This trip of mine was performed in March 2013, before the anniversary of Dien Bien Phu campaign – March 13th. I am writing this post to share some experiences when visiting this historical land.
Dien Bien province is in the Northwest of Vietnam. A long time ago, the words “Dien Bien” was memorized in the heart of Vietnamese people because this place is the place where the French colonial invasion on May 7th, 1954 ended.
Therefore, the Dien Bien vigour land “5 continent celebrated, produced a stir in globe” became the destination of the youth who want to get to know about the country history. However, about travel – this place is not yet invested and expanded, they had an extremely little tours and deployed hotel so everything is still strange and neglected.
And because of that Dien Bien (Điện Biên) becomes more and more interesting, attractive and always prepared to welcome the “Pick your backpack up and Go”.
With me, this was my first solo trip, the first time on the sleeping bus, the first time trying to call for hotel reserving, the first time scheduled on my own and control the whole trip.
It’s ok, I talked the hind legs off a donkey, the beginning is here so you are no longer feeling bored!
I left on weekdays to prevent the crowd. The process to find the cheap hotel in Dien Bien is extremely hard, cos they had only the big and medium ones, the price for the unique one is quite expensive. So I called about 10 hotels to get one but couldn’t. The hotels list was collected from the Dien Bien guide web. I did a research on Google but no hotel to contact. So lucky me, I checked out the Dien Bien province website and saw some banners of those hotels, then I contacted them. The price was only 8 USD, full of water dispenser, a big bed, the owner is very good-hearted and living on the principal road, nearby the Dien Bien market and bus station.
Binh Long Hotel (Bình Long Hotel) (get out at Huy Toan super market)
No. 429, street 4, Tan Thanh precinct, Dien Bien city
Tel: 0230 3824 345
That time, there was not a lot of website to reserve hotel or I was too vague then I didn’t know the right way to exploit them (It was my first trip!). But now you can use booking.com, cancelled reservation without fee, compare in common hotels, no need to pre-pay!
I booked Hai Van sleeping bus, about 15 USD/ticket, it took 10-12 hours and arrived at 5am in Dien Bien. Take a sleeping bus is convenient for relaxing and moving faster. However you had no chance to enjoy the famous Pha Din pass that full of obstacles and difficult of access if you move at night, one of the 4 Northwest great passes top. Pha Din pass is famous for the terrain that full of obstacles and difficult of access, precarious, 1 side is mountain wattle, another one is the very deep abyss. Hence, if you want to take pleasure in Pha Din, you can try backpacking by motorbike for another trip. This is also the famous historical witness in the war of resistance against the French colonialists of Vietnamese nation.
You can also travel to Dien Bien by airplane, we have 4 flights of Hanoi – Dien Bien per day, in weekdays and weekend. The price is around 1-1.5 million Vietnam Dong, I tried to book one but it was quite expensive. Cos in the writings “The Da River boatman” of Nguyen Tuan author, he flied and looked down to the valiant Da River underneath with the perfect beauty Northwest mountain and forests, so I wanted to experience this feeling. Hence, when I could not travel by airplane I was so regret! However, sure I will travel to Dien Bien one more time to go to the West pole of our country – A Pa Chai – the place where “once cock-crow, 3 countries heard”!
Arrived in the hotel at 3pm, I checked in, sorted out my luggage, got breakfast and began to boot my trip. The first day I went to Dai Tuong forest, Do Cat trench, A1 hill, Pa Thom cavern, Dien Bien Defeat Statuary, martyrs’ cemetery…
I commissioned the hotel staff to suggest a motorbike taxi to “displace” in the next 2 days. After came to term, the price was 25 USD in 2 days. Before leaving, I asked him about Dien Bien map, to ensure the schedule will have stage fright with the one I built and let him give more expert advices. To a strange city, you can asked for map at the hotel, marked the wanted points and requested the staves, they will let you know about the reasonable stretch of road, the fastest that prevent you from the tortious way. In addition, if the construction you wanted to visit is under repairing, unreceived visitor, or need tour guide, as that place need to carry out the electric torch or food …so you had information to update into your schedule.
The golden principle when traveling – the hotel receptionists is the “clearest”, you can ask a lot of helpful information for your journey.
The beginning, I went to Pa Thom cavern, it located in the West of Dien Bien, bordered with Viet-Laos frontier. The local called “Tham Nang Lai” (the cavern which had a lot of fairies).
The way he took me was the mountain road, the vehicle was up and down, turnt around the valley. The virgin forest, the terraced fields, the sway rocky mountain, the imposing landscape turned up in front of your eyes was so vivid, carried along, the feeling like your eyes wanna blow to record all the beautiful sight.
The way to get in the cavern appeared a lot of small white butterflies. They were flying in an undulate flock under the sun, so spectacular.
March is also the month of Bauhinia variegata beauty show off, the flower that represents for the Northwest mountain and forests. The rolling mountain and forests, the purple Bauhinia variegate came between the green leaves waving for the passer. After the trip, I went back to Hanoi to enjoy the Bac Son road that full of Bauhinia variegate, nearby the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.
I could not take any beautiful Bauhinia variegate photo for myself. But you can check out this to get to know more about Bauhinia variegate to love the Northwest!
The Pa Thom cavern is an enormous and deep one. The time I arrived when the cavern is temporarily stopped exploiting, so no electricity system. The hotel staff reminded to carry out the flashlight but I was not in time to prepare so I tried mobile flashlight instead. The cavern is high and enormous so it was so dark when I got in, totally could not see anything. The blow gently flashlight on, insufficient to do a sightseeing. Almost the local visited here but they didn’t get in, just me and 5 more got into it.
Inside the bumpy cavern, a lot of points had puddles, small holes, and truly dark so I had to use my hand to grope the way in dangerous! The finding out personality let me felt so excited.
The temper inside was getting hotter but when you were in Dai Tuong forest, the atmosphere was immediately cool. This is the forest that named by following the Vo Nguyen Giap Top-ranking General – he was also the Headquarters of Dien Bien Phu campaign. The roadsides, the forest trees are still neglected, a lot of interlace liana. Thanks to the motorbike taxi driver that followed my trip so I took a lot of pictures. The relic also had a lot of underground trench and tunnel in olden times.
You will meet a lot of ladies, sisters, uncles that wearing the traditional costumes that selling things on the way. They will sell Ganoderma, honey and some forest specialties…so don’t buy them! Cos this was the first trip of mine, and the motorbike taxi driver didn’t even know so I bought some Ganoderma and honey. Back to the hotel, he said: “they cheated on you, this is the bloomed lumber in the wood, not the Ganoderma, we met a lot of this, it was big like a tray. And honey is actually boiled sugar, they poured into the basin showing the thick yellow and put into it a piece of wasps’ nest to cheat you all!.”
To say that I was as dumb as a statue! Who know that this evident thing as this but no one suppressed so they are still cheating on travelers. Nonetheless, they took the advantage of the friendly and true to life of the ethnic minority fellow-citizen to strike on the visitor belief.
It was the story of 2013, I am wondered about this moment? If you are visiting Dien Bien at this time, please send a message about the situation here (comment under this post) so I will edit the information!
If you are confident of your driving you can rent a motorbike to go to those places to initiative in time, save and experience the reality mountain and forests natural scenery.
This spell I left, the De Castries’s Bunker was also closed to repair, just took a look from the outside, could not move to the underneath so I was so regret, sure when I come back to Dien Bien, I will pass by this next time!
Muong Thanh great fortitude bridge in olden time now stubborn transport the local traffic. The bridge’s 2 sides, still seeing the appearance of monumental mock-up of firecrackers.
Dien Bien peaceful and quiet cemetery welcome the visitors. This is the place where the heroes rest in peace such as Phan Dinh Giot, To Vinh Dien… Besides was the Dien Bien Phu Achievement Museum.
The A1 hill is still keeping the trenches, underground tunnel in olden time with the giant bomb holes exposing with the time – The place where the ancestors struggled with enemies in every centimeter.