Trip to Tchepone (Dec 2010)


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“Morrie’s Account”

I'm over here on a twelve-month visa, looking for a place to roost. Dave invited me to visit one of Spectre's old stomping grounds. As "Spectre Protector" for enlisted aircrew, and former "travel agent" for a bunch of you guys, how could I resist?  A lifetime ago Dave was trying to kill their daddies. Today, he's having lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant with Vietnamese drivers. Beside Route 9, in Tchepone. Go figure.  We came from Ubon by van, Dave, the driver and I. Up Route 212 to Mukdahan, across the river to Savannakhet, and east to destination. Less than six hours. The Thai road is well-maintained two and (divided) four-lane. The Laotian road was good about half the time, bad the rest (in spurts). Route 9 often looks like there are frost heaves (Yankees would know what those are) but the depressions appeared to be caused by overweight trucks. The tires just sink through the tar. Four or five times we passed survey crews assessing the damage (or something). Never actually saw anybody repairing the road.

DAMNED KIDS! No, no, not human-type kids. Goats…couldn't go a mile without seeing young goats wandering down the middle of the road. A couple of times only the driver's quick reflexes kept us from having a new hood ornament. Remember the old Thai tractors? Long handled, thin truck frames, two or four-wheeled cart dragging behind, filled with people, produce or whatever?  Not much seen in Northeast Thailand anymore but all over the place in Laos. Glad I'm not driving....cont. below

This Story courtesy of:
Dave Burns and "Morrie"

Occasional truck weigh-stations along Route 9. Near the Vietnamese border actually found trucks being X-rayed for contraband. EVERYWHERE, trucks. At least 16-wheelers, many tandem trailers. Filled with rocks. Looks like the major export to Vietnam.   Around 30 miles west of Tchepone (Xepon? Sepon? look it up on the Internet...names change) all the way to the Vietnamese border the road was well-maintained gravel and concrete. I guess Spectre had removed all the dirt from that part of Laos.

"New" Xepon is about three miles from "old" Xepon. The Laos government discourages visits to "old". Nothing there except an old bank vault and a hell of a lot of unexploded bombs. Lao government puts out pamphlets; Dave picked up a few.  "New" Xepon is a wide spot in the road, about one-half mile long. At least five guest houses, a few restaurants, village stores. Dave picked the best hotel in town; mainly because the front door was flanked by 1000-pounders. Room with a fan, hot water, TV, was 200 Baht. Room with AC, 300 baht. We splurged. The rooms show the old French influence. Ceilings 12 or more feet high, no shower stall in bathroom (take the hose from the wall and spray...yourself, commode, sink, etc. ) At least the sink had a plug. Of course, when you finished with the sink and pulled the plug you found the sink drained down a funnel DIRECTLY onto your feet.

Dave had brought an extra Spectre shirt to give to a samlor driver. We couldn't find a samlor driver. Dave did leave a souvenir though; he left his favorite Spectre hat in his room and didn't realize his mistake until we were halfway back to Savannakhet.  Maybe there's now a Lao wearing a Spectre emblem.

Dave got me on a coin check; I'd forgotten mine in Hotel room at Ubon. So he's got bragging rights. And he'll never let me forget it.  Dave picked up a red and yellow hammer and sickle flag.

Lao flag and hammer/sickle hang from all buildings. Don't ask me how Dave got the flag; I don't know the statute of limitations in that country. And I wouldn't be surprised if he smuggled a freezer bag of dirt out of the country either.

Next  AM, 8 December, we drove east on route 9. Couldn't find any signs leading to "old" Tchepone. Got all the way to the Vietnam border but couldn't take any photos. Vietnamese guards made THAT perfectly clear.   At one point just west of the border we came across many, many parked trucks. Dave counted 150 at least. Road was so twisted we couldn't get a good photo. The gaggle of trucks looked like a gunner's dream, lined up nose to tail. And we were Winchester.

In all, about 30 hours in-country.  Might try it again sometime; maybe go back and get Dave's hat.

- Morrie 

Dave Burns Additions:

Morrie wrote a report on our trip to Tchepone, This is just to expand on it a little. Once we got there it was just a hole in the wall, but a very important hole in the wall. As Morrie said, there was not much there, just about five guest houses and one Vietnamese restaurant and three small Lao restaurant. We pulled up to a "special" guest house, holding up the patio in front of the rooms were two thousand pound bombs! No shit! The Photo's will be on the web site! Fell in love with the place right off. However there was no evidence that the bombs had been sawed in half so the thought crossed my mind that they may still have the explosive in them. Did not check further!

After we checked in we walked about half a block and saw many big Vietnamese trucks parked alongside the trail.(14, 16, 18 wheelers) Went a little further and saw a Vietnamese restaurant where the Truck Drivers were having lunch. The place was packed with truck drivers, so we walked in wearing out Spectre Shirts and Spectre hat and sat down! It was surreal! Sitting right among them scarfing gomer grunts! Most of them just looked at us as an oddity, but a few stared. Had a few Lao beers and then walked around for awhile.

Turned in early as we were beat. Around o dark thirty I went out to the trail and it was very dark but the trucks were still running! Looked at the mountains, (Tchepone is surrounded by mountains) could not help but think about our men who were shot down, the mountains were unforgiving and after some reflection I just don't see how anyone could have walked out of there if they were not picked up by Jolly Green. Off in the distance I heard the soi dogs barking and a few roosters in the wrong time zone crowing. It took us seven hours to drive here and I just don't see how anyone could walk out without being captured or killed. It was a sad time.

The next morning we kept driving east toward the North Vietnamese border. The road was twisting and turning at the same time rolling up and down. Saw a whole bunch of trucks parked taking up the right side of the road, at least 150 waiting to get into North Vietnam. We got to the border and had to stop and turn back as the NVA and police wouldn't let us get close or take any pictures. But we did manage to get within 100feet of the border.  The trip back was very bumpy and I had a lot of time to think about this place. I'm glad I came here but I don't know if I would come back. To much paperwork and some of the Vietnamese and Lao's still remember the war. Could see it in a few eyes. Of course I was wearing an American flag on my hat and shirt so they knew who we were! About half way back to Thailand I noticed that I left my Spectre hat in the hotel room! I've had that hat over 15 years but if I had to lose it what better place to do it. Somewhere in that town a gomer is wearing a Spectre gunner hat with an Israeli, a Thai Flag, An American Flag and a POW/MIA flag! Photo's will appear on the web site.

- Dave B

Mekong River Lao side

Lao Immigration

Lao Immigration Notice
the hammer and sickle! 

Thousand pound Bomb holding
up the front patio!

Thousand pound Bomb
(There are 2 of them)

Thousand pound Bomb
(There are 2 of them)

Looking west on the trail

Gomer grunts in the
Vietnamese Resturaunt

Morrie and I scarfing
gomer grunts

Gomer Truck

Group of
Gomer Trucks


Hammer and Sickle

Another view of the Trail

Lao Post office

Told not to go there

Interrogation center?

Another view of the bomb

Another view of the bomb

Mountain range

Mountain range

Jungle right off the trail!

Typical Lao house

Typical Lao house

Lao house

Lao house

Mountain range

Mekong river from Lao side

Morrie with
Thousand pound Bomb
Photos for this section courtesy of:
Dave Burns


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