When we were planning our trip to Sapa and Mt. Fanxipan we hit upon the idea of extending our tour by taking in Dien Bien, scene of the decisive defeat of French forces by the Vietnamese in 1954. This epic battle brought about the end of France’s colonization of Vietnam and triggered America’s involvement in the region, which culminated in the Vietnam War.
Dien Bien is located very close to the border with Laos and although it looked close to Sapa on the map, the journey by car took 11 hours through stunningly beautiful rural landscapes.
Dien Bien seemed a quiet town. Dogs lay scratching themselves in the middle of the road, untroubled by the occasional motorbike or commercial vehicle.
The architecture was rather odd. Narrow three or four storey houses with lots of fancy embellishments.
The hotel was comfortable enough.
A number of the battlefield positions have been preserved.
Apart from the historic battle relics there is little to attract the foreign tourist but I did manage to pick up a couple of T-shirts at bargain prices.
The plan was simple enough. A couple of days in Hanoi , then take the overnight train to the hill resort of Sapa, then 3 days to climb Mt.Fanxipan and get back down again, then drive to Dien Bien Phu for 2 nights before flying back to Hanoi.
First stop in Hanoi, the ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
This notorious prison held American pilots who were shot down over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War (or the American War as the Vietnamese call it). The POW’s nicknamed this prison the Hanoi Hilton. One of the more famous inmates was John McCain (recent US Presidential contender) whose flying suit was on prominent display.
During the French colonial era the prison housed Vietnamese political prisoners and criminals in harsh conditions.
I’d never seen a real guillotine before. Efficient no doubt
There are plenty of famous attractions to see in Hanoi.
The streets in the Old Hanoi Quarter are full of character, colour and energy. There was talk about Old Hanoi being recognised by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site but it seems there are no plans to proceed with that proposal. Let us hope that this district can escape the developers’ wrecking ball for many years to come.