Lima Site 85 : Phou Pha Thi – Then and Now


Lima Site 85 (LS-85 alphanumeric code of the phonetic 1st letter used to conceal this covert operation[3]) was a clandestine, military installation in the Royal Kingdom of Laos guarded by the Hmong “Secret Army“, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the United States Air Force used for Vietnam War covert operations against communist targets in ostensibly neutral Laos under attack by the Vietnam People’s Army. Initially created for a CIA command post to support a local stronghold, the site was expanded with a 1966 TACAN area excavated on the mountaintop where a 1967 command guidance radar was added for Commando Club bombing of northern areas of North Vietnam. The site ended operations with the Battle of Lima Site 85 when most of the U.S. technicians on the mountain top were killed, including CMSgt Richard Etchberger. For his heroism and sacrifice, Etchberger received the Air Force Cross posthumously. The operation remained classified, however, and the existence of the award was not publicly acknowledged until 1998. After the declassification of LS 85 and a reevaluation of his actions, Etchberger was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2010.  Reference:-

Take Two – Our Second Attempt : December 2018

YouTube:- Phou Pha Thi – LS 85 : Vieng Thong to Vieng Xai.

YouTube:- LS 85 – Phou Pha Thi : Then and Now.

The ride up and walking on top of Lima Site 85 as well as the full ride back down.

Our second attempt to make it to the top of LS 85.

Now a tourist attraction it will be easy. Well, not so. The boys in green down below played hard ball and eventually let us go up for 50,000 Kip each.

I don’t mind paying, if that is the fee. But when it goes in to someones pocket and no benefit to the local community. Anyway.. Enough said. It is the way it is. 

  • Since this visit, others have been allowed up to LS 85 with out having to pay a “fee” to the army.

It is a good climb up the steps. When you get on top. Another walk along a trail that takes you to the main area where the radar is located and shot up. 

If you are not fit, suggest you stay down below or do a partial walk up pacing yourself. Worth the climb, stunning scenery.

The steps are really small and close together. Taking two or three steps at a time up and down. The railing is low, so a misstep and you could tumble over the edge.

January 2016 : First Attempt

No visible ladder, LS 85 closed to visitors.

January 2016
January 2016
January 2016 Army Post

YouTube:- January 2016 – Lima Site 85

Present Day

December 2018

Looking up from near the army post to the top. 
The new ladder snaking its way up the jagged mountain cliff face. 
3/4 of the way up. Looking back down. Army post to the bottom right.
The road to Xam Nuea in the background running along the mountain.
Nearly at the top, scramble on to the mountain. 
The ladder is just to the right at the back of the photo. 
Old defences that remain
Everything is really shot up. Nothing left unscathed
A good hike to the main radar area.
It felt like a few hundred metres. But after the climb up, the distances seemed longer. 
Plenty of left over war scrap. 
The way up directly below and the road from Vieng Thong to Xam Nuea back left.
Stunning views. Secret is, don’t come in the rainy season. 
Wait for the afternoon, the morning cloud will burn off with the mid day sun. 
There are no safety measures up here at all.
Too close to the edge, slip and off you go.
You have to wonder how any one could survive the bullets.
Let alone the mountain being over run by the North Vietnamese.
Up here it is just stunning. 
On the top of LS 85 and the shot up radar behind us.

360 Panorama Photograph

Click, zoom in and around.

Next best thing to being on top of LS 85.

The Road from Vieng Thong

It gets interesting once you turn off to the track proper, heading toward LS 85 and Xam Nuea. Very rocky, land slides to deal with, plus some mud holes. Nothing impossible by any means. But it does keep you awake. The views are stunning, the progress amazing.

After the LS 85 turn off, approximately 20 km of dirt road. Then out of nowhere. A beautiful new tarmac road appears all the way to Xam Neua. No land slides, but lots of gravel on the road. It feels like the rear tyre is flat.

Expect the gravel to disappear over time, just watch the corners as it will sit here longer.

I wonder if the stretch from Vieng Thong to LS 85 turn off will be completed. Considering the lack of money for roads and the recent country wide damage from the last rainy season flooding.

Expect the route from Xam Neau will be maintained to LS 85 now it is a tourist attraction.

May be one day in the future, continue with the rest of the road works to Vieng Thong. Time will tell.

The final leg up to LS 85 – Phou Pha Ti
All graded and relatively easy.
Not so sure how easy nearer the top during the rainy season.

Three Years Earlier

Three years earlier Chris and I were passing the LS 85 turn off on our way to Xam Neua and thought we would try our luck.

At the time LS 85 was not open and certainly not a tourist attraction. 

Surprised that we made it as far as the old ladder area.

The track narrow, steep and very slick with green moss up near the top. The army post was just a hut on the hill with a cow pen below.

More here on our first attempt to make it to LS 85. 

Great to finally make it up here after getting so close three years earlier,