Sparring with Charlie: Motorbiking Down the Ho Chi Minh Trailbook_23

Written by Christopher Hunt

Anchor Books, 1996

by Kelly Haug

Planning your next big international tour? Maybe you are thinking of Canada or Mexico, or perhaps even Europe. Well I’ll bet Southeast Asia hasn’t even crossed your mind. If not, Christopher Hunt offers a zany chronicle of his motorcycling misadventures with our nation’s former foe that will give you a taste of what biking and traveling in Viet Nam is all about.

Hunt, a recent law school dropout turned pulp fiction writer, heads to the demilitarized zone in search of material for a new novel. His plan is to seek out the Ho Chi Minh trail, an infiltration route used by the North Vietnamese Army, and try to figure out what really happened during the war and to see how time has changed American-Vietnamese relations.

The author purchases an old Russian Minsk bike with some serious mechanical problems and heads out into the country side with a half-baked plan to travel as much of the trail as he can without so much as a map. (No maps of the trail exist!) His objective is to learn about the cultural and political ties that Viet Nam has with the United States and how the war and subsequent period after the war has affected those ties. Whether he succeeds in his objective is open for argument.

Hunt relies on the advice and directions of village people, former U.S. military officers and former Viet Cong officers alike to reconstruct the trail. He takes several wrong turns and ends up on many dead end roads due to bad advice and the inability of the Vietnamese people to pass up a chance to talk to an American tourist in need of directions.

Although Hunt’s “travel to Nam just write about it” motive may be a turn off, his book provides a fun and interesting glimpse of a country that many of us may have forgotten about. If you have any interest in the Viet Nam conflict, Russian bikes, or mad men taking foolhardy motorcycle trips in exotic countries, this book may be for you.

M.M.M.

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