces. Captured samples were employed by Vietcong. M3A1 Grease Gun was even copied by communist China who manufactured with model name Type 64. This example found on the Ho Chi Minh trail near Ta Oy


Forgotten pile of war scrap found along the Ho Chi Minh trail


War scrap at Karuem, on the Xekong river just down stream from the Ban Bac ford, truck fender, fuel drums and bombie casings of all kinds are being sold for scrap metal.



Artillery anti aircraft gun with a Bomblet placed near the barrel, along the Ho Chi Minh trail.


Truck body abandoned on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Russian Army Truck – ZIL 157
6 wheel drive truck, Laco Focus Southern Laos, Ho
Chi Minh trail

Between 1964 and 1973 the US bombed Laos continuously, despite Laos being a peaceful, neutral country and despite the US never openly declaring war on Laos

Mortars hanging in front of a carnival, October 2012

BLU-3/B Bomblet / Clusterbomb, nicknamed “pineapple”. The design of this clusterbomb can be traced back to the sixties of the past century. The bomblet is meant for use against personel and unarmoured targets,The body of the bomblet is made of 250 steel balls ¸1/4 inch (ø6,25mm) dia. steel balls which have been placed in a casting mould. The space between the balls is then filled with a casting alloy called Zamac, an alloy of Zink, Aluminium, Magnesium and Copper

Ho Chi Minh trail Southern Laos



Ho chi Minh trail, Villager holding a deadly bomby



Ban Karai pass a great example of an untouched section of original Ho Chi Minh trail. Most of the trail has gone under the “blade” I use the term “Komatzu-ed” after the big yellow tractors of the Japanese Komatzu company. Those cobblestones are rough to drive on. hence the path just off the road to the right silk smooth dirt.


Tribal village on the Chaleunxai plateau along the Ho Chi Minh trail


Ban Bac villagers line up for the camera

Images of War, red dust flying as these Kamaz rumble fully laden towards Dak Cheung Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh Trail fuel-drums

A mountain of fuel drums, Near Ta Oy Ho Chi Minh trail Laos

Ho Chi Minh trail fuel-dump

Archive photo of wartime truck park and fuel drum storage area like the photos above and below.
Ho Chi Minh Trail Explore Indochina

Ho Chi Minh Trail War Scrap

Russian ATS-59 was Soviet cold war era artillery tractor., Ho Chi Minh trail Laos,
Gps Lao, Laosgpsmap


Ho Chi MInh Trail Dak Village

Teriang village on the Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail Dak Cheung Laos

Alak villagers along the Ho Chi Minh trail Dak Cheung district.

Ho Chi Minh Trail Route 96 Attepue

Untouched since the war, a section of the Ho Chi Minh trail looking South towards Attepue


Ho Chi Minh Trail Blown Up Truck

Destroyed NVA truck on the Ho Chi Minh trail, near Ta Oy and the Ban Bac ammo dump, destroyed in and intradiction raid.
Ho Chi Minh trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail lumbum-crossroads

LumBum once a major crossroads from Ban Laboy Mi Gui pass, all that remains are a few pieces of scrap metal put to good use by the villagers.

Ho Chi Minh trail jet engine crash

F 4 jet engine found at an undocumented crash site Dak Cheung district Laos.Any readers who can help identify this engine .E mail,

Ho Chi Minh Trail Sihanook-trail bamboo forest

Sihanook trail Cambodia, well camouflaged road leading to South Vietnam, Photo from my Honda XR400
Garmin GPS’s and Spot locator on the handlebars


Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail LaosGPSmap


Ban Dong War Museum

Ban Dong War Museum


Deep along the Vietnamese border area on the Ho Chi Minh trail Brao Villagers sitting on the steps of their hut

Deep along the Vietnamese border area on the Ho Chi Minh trail Brao Villagers sitting on the steps of their hut

Please ask, about our Ho Chi Minh Trail tours!

John R. Campbell, a civilian psychological warfare advisor in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 talks about the bravery and dedication of the troops coming down the trail in Are we Winning? Are they Winning: A Civilian Advisors Reflections on Wartime Vietnam, Author House, 2004:

There could not have been a starker documentation of the superiority in the depth of motivation, discipline and self-sacrifice of the average North Vietnamese soldier than knowing when he started down the Ho Chi Minh Trail that no one he had ever known ever came back. Yet they continued to go south in greater and greater numbers, year after year. Documentation shows that while few went with genuine enthusiasm, they still went. It wasnt as if this was just a vague rumor to them, since for an average of 500 who started down the trail, only 400 came out at the end of their trek south. This was a 20% attrition rate even before they faced an enemy soldier.

In the early days of the war it took six months to travel from North Vietnam to Saigon on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By 1970, regular North Vietnamese Army soldiers could make the journey in six weeks. By the end of the war with motorized transportation the trip might take one week. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 soldiers a month marched south at the height of the trail’s use. And, it wasn’t only men and trucks that came down the Trail. Captain Hammond M. Salley, recalls:


Another misconception is the common belief that the trail was named by the communists in honor of their esteemed leader, Ho Chi Minh. In fact, the designation “Ho Chi Minh Trail  was a slang term coined by the Americans. Throughout the war, and for many years after the conflict ended, the North Vietnamese referred to the network as the Truong Son Road. In recent years (I suspect as a result of increased tourism) the Lao and Vietnamese have embraced the name invented by the Americans and now use it on signposts and memorial markers

Contact the Don at,