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, and 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, it 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. On the east side of the highway there is mostly rubber plantations today. Due to it being very muddy we couldn’t drive around there as much as we had liked. As the camp areas were located among the rubber trees and the main roads inside the plantation are the same as they were then, one will get a good understanding of what it looked like back then. Please view below video from our latest visit at the camp for a good view of what the site of the camp looks like today.

The west side of the camp is another story. There one will find the old water purification compound along with the Brigade HQ and admin buildings. We are not sure but believe also the general’s quarters are still there. Furthermore the large gate along the highway is still there and one of the main bunkers. Driving around in the area west of the highway one will also find large concrete slabs that clearly are remains from the era.

Inside the camp, some of the older trees carry marks of shrapnel from the countless rocket attacks. The perimeter roads are still possible to drive on along with the bypass road on the east side of the camp outside the old minefield.

Lai Khe Base Camp should be on the list to visit for any history traveler It is a quality visit with much to see and its historical significance should not be under estimated.

 

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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28 thoughts on “Lai Khe Base Camp”

  1. I was there in 1970. 1st infantry division. Seen the ceremony when we turned over to the south vietnamese army. I was transferred to the 25th at Cu Chi for the rest of my tour. Love to see the base camp more. Hoping I may have seen myself.

    1. Thank you for your comment and for visiting our website. I understand they shrunk the camp after the ARVN took over. I hope to get back there next time as there is sstill so much to explore in the area.

    1. My Dad, Terry Kalber, was also stationed there during some of the same months. We lost dad in 2008, a month shy of 61. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

  2. I was there in Nov 1968-Dec 1969 1st Infantry Division C company 701st Maintenance 81 st Quartermaster. I got knocked on my ass during a rocket attack on the air strip. We had a little village inside the base camp. The people in that villages loved AMERICANS

    1. Charles, I am happy you found our website. Thanks for the information. I*m glad you made it through the rocket attacks. Did you have a look at the video? I am driving around the village that I believe is the same but it has grown. Also main part of it is now on the former runway.

  3. Spent most of 1969 at Lai Khe with the 168 Combat Engineers. I was lead platoon when my company moved from Di An in February (2nd Pltn A Co) and we built up our company area in the rubber trees on the east side of the camp. Had a map of which trees we could cut down as every tree cost Uncle Sam a payment to Michelin.

    1. Steve, thank you for your comment and the interesting extra information you provided. I knew about the cost for rubber trees that had to be paid when battles took place in rubber plantations, but this is very interesting additional information. We didn’t get much material from the east side this time. That is due to it being too wet there. Even the small road was soaked. However, the video starts there before we drive over to the west side and there are a couple of pictures of it. For reference, we went in on the east side about 100 meters south of where we entered the west side just by the water facility and the bunkers at the gate.

      1. Our company area was on the east side about midway between the north and south gates just inside the perimeter road. When our platoon first moved up we were in tents, so I had the trucks parked between us and the perimeter as fire fights were going on every night and we’d occasionally see tracers going over our heads. One night a pair of F-4s came in dropping napalm right in front of us just outside the perimeter. It was like a fireworks show and we climbed on the trucks to watch. Beautiful and frightening at the same time.

        I have a picture of the perimeter that I took at that time looking out through the concertina and the land is barren. I didn’t realize then, but now know the area was denuded of all plant life with Agent Orange. It’s reassuring to see from your photos and film that everything is green and lush again.

        1. Steve, thanks for the additional information. So as the small bit I filmed and those pictures from the east side are about in the center, it means your company area would have been just a bit further east from that point, I believe from other pictures I have seen that the larger road between the rubber trees was a main road inside the camp when it was active. I believe it is still possible to drive the east perimeter road, there just wasn’t time when we went this time. However, this is a place I am certain to come back to. There is still so much to discover there.

          Yes it is green and lush now, the damage of Agent Orange is not visible in nature.

    1. Thank you for your comment and for visiting our site Wayne. I hope you appreciated the pictures and video. I have wondered where the chopper pad was. Was it on the west side of the runway?

      1. The choppers as I recall were parked on the east side of the runway and the POL dump on the west. I have pictures of the dump as it was hit by rockets and caught fire which burned for several days.

        1. Thank you Steve. I understand better now how it would have looked. I have seen several pictures of the runway but never really understood in which direction they were taken. Are you a member of any of the larger Vietnam war history groups on Facebook? I would love to see your pictures frmo then.

  4. Of my my. The old Lai Khe Rocket City Base. I spent time from 1970-1971. With the 595th Combat Signal Communications company. First couple weeks getting used to the 55 and 105’s firing out bound. And rockets flying over. July 1971 had a Zapper attack that seemed like the 4th of July. We were at the front gate in our bunkers with m-16’s and 60 Cal. Down right a early morning to remember. I am in contact with 10 great buddies from our old platoon. And had lost 5 already. So would have been 15. So good to talk old good times with them. Any one else out there remember us at Base Switchboard / Communication Center??

    1. Len, thank you for coming to our website and sharing your story. Did you watch the video from where we drive around the old base area? Anything you recognize?

  5. I was stationed at Lai Khe from Oct 68 to Oct 69 with the 1/16th (mech) Iron Rangers. Thank you for this site. Do you know of any maps of the base camp that show where the various units were housed? My company was next to the heliport on the west side.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Marty. Thank you for your comment. I haven’t seen any good maps of the camp from the era. I sure would like to see one as it makes it even more interesting to discover these sites. If you get your hands on one, would you mind letting me know through the site here?

  6. I was stationed at Lai Khe 69’. A Troop 1/4 CAV. Didn’t like coming to base cause of the damn rockets… nothing to shoot back at.

  7. Lai-Khe was our base camp in ’70 & ’71, 3/4 Cav, Aero-Rifles. Thanks for the photos, although much of it was unfamiliar, but all in all, pretty decent, except, as was mentioned, rocket & sapper attacks. Thanks again, if I had the money, I’d visit V.N. with my wife, especially Lai Khe & Vung Tau, where a couple of us took in country R & R.

    1. Thank you Dave. As I wasn’t there during the war I wouldn’t know what it loooked like except for photos I have seen. Clearly the village is located where the runway used to be. We came up on the west side of it also to what I believe was the western perimeter. We couldn’t move on the east side as it simply was too wet between the rubber trees. There are plenty of buildings on the site that were there when you were there. I will be back one day to look around some more. There is always more to see. I hope you will come back one day, flights aren’t that expensive.

  8. I was on assignment there in April, 1968 when MLK was killed. That same day a rocket took down the old French Post Office. I had great admiration for the guys in The Big Red One. Love to see a good photo of the old headquarters.
    Liked your video and it did bring back some important memories.
    Thanks.

    1. Thank you for your comment Bruce. I was happy to find some of the old buildings at the site. I will spend more time there next time I get back to see if I can find some more of the old buildings. I’ll post any new finds here on the site.

  9. Actually the 1st Infantry Division redeployed stateside in January 1970. In April 1971 a lone Calvary troop left over when the 25th Infantry Division was redeployed stateside, moved into the abandoned airfield on the east side of the highway. There new designation was F-Troop, 4th Air Calvary attached to the 1st Aviation Brigade. Later that summer A-Troop and D-Troops of the 3/17th Air Calvary joined them. An ARVN unit and MACV Team 70 headquarters occupied the portion of the base on the west side of the highway. I was back there in 2008 on assignment with USDA and had a chance to revisit the area. MACV Headquarters is now site of the Vietnam Rubber Research Institute. Parts of our runway are still visible on the east side of the highway behind the commercial buildings where Lai Khe village has expanded across the road. The old rubber plantation containing our hooches has been replaced with younger trees.

    1. Carl. Thank you for your comment and the insights you share. I will do some more research and make sure to update the text. I am happy that our website draws out more detailed information than I have found so far available online.

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