Deep in the highlands of northwest Vietnam lies the historic battlefield of Dien Bien Phu, where Viet Minh forces defeated the French in 1954, thus ending nearly 100 years of colonization. In addition to battlefields, bunkers, cemeteries, and a museum, Dien Bien Phu also offers beautiful mountain scenery and access to ethnic minority villages.
A trip to Dien Bien Phu is a must for war and history buffs, and for most visitors here, the main draw is the decisive and bloody battle of Dien Bien Phu. A number of strategic locations have been maintained or reconstructed, and commemorative monuments erected. Independent visitors can explore the sites on their own, at their own pace. A popular option for more in-depth exploration is a multi-day guided tour from Hanoi, which often also includes a visit to a nearby Tay, Hmong, or Si La village. For those with more time, there’s a popular loop itinerary that starts in Hanoi, then travels to Mai Chau, Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Pa So, and Sapa, before returning to Hanoi.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Some of the sites, such as A1 hill and the museum, will be closed for lunch.
- If you plan to visit independently, be aware that not all hotels and guesthouses are licensed to rent to foreigners.
- There is limited internet in the area, so make sure you’ve planned out navigation in advance.
How to Get There
Dien Bien Phu is located about 292 miles (470 kilometers) west of Hanoi and 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of the Laos border. For those not visiting as part of a tour, it’s easiest to fly here directly from Hanoi. Bus service is also available from Hanoi, Sapa, Lao Cai, or from Laos (Muang Khua or Muay Xai).
When to Get There
The best time to visit Dien Bien Phu is between November and April, when the weather is warm and dry. Avoid visiting in July and August, the height of the rainy season, when the roads in the area can become muddy and often impassable.
Things to See at Dien Bien Phu
Top sites include a reconstructed A1 hill (known as Colline Eliane to the French), site of the pivotal final battle, and cemetery; D1 hill, which now contains a monument wall, statue, and expansive views of the valley; the reconstructed command center of General Vo Nguyen Giap; the reconstructed French command bunker; and the Vietnam Military History Museum (or Dien Bien Phu Victory Museum).