By Chris Allen
The Ho Chi Minh trail, made famous as a supply route for the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War with America, is actually a network of trails and dirt roads roughly paralleling the Vietnam/Laos border. These trails were originally developed during the resistance movement against the French and were used to move troops and supplies during both conflicts.
There is no “official” Ho Chi Minh Trail because it is a loose network of trails, and there are no official tourist opportunities available on the trail, but the trail is available for hiking or biking as a traveler sees fit.
Danang is a good place to start. Flying into Danang will help you get your bearings in this country, and someone will help point you in the right direction. Going to villages to the west of Vietnam is your best bet, but understand that nothing official has been set up regarding the Ho Chi Minh trail. There are no museums or cultural exploration sites, nor are there marked trails or visitor’s centers. Renting a mountain bike and exploring the trails on your own is your best bet to experience the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Some war relics remain in these areas, destroyed tanks, shrapnel, etc.; anything that is too large to take to a recycling facility easily. These can be found lying in the open or buried under jungle growth. Keep in mind that it is important to stay on the trails as some of the U.S. bombs and mines may still be live in the areas.
A good place to explore is in the southern part of Vietnam near Ho Chi Minh City. The Cu Chi tunnels that were built to infiltrate enemy lines were built in conjunction with a few of the supply trails. Many of these tunnels have been developed into attractions for visitors; they can tour almost 200 kilometers of tunnels built during the Vietnamese – American war.
Because the trails meander between Laos and Vietnam, it is important to know where you are and where you are going. This will keep you from breaking your visa agreement and being fined or kicked out of the country. Visas must be applied for at least six months prior to entry date. Tourist visas are granted for one month, but may be extended after arrival in Vietnam, and only allow one entry into the country. Tourists must fill out arrival/departure papers and declaration papers, keeping both with the passport at all times. It is also recommended having a few extra passport-size photos with you as local authorities may request these and it is always a good idea to stay on the good side of authorities.
With over two-thirds of its roads unpaved and those paved roads sporting an abundance of potholes, the road conditions almost require a mountain bike. Most hotels, cafes and GHs will rent bicycles while also providing fairly dependable service options at the same time. Expect to spend about $20 a day renting a bike, or see your airline about their rules for taking your own with you.
There is little to no information regarding the Ho Chi Minh trail and exploring it. I think partly because most of it is in Laos, and partly because the government doesn’t readily recognize it.