To go to Dien Bien Phu is to discover one of the most beautiful rice valleys of North Vietnam and the historical remains of the battle that marked the end of French Indochina. Dien Bien Phu, land of graceful black Thai women, is ideally located on the fantastic north-west loop, on the road leading to the Sapa health resort.
A century of French presence in Indochina ended in what was called the "cuvette", meaning the "basin" in French, of Dien Bien Phu where General Henri Navarre gathered 15,000 men with the aim of loosening the grip of the Vietnamese communists on the wealthy Tonkin delta. With 57 days of very intense fighting, Dien Bien Phu was the longest and deadliest battle of the post-World War II period and marked the beginning of a worldwide process of decolonization.
Discovering the remains of the Indochina War
Scene of the largest and bloodiest battle of the Indochina War, the site of Dien Bien Phu shelters many remnants of a confrontation that marked the end of the French presence in Indochina.
A1 Hill, or Eliane 2, is one of the most famous sites of Dien Bien Phu. This hill, which dominated the city and the airstrip, has known intense fighting and was the place of the last, heroic, almost suicidal, French resistance. Trenches, military equipment and shell craters can be found here.
The Vietnamese Military Cemetery, located right next to Hill A1, lines up hundreds of graves of fallen soldiers. It is a very moving place that reminds us the sacrifice of these men for the independence of their country.
In front of the cemetery is the War Museum where 4 themes are discussed: Vietnamese resistance, the course of the battle, the international support during the conflict and the consequences of this victory. Numerous items and photos deliver a detailed version of these 57 days of fighting.
The command post of De Castries, which was 20 meters long and 8 meters wide, consisted of 4 rooms serving as both a place of work and a residence. During the final victory on May 7, 1954, Vietminh soldiers raised the Vietnamese flag on the roof of De Castries CP.
Not far from De Castries's command post is a memorial dedicated to the numerous French soldiers who fell at Dien Bien Phu.
All around these sites you can see many artillery pieces and old tanks.
In the beautiful countryside of Dien Bien Phu you will find other historical relics such as the command post of General Vo Nguyen Giap, artillery pieces of the Vietminh troops and monuments commemorating the fighters.
Dien Bien Phu, the "Thai country".
Already during the colonial period the region of Dien Bien Phu was called the "Thai country". This region bordering Laos has been inhabited for centuries by the Thais, who had, until 1954, a Thai federation with an independent government. The use of Thai leaders in the opium trade was one of the most important administrative decisions made by the French during their entire colonial domination.
On your way to Dien Bien Phu you can meet the Black Thai whose women elegantly wear their traditional costume composed of a long, black skirt, a silk blouse closed with silver buttons, a green silk belt and a silver chain at the hip. The Black Thai women are recognizable by their very high bun called "tang câu". The bun has a high cultural symbolism for them. The Black Thai woman must keep her bun until the end of her life or the disappearance of her husband, after which she will be obligated to give up the high bun. The widow will then make herself a ponytail, like young girls. The black Thai are excellent rice farmers. The entire Dien Bien Phu region is covered with rice fields and is the largest rice granary in northern Vietnam. The small Black Thai villages are drowned by these oceans of rice paddies that roll in large green waves. You will enjoy discovering these beautiful Thai villages with their superb wooden houses on stilts topped with beautiful terra cotta tiles.
Best time to go to Dien Bien Phu
We recommend that you visit Dien Bien Phu between April and December. Except the months of June, July and August which are very hot and sometimes rainy, you will be able to enjoy beautiful sunny days and be able to appreciate the variations of colors of the rice fields.
Getting to Dien Bien Phu
Located about 500 kilometres northwest of Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu is on the fantastic northwest loop leading, from Hanoi, to the famous health resort of Sapa via beautiful mountain roads.