The Ho Chi Minh Trail - Phong Nha - review by Rusty Compass
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The Ho Chi Minh Trail - Phong Nha

| 16 Jul 2018
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16 Jul 2018

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the Vietnam War era collection of mud tracks and jungle trails connecting Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam to his fighters in South Vietnam. Key sections of the trail were located around Phong Nha Ke Bang.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

As you explore the Phong Nha Ke Bang area, you’ll notice a high number of war memorials. Even more than you might see elsewhere in Vietnam. These are the reminders of the area’s key part in the wartime Ho Chi Minh Trail - the supply line that kept Ho Chi Minh’s forces supplied with personnel, weapons and food in the US-backed South Vietnam.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail is considered one of the extraordinary logistical feats of the war. It consisted of thousands of kilometres of tracks rather than a single road and ran from North Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia before looping back into what was South Vietnam.

Remembering lives lost on the Ho Chi MInh Trail
Photo: Mark Bowyer Remembering lives lost on the Ho Chi MInh Trail

 

8 Lady Cave Memorial, Phong Nha
Photo: Mark Bowyer 8 Lady Cave Memorial, Phong Nha
 

The significance of the Phong Nha area stemmed from its proximity to the old border of North and South Vietnam and the border with Laos. Nearby Dong Hoi, the major city of the area and the capital of Quang Binh province, was also levelled by US bombing during the Vietnam War.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail (Duong Truong Son in Vietnamese) was maintained in hostile jungle and mountain terrain. North Vietnamese soldiers and volunteers who built it only had access to the most basic technology. Trucks, tanks as well as bicycles and soldiers on foot, all traversed the trail.

The trail remained a stable source of supply despite years of intense bombing. It was an essential contributor to the ultimate victory of North Vietnam and the collapse of the US backed government in South Vietnam in 1975.

There is a large monument to the heroes of the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the left as you arrive into Phong Nha - Son Trach. And as you explore, you’ll spot many monuments large and small. They don’t provide any information in English. But you can assume that they commemorate battles or major losses from aerial bombing.

 

Eight Lady Cave - Hang Tam Co

Many of the Ho Chi Minh Trail memorials are inside the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. As you explore the park, spare a thought for the men and women on all sides of the conflict who were making war in this stunning, harsh, landscape.

Around 15 kms from Phong Nha inside the National Park, Eight Lady Cave is an especially poignant reminder of the tragedy of the war.

On November 14 1972, 8 young women volunteers, all under 20, supporting North Vietnamese troops on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, were trapped in a cave by US bombing. Rescuers could hear them inside but their poor quality equipment prevented them from saving them.

It was 24 years later in 1996 when their bones were finally recovered. The cave is now a shrine commemorating the girls and there is a temple nearby.

 

Travel tips
You will come across monuments all around the area. There is no single monument. There is a Ho Chi Minh Trail museum 15 kms outside of Hanoi.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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