Dien Bien Phu is located in the North West of Vietnam, close to the Laos border. We took a night bus from Sa Pa and arrived at 5am. Rather than hopping straight onto another bus to Laos, we decided to stay a night in this small town, to explore what it has to offer and catch up on some sleep we missed on the night bus.
After checking into our hotel and having a quick nap, we headed out to explore the town in the afternoon. We left our guesthouse and walked out to a main road. We were struck but the sheer quietness of it all. Barely any cars on the road and many shops were closed; this was meant to be the capital of Dien Bien Province.
We soon learned that it was that time of the day when everyone has a nap. The sun was beating hard and this small town likes to close for a couple of hours post-lunch. So we did the same, sort of. We had some lunch and had a drink while the locals slept and relaxed. About 2pm, the few tourist attractions began to open again. It was an incredibly hot, cloudless day, but we made the most of it.
Dien Bien Phu isn’t a regular backpacker town or somewhere foreigners go on holiday. As I said, some people just hop straight off one bus onto another. We didn’t see any other foreigners all day. Evidently, foreign people visiting the city is quite a rarity because, on more than one occasion, we had people ask for photos with us.
Why is Dien Bien Phu Important?
We’re all quite well informed about the Vietnamese war with America. We’re less informed about the fact that, before America, the Vietnamese were fighting the French for their independence. This small border town is actually where the Vietnamese won their last battle with the French. As such, there is a museum about the war and you can visit the “A1” hill, where the Vietnamese soldiers were stationed and fought off the French.
There is also an impressive monument at the top of some stairs (when it’s about 35 degrees and you forget to bring your hat, it’s a LOT of stairs) over-looking the whole city and celebrating the victory of the Vietnamese over the French.
We visited all these sights and I learnt a lot about the victory and importance of Dien Bien Phu. In fact, it was only recently that it was named a city. It won that status after being victorious over the French.
Why visit Dien Bin Phu?
It’s so easy to visit the popular and touristic places in Vietnam. But if you want a slice of more real Vietnamese culture, where there aren’t English menus and where people will genuinely pass you on the street and say “Hello” because they are so happy to see you there, then visit Dien Bin Phu.