Dien Bien Phu is famous as the side of a battle that was truly decisive. The French colonial forces were roundly defeated at the hands of the Viet Minh on 7 May 1954 and the days of their Indochina empire became numbered.
Located in one of the most remote parts of Vietnam, Dien Bien Phu sits in the flat, heart-shaped Muong Thanh Vallery, surrounded by heavily forested, distant hills. The scenery on the journey, the approach roads scything through thick forests and steep terrain, but the city itself lies in a broad, dry plain.
Dien Bien Phu is expanding and developing quickly. Previously just a very minor settlement, it only achieved town status in 1992, became a city in 2003, and was upgraded to a provincial capital the following year. Huge new boulevards and civic buildings have been constructed and the airport now has daily flight connections with Hanoi. With the nearby Tay Trang – Sop Hun border post now officially open to foreigners more and more travelers are passing through the city.
Border crossing aside, history is the main attraction here and there are numerous bunkers and museums to visit.
Thai, H’mong and Si La people live in the mountain around Dian Bien Phu, but the city and valley are mainly inhabited by ethnic Vietnamese.
Almost historical sites of this battle lying to the east of Muong Thanh Field have been preserved intact. Following are a list of recommended places to visit in Dien Bien:
The cemeteries in A1 Hill (644 tombs) and Doc Lap Hill (2432 tombs) A1 Hill, where bitter fighting took place.
The command bunker of De Castries: lies at the heart of the entrenched camp of Dien Bien Phu in the middle of the Muong Thanh Field.
Some 35km from the center of Dien Bien City, in Muong Phang Commune lies the Command Post of General Vo Nguyen Giap.
When to go ?
All year round, best from September to April of next year
The overland trip to Dien Bien Phu can b can be more intriguing than the actual battlefield sites for which the town is so famous. Of course, you miss out on this if you fly.