"French Colonialism in S/E Asia ended here" Dien Bien Phu by bpwarne

Dien Bien Phu Travel Guide: 8 reviews and 14 photos


I came to Dien Bien Phu for one reason. To visit the city where one of the most decisive battles (some may well say 'military blunders') in history took place.
Quite a few years ago I read a few books on the siege, including Bernard Fall's 'Hell in a very small place' , probably the most definitive and authoritative on the action. For some reason I was left with a desire to visit the site where it all occured. Eighteen years later I fullfilled that desire.
I came to Dien Bien Phu for this purpose. However, what I will always remember first and foremost about my trip to this very remote part of Vietnam is not the battle sites, but the people.
From the hotel manager who figuratively bent over backward to help me, to the copy/photo shop owners who took me to the back of their office to use their own personal computer and insisted "no charge", to the two gentlemen at the small restaurant I dined at who insisted I sit next to them and kept pushing shots of rice wine at me, to the cook at the same restaurant who took me into the kitchen so I could point at my selections for dinner as there was no other way for me to convey my desires (ended up with a huge plate of stir fried crawfish or shrimps w/rice and big plate of some greens, large Hanoi beer, 37000 dong or about $2.30USD. Excellent.) TMy two new friends at the table next to me also kept plying me with pieces of BBQ'd chicken and beef while I waited for my dinner to be cooked. Neither of them spoke a single word of English but pointed, smiled warmly and laughed a lot. On my walk back to my hotel after dinner, a small group of teenagers, upon spotting me walking by, waved and motioned insistantly for me to sit at their streetside table and enjoy a coke with them while they practiced thier English on me and then insisted on riding me back to my hotel on their bicycles...Dien Bien Phu proved over and over again that day to have the nicest, warmest, friendliest, people I have met in Vietnam. Dien bien Phu was truly a most remarkable travel experience for me.

Notes/email to incorporate into travelogue:

I am in Dien Bien Phu and have not seen one tourist all day. I was the only westerner on the plane and also at the airport here. Very unnerving. Had a hard time getting a ride into town from airport as none of the Taxi / moto drivers spoke any English at all. Very little English spoken in this town. A bit eerie at first. But, I have a room for the night and have my bus ticket to Laos for tomorrow morning at 5:30AM. People are VERY friendly here and try to talk to you but know very little English. At least no one is hounding you constantly for money or 'buy from me', or 'buy for me', or 'want taxi?', etc. Bus ticket was 84,000 Dong, about 5 dollars. Hotel room started at $18 and was negotiated to $13. Manager said "Ok, cause you from California and I big Arnold Shwarzennegger fan, $13".
Have been to the sites of the big battle and am glad I came here. Doubt if I will ever meet anyone who has been here, so that initself makes it quite the experience. Walked into a copy/photo shop and asked for internet and they took me in the back to their only PC and said no charge!. Do you believe it? Real people! Just stood there looking at me while I was on the internet, trying to talk to me but not knowing much English. Very nice guy and girl. Any way gotta go as must get up really early and I know it is going to be a very long hard day.

My intentions are to take a bus from Dien Bien Phu to the recently opened Tay Trung/Son Hun border crossing into Laos, 34 km to the southwest.

The main road through town to the Tay Trung border is called 'Duong 7-5' which may seem a rather odd name but it commemorates the date it all ended here for the French; May 7, 1954.

Colonel Pirot's end

Colonel Pirot committed suicide in his bunker at this site, reportedly he felt humiliated beyond any desire to live.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Truly friendly people, no western tourists, clean city
  • Cons:Very little English spoken here...you are on your own.
  • In a nutshell:Site of a huge military defeat, no appeal for most tourists
  • Last visit to Dien Bien Phu: Apr 2008
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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