In a nutshell
Dien Bien Phu is a relatively peaceful and quiet mountainous town, which is one of the newer provinces in the country and shares its border with Laos.
Why go to Dien Bien Phu
When taking in the outstanding views, it is hard to imagine that this place fell victim to war during the First Indochina War in 1954 but is now a regional hub for transportation and trade. You will notice the high proportion of ethnic minority, which is mostly a mix of Viet Kinh and White Thai and therefore it’s common to see traditional clothing like dresses. Most of the attractions here are to do with the war and if you are a historical buff you will love this town. Attractions to go and see include the Muong Thang bridge, the bunker of De Casties and Pirot, French Command Bunker and the strong point called ‘Elaine’. There is also the Vietnam Military History Museum and cemetery, which has exhibits about the war though there isn’t much English translation. There are also interesting markets to checkout, massage parlours, and spas. There is a good amount of places to eat at around the place with prices varying depending on which area you are in. There are local dishes as well as Western cuisines and vegetarian options but don’t expect too much in terms of nightlife with your best bet being one of the karaoke bars that are found along the main roads.
When to go to Dien Bien Phu
The weather can play a big part with when you will want to go to Dien Bien Phu and we went in February, which was very warm in the day with temperatures around 30-35 oC but this dropped a fair few degrees by night time. We advise you to go around this time as this is during the dry season and therefore is mostly sunny and we packed mostly summery clothes as well as some warmer clothes like jackets, trousers and a raincoat. If you decide to come in the ‘off-peak’ season then you may encounter more rain but prices for things like hotels and rentals will be cheaper.
Where to stay in Dien Bien Phu
If you are going there on a budget, then checkout the accommodation around the bus station area where there are a good amount of places that have a mix of shared and private rooms for around VND150-200,000. A few blocks away from the bus station is Tran Dang Ninh street and here you will find some better places that possibly have wifi and air con as well as bigger and more spacious rooms. The best hotels that we found in the city were Dien Bien Phu Hanoi hotel and Him Lan resort. The former is located near the cemetery and has big-sized rooms, TV, air-con and mini bar and prices start from USD20. The Him Lan resort is 5km outside of town and is a typically big resort that contains a swimming pool, internet, restaurant and good views with prices starting from VND650,000.
Where and what to eat in Dien Bien Phu
We went to the market on Tran Dinh Ninh by the river and there were plenty of stalls to pick from for delicious snacks and meals. There you will find beef noodle soups, spring rolls, hot pots and much more for as little as a few dollars. Nguyen Chi Thanh has reasonably priced restaurants and is within walking distances of the majority of the hotels and most places offer com and pho. The same street has a good amount of cafes and bakeries too. The most expensive restaurants are found very close to the bus station with prices for a bowl of pho being around VND50,000.
how to get around Dien Bien Phu
The city centre is pretty small and can easily be walked, which is a great way to see the place but if you prefer to use transport then you will never be too far away from a taxi. Also, there are countless motorcycle taxis and this can be a cheap way of getting around the city, which is what we did. You can also rent bicycles (VND30,000) and motorbikes (VND150,000), which provide you with a sense of freedom and gives you peace of mind about getting home.
How to get to and from Dien Bien Phu
The Dien Bien Phu airport is just a few minutes away from the centre and Vietnam Airlines has an office there and it serves Hanoi twice a day, which takes 1 hour.
The bus station is found on the corner of Tran Dang Ninh and is served by plenty of buses that connect the city with: Hanoi (10-11 hours, VND250-300,000), Lai Chau (6-7 hrs, VND140,000), Muong Lay (3-4 hrs, VND60,000), Son La (4-5 hrs, VND80,000), Lao Cai (6 hrs, VND150,000) and Muang Khua in Laos (7-8 hrs, VND130,000). The bus to Laos can be cancelled and delayed till the next day due to lack of business so do be wary of this and have a backup plan in case this happens.
There are motorbike taxis that will take you to the border but from there it can be difficult to get any onwards transport. If you go by car or bike to Dien Bien Phu from Hanoi, this will take you roughly 11 hours.
Is Dien Bien Phu a safe place to visit?
As far as we know of, we felt that it was a very safe place and there wasn’t anything to report on to do with criminal-related issues. Like always, try to avoid dimly-lit roads and keep your belongings out of sight.