Dien Bien Phu
Dien Bien Phu is a comparatively new town established in the middle of the 19th century to help to rid the area of incursions by bandits from Siam, Laos and China. Its remote location in the extreme northwest of Vietnam deterred both visitors and development, apart from becoming a French garrison during the colonial period.
The town rocketed to international prominence when the Viet Minh troops under General Giap overcame the beleaguered French forces in 1954, the decisive battle that ended nearly a century of French occupation of Vietnam.
Recently, Dien Bien Phu has begun to expand rapidly following its designation as Lai Chau's provincial capital and the Vietnam government’s policy of encouraging ethnic Vietnamese families to move to the area. Nevertheless, despite a boost from tourism stimulated by the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the town is still little visited.
There is a reasonable road, but the five hundred kilometre journey takes most of two days, assuming an overnight stay. A flight to Dien Bien Phu is the most practical means of travel if time is limited.
There are few hotels in this area of the northwest, and none above our ‘local’ standard.
The major attraction is the battlefield, its associated museum and relicts, and more recently, the largest statue in Vietnam erected to commemorate the 2004 anniversary. However, for the adventurous visitor, it is an attractive centre for majestic scenery and an access point for encounters with Lai Chau Province’s wide variety of ethnic minority groups that have hardly been touched by tourism.
A road journey from Dien Bien Phu to Sapa will take through some of the best scenery in Vietnam. Rough roads, very basic hotels and few amenities deter the tourists and leave the forests, waterfalls, terraces and the many minority villages in a pristine state waiting for the serious traveller.
Sin Ho village is definitely worth a 20km detour. The track runs across vertiginous mountain sides and is not for the faint-hearted, but rewards the traveller with spectacular views of near perpendicular terracing and majestic forests. The area is home to Red, White and Flower H’mong and Dao ethnic minority communities. Those that have the good fortune to arrive on Sunday morning will find a wholly authentic local market.
Tam Duong has even more colourful ethnic minority communities – White and Flower H’mong, Dao Khau, Giay and White and Black Thai peoples.