Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu Travel Blog

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Since crossing overland from Cambodia into Vietnam, I've been dreading the crossing into Laos.  The border was only recently opened, and it sits snugly in the mountains.  There's a town thirty-four kilometers from the border on the Vietnamese side, but there's nothing for AGES on the Lao side.  (In actuality, Muang Khua is only seventy kilometers from the border, but in Laos speak seventy kilometers may as well be on the moon.)  To reach said Vietnamese town (Dien Bien Phu), one must take a twelve hour bus from Hanoi, snaking along a torturously neglected road through the mountains.

I debated at length with myself over forking over the cash to fly directly into Luang Prabang, but A, it's an international flight and therefore twice the price than the distance would otherwise merit and B, there's only one airline with two flights per day, creating a delightful little monopoly that ramps the price up farther still.
  And having just flown two quick painless flights, my resolve to do everything cheaply overland wasn't what it was a mere week ago.

When I say I debated at length, I mean I debated AT LENGTH.  It was at the forefront of my mind for days, and I brought it up often when talking with others to get their take on it.  Finally I decided it wasn't worth it and resolved myself to my fate of three days of travel overland between Vietnam and Laos.  THREE DAYS!

And then at lunch on Sunday Mau said "why not just fly to Dien Bien Phu?"  Fly?  To the border?  Keep it short and sweet and domestic and cheap?  You can do that??  SIGN ME UP!

So today I flew to Dien Bien Phu.
  Twelve hour jumble overland?  No thank you.  Spoiled brat that's getting a bit soft?  That would be me.

I met Arnold within the first few minutes of arriving.  Literally, I hadn't even put my bags down yet.  Apparently he saw me walk into a guesthouse from down the street and ran to catch up; he'd already been into several guesthouses and thanks to Tet (Vietnamese New Year, which is in full swing this week) the prices were ramped up far higher than they should have been.  So we snagged a room with two beds (every guesthouse I've stayed in throughout southeast Asia has had a minimum of two beds, even if it's just for one person) and split the cost and were both immensely glad to have beat the system.  In your face, Tet thieves.

Arnold introduced me to three others he met this morning (they'd all taken the long overnight haul from Hanoi that I avoided), Margaret and Dominic from England, Patrick from France.
  We sat in a cafe swapping travel recommendations with a couple from Vancouver who were going the other way and eager for Vietnam tips.  And by "swapping recommendations" I mean I sat there with my mouth shut and marveled at these people.  With the exception of Arnold, who is a student on winter holiday, everyone else was over the age of sixty and had been through each of these countries more times than they could count on their fingers and toes combined.  EACH.  And they're weathered and have the travel hack bit down pat.  Which made me feel like a clueless amateur, but that's a feeling I'm quite familiar with at this point, seeing as I have it stamped across my forehead no fewer than five times a day.  These people are PROS at the budget backpacker thing.

Tomorrow we catch a bus at 5am, and allegedly arrive in Muang Khua, the closest Lao town to the border, seven hours later.  The bus only travels three days a week, and the guidebook, internet, and bus station have all deemed Wednesday to be one of the decreed three.  However, seeing as we're talking about crossing borders overland in this region of the world, where buses often don't do what they're supposed to do, no one's counting any chickens until they're fully grown, let alone hatched.  So we'll see.  Fingers crossed.  Laos tomorrow!
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Dien Bien Phu
photo by: marg_eric