Tucked away in the northwest corner of Vietnam, not far from the Laos border, sits the small rural area which once played host to one of the most pivotal battles in Vietnam’s turbulent past. Dien Bien Phu sits surrounded by mighty and extensive mountains dotted with ethnic minority villages which make it hard to imagine that this was ever the scene of a brutal, 57-day siege. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu fought between the French and the Viet Minh, began in March 1954 and ended almost two months later in May. French troops were stationed in Dien Bien Phu with the intention of cutting off the Viet Minh’s path into Laos. This, however, did not succeed as the Viet Minh, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, retaliated with a tenacity and brute force that the French were not expecting. The Viet Minh forces eventually conquered all of the French posts in Dien Bien Phu, and the decisive battle was the prelude to the Geneva Conference which saw the country divided into North and South Vietnam and eventually, France’s retreat from Vietnam.
Today, the majority of the scars and relics of the war have been camouflaged by agriculture or built over in expanding developments. There are however still some iconic spots where historians can discover the areas remarkable history.
There are relics left from both the French and Vietnamese troops, General Vo Nguyen Giap’s headquarters is made up of a series of underground rooms, and it was from here that he masterminded the pivotal attacks against the French.
The bunker of Colonel de Castries is another noteworthy bunker, this time French. Colonel de Castries was in charge of the seven French posts at Dien Bien Phu and was captured at this bunker on 7th May 1954.
Hill A1, also known as Elaine by the French was the last of the French posts to succumb to the forces of the Viet Minh. The defeat of the French in the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu not only ended France’s involvement in Vietnam but set a precedent for future revolutions.
Victory monument is a striking bronze sculpture which weighs in at an enormous 120 tonnes. The imposing sculpture honours the battles that took place in Dien Bien Phu and those who fought and lost their lives. It sits at the top grand stone staircase looking out over Dien Bien Phu.
There are also sobering graveyards and memorials to the many who lost their lives from both the French and Vietnamese forces. The Dien Bien Phu Cemetary is home to row upon row of pristine graves each dedicated to the Vietnamese soldiers who died in the fierce battles.
The French monument is a stark white obelisk which commemorates the soldiers who lost their lives and were buried in the surrounding rice paddies. The monument gathers more plaques each year as people come to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.
This deeply historical place reminds its visitors of the immense pain and suffering of war but also the importance of looking to the future. The rolling countryside with its majestic mountains, dramatic skies and Thai ethnic minority villages also makes Dien Bien Phu a perfect place to experience the rugged, unspoilt countryside.