Lai Khe Base Camp
Along route QL13, also known as Thunder Road, there were a string of bases during the war. One of the most important ones was Lai Khe, which served as base camp for the 1st Infantry Division from 1965-1972 along with several other American units over different periods of time. The base camp was the headquarters for the 3rd Brigade with the division headquarters not far away in Di An. The other brigades were stationed at Quan Loi, Phuoc Vinh and Dau Tieng. It was a well chosen site, right on the highway. Together with its large runway and relative proximity to Saigon, supplies could be brought in fairly easily via both road and air. Another 70 kilometers up the road, a Special Forces Camp was located in Loc Ninh.
Being located so close to Saigon meant it was an important part of the city’s outer defenses as PAVN forces later in the war would push down QL13 during its attacks. At one point, it was one of the most active areas when it came to PAVN and VC activities. Being so close to the Iron Triangle, it also meant that many operations were launched from the base even as it was a constant target for enemy attacks.
In fact, Lai Khe was probably the most rocketed base camp in the country except for Khe Sanh during the siege. At times, the camp would receive incoming rockets three times per day and twice per night and there was a sign at the main gate reading: ‘Welcome to Rocket City’.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much left around the old base area, however if you know what you are looking for then you can still find evidence of this massive installation’s existence. Some of the old gates are still there, along with concrete remains of the old walls and the former Brigade administration buildings are still standing. Inside the camp, some of the older trees carry marks of shrapnel from the rocket attacks. At least a couple of the former perimeter roads are still visible and in use along with the bypass road on the east side of the camp outside the old minefield.
Over the years the area has been built up and as you approach the base, there are really no signs of the old base. Only as you get close, you will find old bunkers and the gate on the west side of the road. On the east side there is a rubber plantation which should be more or less identical to what was located there during the war years.
Venturing through the camp area across to the west side, it is clear where the west perimeter was located. There is a road leading north to south and along that road there are multiple old berms as well as remnants from concrete constructions, probably bunkers.
All in all, a visit to Lai Khe is a must for the history traveler. It is fairly easy to get there and it is the southern starting point for the legendary “Thunder Road” which today is the QL13 national main road leading north.
How to get there
Lai Khe is located about 60 kilometers north of Saigon along QL13 towards An Loc and Loc Ninh. It’’s a nice half day visit to go up there and back, or a full day trip for those who wants to venture further north and visit the other bases that were located along the road.
Decimal Coordinates 11.195, 106.617
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