Wednesday 18 September 2013

Weird and wonderful Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu, located in the north of Vietnam, near Lao border, is a very important town for the Vietnamese. Here the French lost their final battle and Vietnam became the free country. Today, you can visit a very interesting museum and a cemetery, commemorating the battle. 
My goal was to stay in most of the places I went through at least for a day. Dien Bien Phu didn't take much space in the Lonely Planet guide, so I didn't think it was going to be amazing. As a town itself it wasn't interesting, however almost no tourists stop there and Dien Bien Phu was great to get to know the Vietnamese culture. 

The hostels in the town were shabby and dirty. I finally found one that had a clean bathroom and looked pretty decent. It was owned by a family and no one spoke English.  The building was huge and had around 7 floors. My sister and I were given a room on the very top floor, at the end of the corridor. The rest of the rooms and floors seemed deserted and it was dead quiet.

We unpacked and went to look for something to eat. Most of the bars and restaurants were located in a dirty rooms with plastic chairs and tables. Menus were in Vietnamese and again, no one spoke English. When we finally managed to order some food we were served a tomato based mush with tofu and rice. It was disgusting. The smells of cooked chicken meat, the men sitting next to us harking on the floor and spitting added to the whole experience.

Chicken anyone?

Dien Bien Phu was also the first place where we saw the famous motorbikes and people transporting different things on them. We saw pigs, chickens, turkeys, trees at the back of the bikes - some animals squashed almost to death.

Main street in Dien Bien Phu

The next day we went to the museum and walked around the town. It was schoring hot, so we decided to get something to drink. We entered a huge bar, full of men. It was very early in the afternoon, but most of the customers in the bar were already drunk. Huge jugs of beer stood on every table. The bar went almost still when we entered. We ordered our drinks and sat down at one of the tables. Suddenly, one of the very drunk men walked up to us. He took my sister's hand and started saying something in Vientamese. 'Sorry, but I don't understand' said my sister politely. 'My friend, you...' slurred the man, which was followed by another long monologue in Vietnamese. This 'conversation' went on for a little while. He started pulling my sister towards the table where his other mates were sitting. By that time, I was a little scared.
Luckily, his phone started ringing and he went outside to pick it up. Quickly, we took our things and left the bar.

In the evening we were sitting in the lobby of our hostel, updating our Facebook. The building was as always quiet and deserted. I was enjoying my beer, when suddenly a door next to me opened and a boy of maybe 12 stepped out. He was chubby, short and...completely naked. He started shouting something in the direction of the yard. He closed the door and disappeared. He repeated it every couple of minutes. The situation was so surreal that we couldn't stop laughing. Tears were streaming down my face and every time the boy appeared another burst of laughter overtook us.

Our last night in the hostel was quite strange, too. We were going to bed at around 10 pm, when we heard a knock on the door. I opened the door and two ladies from the reception entered the room carrying a huge duvet. They pointed at my bed and said something in Vietnamese. I shrugged my shoulders. They took my duvet, took the cover off and put it on the duvet they brought. They didn't do anything with my sister's duvet. During the whole time they were giggling. We had no idea why they changed the cover only for me and why they were giggling.
At night I was woken up by a light knocking at the door. It was 3am. I went slowly and quietly to the door and saw a shadow behind it. I went back to bed and woke up my sister. The knocking continued for another 10 min or so. It was very light, but we could still hear it. We didn't have a courage to open the door. Then it stopped...

Despite the whole weirdness and the fact that I was a little scared during my last night, I loved Dien Bien Phu. Mostly because the locals don't have much contact with foreigners and they are curious about them, but in a totally different way than the Burmese. They are more pushy, more forward, they don't have that shyness about them. It was also a great way to get familiar with the culture and prepare for more surprises in Hanoi and Sapa.

Colourful and cheerful Dien Bien Phu

Have you been to Vietnam? What were your first impressions?


  1. I almost forgot that DBP was so funny. It was great start before other adventures in Vietnam. ;)

    1. It was! That's why blogging is so great - you can re-live the whole experience and recollect the memories.

  2. Jo, no thank you on that chicken ha ha! You girls were incredibly brave at the bar and in your room. Was there a police presence around if needed to assist you? And what on earth was going on with that young boy and his rants?? :)

    1. No police presence, I'm afraid. I'm sure police there is as drunk as the other guys. It gave us a good scare, but luckily it all turned out ok.
      No idea what the guy was doing. I think he wanted to say that they really liked my sister and was inviting her over for a drink, but he was too drunk to say anything coherent in English.