The National Security Agency's official history of the Vietnam War describes the Ho Chi Minh trail as "one of the 20th century's great achievements of military engineering." The 18-foot-wide supply line – built to circumvent a U.S. Navy presence in the Gulf of Tonkin – was started in 1959 and ultimately stretched 1,800 miles through triple-canopy jungle to fronts in South Vietnam. By the late sixties the network was moving supplies for hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese troops, essentially turning the tide of the war. Today, segments of the infamous route can still be pieced together in what amounts to one of the greatest motorcycle tours in the world. Winding paved roads, river crossings, and tight mountain passes lead through the Truong Son Mountains, across the Red River Delta, and down the Ashau Valley in central Vietnam.
A Belorussian 125cc Minsk – with its bomber suspension and steering for bad roads – is the classic ride on the old communist thoroughfare, and after landing in Hanoi you can pick up a used one for less than $400. Selling your steed in the south can be a difficult so renting a Honda from Hanoi Motorcycle Rental might be a better choice if you don't have a background in hustling or engineering.
Swarms of mopeds vanish in the rearview as you flog it along two-lane Route 32 into the tea plantations and old-growth forests of the Truong Son Mountains. Ease back on the throttle over the switchbacks near Bau Pass, then drop down into Phu Yen for fried rau muong (spinach). Pass through Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – a UNESCO Heritage Site, in which Vietcong hid from U.S. bombers in 40 miles of spectacular caves and underground rivers – and then into primitive rain forests once stripped by Agent Orange, and Khe Sanh, and the labyrinthine Vinh Moc tunnels.
The final leg is a 90-mile stretch in the seaside hamlet of Hoi An, where world-class tailors on Tran Hung Dao Road will stitch you a suit for $50. Stop in and dust off before you catch a flight home.
More information: What look like footpaths along the trail are actually multi-use highways that reach hundreds of miles into some of Vietnam’s most pristine country. Keep a compass and a map in your pack, and don't be afraid to venture deep into Viet culture. For guided travel, Offroad Vietnam offers nine-day trips for $1,260.