Song Mao Basecamp

In September 2020, We had just purchased our first car here in Vietnam and the horizons just became a lot closer. We could finally start exploring more of the country with our own transport. Our first real drive was from Saigon up the coast towards Cam Ranh. Corona was affecting the outside world but for the moment, Vietnam seemed to have a lid on it.

We had passed through La Gi, stayed a few nights at an empty beach resort, same in Phan Thiet and Mui Ne, only a handful of domestic tourists or expats around. Not bad if you don’t like crowds.


Up early on the morning of our departure, I had us plugged into Song Mao for a 10am arrival. As we were based on the coast, we moved northwards along it on DT716 at a leisurely pace. Of course we got side tracked by the coastal views. We stopped every now and then to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Moving by car is of course a different vibe to a motorbike, less exposure, less taxing, but moving by a car in which you are in command, is also quite unique here. You stop when you want, not when your Vietnamese driver wants to.

Drive DT718 to Phan Rí Cửa, then left onto the good old QL1 towards the town of Bắc Bình, entering the busy town from the east and turning onto Thống Nhất northwards and heading out of the town. It’s a nice little road out towards Song Mao town as I called it but in reality, is called Phan Lý Chàm

A bit of a one horse town, typically sun scorched and sleepy rural Vietnam scenes everywhere, we continued on Thống Nhất and my navigation system started banging on that we had arrived. Now for the fun part.

The road we are on, elevated from fields either side, seemed to stretch on way past what I guessed to be Song Mao Basecamp on the left of me. I couldn’t see anything yet. I turned left off the road onto the soft, semi mud-semi solid fields. From thereI took a 45 degree run towards my perceived end of the runway. I had a vision in mind from my ariel survey pictures.

Breaking through with my 4WD

Bearing in mind, this was the first time I had done off-roading in this machine, I ploughed straight through a potentially axel busting bog a tad too fast, and with my co-pilot letting her feelings known I calmed down, slowed down and reset my approach to driving through fields. But I was very excited.

Song Mao

Established as early as 1963, the Song Mao Special Forces Camp was a long standing stronghold near the foot of the southern highlands. Originally it was occupied by Detachment A-113 of the US Special Forces. Over the years many other units from the 101st Airborne, The Cavalry, ARVN units and even Australian SASR lead MIKE Force outfits made their rounds at the camp. Although not as much heard of as Khe Sanh or Camp Evans, this little outpost was the scene of much action during the war and did play its part in the overall effort.

Camp area

From recollection, runways were 09/27 and as I passed through some bushes, I emerged onto the very end of the former runway 27. A very clear and very clean 3000 foot flat space lay in front of me. I stopped the car and got out to put a foot down on the ground.

End of runway at Song Mao

Surface wise, all the PSP is gone, but I can still see tarmac with the imprints of the mats. There we also some stone working around the edges of the runway. We rolled down slowly, off to the left of 27, a beautiful large lotus pond and a herd of buffalo, accompanied by a farmer, who gives me a wave a shouts something in Vietnamese which I assume to be ” bit too hot for a runway inspection no?” however its all good and friendly. The runway is unobstructed from end to end and as we backtrack to runway 09 a few motorbikes pass us and wave. And as so often encountered in Vietnam, smiles are exchanged.

Song Mao camp area

Towards the middle of the runways is the old apron area or ramp which now seems to house some kind of mill and a few huts with washing lines drying clothes in the scorching sun. I give this a bit of room as it’s someone’s dwelling, but again the start of the ramp is flat and well built.

We rolled back towards the end of 09 now, facing back towards Song Mao town. I took note of the topography, those dark green hills about 5-10k away, the bluest of blue skies today, the colours around here are so vibrant. Who else stood here where I did in the 60s or 70s wondering the same thing?

Nuoc Mia

Its borderline combustion temperature now, so time to move out and find something cold to drink. Back towards SongMao town, we pass a Nước Mía / Sugar Cane juice roadside beside a beautiful railway station, which is certainly of the 1960s era.

Mission Successful. Memories Locked in and on to the next.



How to get there:

Song Mao Basecamp or Firebase Song Mao ,lies 50k north east Phan Thiet, and 60k south west of Phan Rang, smack Phan in the middle of the two and north of Route 1 (QL1)

Coordinates: 11.26°N 108.491°E

8 thoughts on “Song Mao”

  1. I was under the impression that Phan Li Cham was home of the Cham people. They were a disappearing Muslim group native to the area….and once the dominant people. Been a long time
    I was in 2/1 Armored Cav HHT…Squadron Senior Aidman 1970

  2. I was a medic with A troop,3rd platoon. We were on a sweep on April 1st when we ran into a battalion of entrenched NVA. I was wounded and then I was able to treat some other wounded. We returned to base and I was evacuated to aid headquarters aid station. I returned in 1992 .

  3. I was stationed there from Feb1970 to Oct1970 as an advisor from the ASA 509th Group/Unit15 /Whitebirch. I was billeted in the old French Officers Club with my ARVN troops at the DF Site. The pictures are great, that old building from downtown if I remember correctly was a hotel. The 44th ARVN group was across the road from the MACV compound. There was a Firebase down the road and the Marines has a unit again outside the MACV compound.

  4. I was stationed there June – end of December 1969. I was with the FOB (Scrappy Forward) of the 5/27th FA. We were in the old French theatre downtown. Sleepy town except a couple of times when VC tried to ambush convoys coming off Hwy 1. 11th Armored Cav had convoy escort duty there I believe. 44th ARVN Regiment was stationed there also.

  5. My name is Warren Roach was station there between Song mao and Phan thiet 1969-70 with B Troop 2nd squadron 1st Cavalry Regiment as tank Commander. Was not best place to be at there time

    1. Hello Warren. Thank you for your comment and for finding our website. I would be really interested to learn more about the conditions and events in the area at the time. If you wish, please send me an email on [email protected]

      /Jonas, founder of

  6. I was Sp5 translator for 41st Civil Affairs Team 4 in Song Mao. Our barracks was an old French Officers’ Club, Villa B, on the MACV compound. We relocated the pipeline and villages, dug wells, repaired roads and bridges, built schools and skill training centers, conducted sanitation and safety classes, provided medical attention to remote villages, and arranged emergency transportation. I taught English in Phan Ly Cham and refereed local matches.

    Great descriptions and accurate directions. Just north of Phan Ri Cua was a breathtaking beach east of the salt flats.

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