Dien Bien Phu (Điện Biên Phủ) is a town of 80,000 people (2018) in northwestern Vietnam. The city is best known for the events which occurred there during the First Indochina War, the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ. Later in the war the region was a breadbasket for the Việt Minh.
Điện Biên Phủ was the site of a major French defeat in the War of Independence in 1954. The Battle of Điện Biên Phủ was fought between the Việt Minh (led by General Võ Nguyên Giáp), and the French Union (led by General Henri Navarre, successor to General Raoul Salan). The siege of the French garrison lasted 57 days, from 13 March to 7 May 1954.
An important factor was that the defenses had been designed on the assumption that the enemy would not have artillery, but the Vietnamese did. The US had provided the Nationalist Chinese with guns for their civil war against the Chinese Communists, and corrupt generals sold some of those to Vietnamese Communists who dismantled them and hauled the pieces over difficult terrain to Dien Bien Phu.
Giáp's victory ended major French involvement in Indochina and led to the Geneva accords which partitioned Vietnam into a communist North and capitalist South. See Indochina Wars.
National Route 12 connects Điện Biên to Lai Châu.
- Numerous buses depart throughout the day from different stations. Decent sleeper buses leave from Hanoi's Mỹ Đình station: the journey takes about 12 hr and costs around 300,000 dong. Another option is to take a bus from Sapa or Lao Cai. There is some beautiful scenery along the way.
- From Sapa: Sleeper 1, Bến xe khách Sa Pa, QL4D, TT. Sa Pa, Sa Pa, Lào Cai. 18:30. Departure could be later since it's going from Lao Cai. It should cost not more than 200,000 dong but some sellers may try to scam tourists. The best option to get fair price is to go to Sapa Bus Station. There are 3 kiosks that sell these tickets: first in front of the bus station, second and third on the left, still you need to bargain to get fair price. The pick-up is at Anh Nhi hotel near the bus station, the staff are helpful. The bus is not very comfortable and it feels a bit unsafe at night due to the bends on the roads. You will arrive at Điện Biên Phủ Bus Station at approximately 05:00. There is option to change bus immediately to one that goes to Muang Khua. 200,000 dong. . Sleeper 2. 18:00. You can buy tickets on 12go.asia. 340,000 dong. . Seater. There is seater bus in the morning. It arrives at Điện Biên Phủ Bus Station at approximately 15:00. The ticket should be cheaper than the sleeper. .
- There is also a bus from Muang Khua, Laos, the journey takes around 3 hr. Another bus that crosses the border links Điện Biên Phủ to the transport hub of Udomxai (Muay Xai).
Although of great historical interest to military buffs, there are few, if any, sights as such. It is a useful stop and transport connection on the way to other destinations.
There has been refurbishment of the remains of the French defenses as more tourists are showing interest:
- French Command Bunker (west of River Ron).
- Strong point "Elaine" (east of River Ron).
- A1 hill, Vietnam Military History Museum and cemetery (sometimes called Điện Biên Phủ Victory Museum), on Duong 7/5 / AH13 / QL279 (about 3 km south of central markets at the intersection with Hoang Van Thai).
- D1 hill, at Tran Dang Ninh and Duong 7-5/AH13/QL 279 (can be found near the central markets). A set of giant stairs. This site contains a monument wall, statue and great views of the valley on all sides.
- The Him Lam Plaza on Tran Dang Ninh where it meets the river contains a supermarket, a market area with restaurants in the back, and a bar near the river.
- There are various cheap to moderately priced restaurants on Nguyen Chi Thanh (labeled Muong Thanh on the giant sign where the street ends on both sides).
1 The Light House Club, Mường Thanh Hotel, Võ Nguyên Giáp Road. Open until midnight. This nightclub serves cheap beer (35,000 dong) and plays improbably loud electronic music. Free entry.
- Cheap, flophouse-like accommodation can be found across from the bus station at Nguyen Huu Tho/QL12 and Tran Dang Ninh for 100,000 - 200,000 dong. Most of these places have a mix of shared and private bathrooms, cheap restaurants underneath, and enough holes for air and bugs to flow through. Not much English is spoken.
- A half step up are the guesthouses and hotels on Tran Dang Ninh and the river intersection a few blocks away from the bus station for 200,000 - 250,000 dong. Air conditioning is more common, Wi-Fi less so.
- There are a variety of hotels and guesthouses on Duong 7-5/AH13/QL 279 near the interaction with A1 hill at Hoang Van Thai and a bit north of that.
The bus from Điện Biên Phủ to Mheung Khua in Laos leaves daily at 05:30 and costs 100,000 dong. Be sure to get there even earlier and claim a seat although you will likely be sharing your seat with a local, or sitting on a pile of goods piled in the aisle. As a rule, the "bus is never full." Bring water and snacks. It takes about 2 hours to reach the Tay Trang Vietnam exit point, which is fairly straightforward. From the Vietnamese border station it is another 6 km to the Laos border checkpoint.
From there you continue along the now paved road to Muang Khua. Total journey time, including border crossings, is about 3.5 hours. There are guesthouses and a place to exchange money at the top of the road leading from the boat ramp. You can connect to Muang Xay (Oudomxay), 2½ hours. You should consider taking the boat ride down the fairly narrow and very scenic Nam Ou River to Nong Khiaw 200-350k Kip (Nov 2022) depending on the number of people. A stop at Muang Ngoi is advisable, for the beautiful isolated scenery, though for an even more idyllic and isolated village consider stopping 45 minutes earlier at Sop Chem. From Nong Khiaw onwards travel by bus to Luang Prabang 70k kip (Nov 2022) and elsewhere is possible. Departures by boat from Muang Khua depend on whether there are enough people interested in going. Ask at the boat ramp.