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Dien Bien Phu: The Pearl of Viet Nam’s Northwestern Highlands

July 13, 2013 DESTINATION, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59High up in Viet Nam’s Northwestern Highlands is idyllically located Dien Bien Phu in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains.

It is regarded and honored as the pearl of Viet Nam’s Northwestern Highlands, which border Lao PDR and China. Already named by Vietnamese King Thieu Tri in 1841, Dien Bien Phu was made famous to the world, when on May 7, 1954 the Viet Minh under the command of the General Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the French in an astonishing heroic battle to end the foreign occupation of the country.

Dien Bien itself is a border province of Northwestern Viet Nam, which is populated by over half a million people, most of Banner 250x250pxthem minorities, such as the H’Mong and Black Thai (Tai Dam). The provincial city of Dien Bien Phu is about 474 km west from Ha Noi and can be easily reached by a nightly sleeping bus from My Dinh bus station for some 310,000Dong=15USD. The long and winding road or National Highway 6 stretches over high mountain passes via Hoa Binh and Son La Provinces to reach the local bus station in Dien Bien Phu early in the morning. Alternatively, there are two daily flights between Ha Noi and Dien Bien Phu by Vietnam Airlines.

Actually, Dien Bien Phu and its surroundings have a high potential in tourism. First of all there is the historic battlefield of Dien Bien Phu with the 56 days and nights campaign of “digging  mountain, sleeping in trenches and squeezing rice in rains” to achieve the important victory against the French for freedom and independence of the country. Some typical vestiges during a sightseeing tour are the Dien Bien Phu Victory Monument high up in the middle of the city, Hill A1 and the Martyrs’ Cemetery as well as the Historical Victory Museum, which will be newly built just behind the old one.

Currently, ecological tourism is heavily promoted by the local Department of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as the whole Dien Bien Provincehas many caves, hot mineral springs and lakes spreading everywhere. When I visited the place for two days on April 23-25 this year, I had the chance to visit the Thai hamlet of Him Lam, which seemed to me like a piece of paradise with its huge houses on stilts and emerald green rice fields just outside the busy market town along the Nam Rom River.

If in Dien Bien Phu, don’t miss to taste the special food of the local people, which is made in a sophisticated method, especially in the art of using unique spices of the mountains. First of all there is the sweet glutinous rice of the upland eaten with grilled fish, smoked buffalo meat, bitter bamboo shoots, a salad of Ban flower, “Cham Cheo” sauce, rice cakes, forest honey and some strange Chit insects to wash down with the exotic Tua Chua tea, which has a very special and unique taste. When I left Dien Bien Phu, where I stayed in the recommended Hung Ha Guesthouse for 150,000Dong=8USD) a night, I booked a bus ticket for some 230,000Dong=11USD to Udom Xay in Lao PDR.

The international Tay Trang border gate is some 36 km away from Dien Bien Phu along National Highway 279. Going from here, you reach the Vietnamese border checkpoint after two hours, where you get stamped out for a fee of 10,000Dong and can change some money for Lao PDR. It takes another two hours for having the formalities done at the Lao checkpoint high up in the hills called Nam Phao, where you luckily receive a visa-on-arrival for some 30USD or more. There is a health check and a stamp fee of some 8,000Kip=1USD.

After passing the Lao border checkpoint, you’re on Highway 42 in Phong Saly Province and can stop for some food and Lao Beer along the way. You reach Udom Xay (220 km) in the afternoon, from where you can easily connect to Luang Prabang (470 km) and Vientiane (600 km), the capital of Lao PDR along the mighty Mekong River.

In addition to creating opportunities of socio-economic development for the Vietnamese and Lao peoples, Tay Trang and Nam Phao international border gates will play an important role in tourism and links between Dien Bien Phu and the northern provinces of Lao PDR and Thailand. Hopefully in the future the number of tourists from Viet Nam to Lao PDR and vice versa through these international border checkpoints will increase accordingly.

Interesting to note is that on May 7, 2014 the city of Dien Bien Phu will celebrate its 60th year anniversary of the victorious battle against the French in grand style – a good reason to visit there.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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