Dien Bien Phu
Dien Bien Phu (Điện Biên Phủ) is a small town in northwestern Vietnam.
Dien Bien Phu was the site of a major French defeat (1954) in the War of Independence which signaled the beginning of the end of French rule.
Vietnam Airlines flies from Hanoi (60 mins).
Another option to get from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu is by bus. Numerous buses depart throughout the day from different stations. Decent sleeper buses leave from Hanoi's Mỹ Đình station: the journey takes about 12 hours and costs around 350,000 dong (Sept 2012). Another option is to take a bus from Sapa or Lao Cai to Dien Bien Phu, the ride takes in some beautiful scenery along the way.
There is also a bus going from Muang Khua, Laos, the road is under development and speed does not exceed 20 Km/h the journey takes 8 hours (May, 2010). Another bus that crosses the border links Dien Bien Phu 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 though on the way to other destinations in the area.
There has been recent refurbishment of aspects of the French defences as more tourist are showing interest:
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 giant sign where the street ends on both sides).
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 but wifi is still a mixed bag.
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 Dien Bien Phu to Mheung Khua in Laos leaves daily at 05:30 and costs 100,000 dong (June 2011). 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 customs, which is fairly straightforward. From the Vietnamese border station it is another 6km to the Laos border checkpoint. Visa-on-arrival is available and costs $30-40 depending on nationality. You can pay in Dong, Kip, or US Dollars. One passport photo is required, but if you don't have one they'll take a picture for you for 2,000 kip. Everyone pays 3,000 kip to cross the border, plus a 2,000 kip 'H1N1' test (they take your temperature). So 5,000 kip, plus your visa charge.
From there you continue along the unpaved road to Muang Khua. Total journey including border crossings was about 8 hours. You will have to pay 2,000 kip for a boat ride across the river (try and get some kip in change at the border station) but once across there are guesthouses and a place to exchange money at the top of the road leading from the boat ramp. You can take a tuk-tuk to the bus station (5,000kip) and then connect to Odoumxai for 35,000kip, 2.5 hours. You should consider taking the boat ride down the fairly narrow and very scenic Nam Ou River towards Luang Prabang, stopping overnight at Nong Khiaw where road travel is possible - departures depend on whether there are enough people interested in going - ask ahead at the boat ramp.