Published: November 8th 2008November 1st 2008
I am sorry for no pictures, i am typing this on the 8th of November and between our visit to this place and our visit to Hue my old little Sony camera was stolen from my bag on the bus. I blame no one but my self. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BAG UNATTENDED ANY WHERE! Der! I do not care so much about the camera and we backed up most of the pictures but we lost about 1 week of pictures and that is the hard thing.
Dave and I wanted to get off the beaten track and head south west. We managed to secure a 'cheap' seat in a private car that a travel agent was sending to DBP to collect a couple who were happy to pay $200 to be driven back to SaPa. (We paid $50) Little do they know the rip off and I suppose there are others who have travelled this road for less than $50 too.
The ride would take about 8-10 hours. We stopped in Muong Lay for lunch. We originally asked the agent if it was worth stopping there for a night. There's nothing to see in Muong Lay, he said... and we told him we wanted to travel by road to Son La after DBP and he said that the road was really bad because of the building of the dam. Now some people reading this would ask "what dam?" Well that's just it, we believed what he told us. The bottom line of this story is that we have learned to do what we set out to do and not believe a lot of what we are being told. My only guess is that it all boils down to translation.
Now about the town.
Dien Bien Phu is a pleasant change to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and the constant sales pitching in SaPa. The people are friendly without their hand out. This is not a tourist town although it has more claim to historical significance in this country than what we have seen so far. DBP was one of the two defining battlefields to expel the French in 1954. The area is with flat valleys surrounded by mountain ranges. A fascinating visit to Hill A1 shows the exact layout of the French generals bunker as well as the hill being in its original condition with bunkers and left over army tank. The dirt bunkers have been preserved with concrete so that they will remain for all to see in the future.
We also hiked to the top of the main hill in the centre of town which sports the largest bronze monument in Vietnam to the success of the Vietnamese. Plenty of building going on in town as it is a growing business centre. We decided to find a moped to hire for the day to see the entire valley. We found a fellow, not hard to do as most fellows sit on their bikes calling out "you want motorbi?" He let us take his bike for the day for 150000 dong (about $9US). Well as Dave hasn't driven a bike for a long time and me, well, let's say I was a bit nervous about being on the back, we got off to a slow start getting used to the gears and also the many others on the road as well not to mention this was Davids first time driving on the other side of the road.
Our first stop was a travel agent to purchase tickets to fly back to Hanoi, cheap as chips flights and cut travel time down to an 1.5 hours. There is still a huge amount of trust here as they just hand you the keys to the bike and you are expected to return it to the same place at the end of the day. We hired the bike at noon, now...in the smaller towns everything stops and stores close daily for 2 hours for lunch from 11 - 1pm with this leaving us no option but to do the same.
After lunch break we visited the local museum and there were some children there who found my hairy arms very amusing and also found it funny to ask possibly the only 3 sentences they knew in English the run away quickly and laugh. Slowly they became braver and stood still and Lynne had a quick chat with them. Next to the big gold wall over the road, this is a memorial of the thousands who have fallen throughout he war. We drove up the road 200m's to the A1 hill mentioned above then we thought to just point the bike in a direction and go. This was a good idea, the road was narrow and animals frequent...so we just went. The about 12k's from the city centre we found a dam, not the one mentioned earlier this one is for this city, the view was so beautiful and so quiet it was nice just to take time and look out over the city. We returned to the city and went to the air port it was deserted and locked so Lynne decided to have a turn driving the bike in the car park. My brave little pookypoo donned her helmet, gripped the throttle and with white knuckles glowing the little 125cc bike roared to life. As her confidence grew and her speed increased i heard the click of a gear change and whoosh! she was in 2nd gear! Now the car park is not huge and the bike has 4 gears, Lynne was determined to touch all 4 then had to change back quick as she neared the end of the runway. It was as we were leaving the airport that i saw that we could have used the runway because the locals must know the plane schedule and while the air port is closed buffalo use the runway to sun them selves.
We returned the bike and decided to go for a walk, we found markets, a guy killing chickens and preparing them for dinner. A lady selling wasp and larvae, you eat the larvae and as for the wasp well i don't know what you do with it. We had some great pics of the remnants of beef, a small stall with 3 cow feet lying next to it and the colours are so vibrant. Time for a coffee coffee here is more complicated. There is a system of coffee from numbered from 1 to 8, 1 being strong and bitter 8 is mild and sweet. I have become accustomed to sweet black coffee with ice. Lynne as was mentioned in previous blogs is not and we walked for 1-2hours looking for a cafe with the word cappuccino somewhere on the menu ( not in this town gracy).
Time to fly literally, off to Hanoi. I highly recommend a visit here if you want to see a city relatively un-touched by tourism.