Điện Biên Phủ Vietnam Travel and Destination Guide

Vietnam Map with Dien Bien Phu Highlited

One of the delights of foreign travel is to visit places of historic interest and if they are sited on the road less travelled, then all the better!

Điện Biên Phủ is one of Vietnam’s most significant provincial capitals and lies in the Mường Thanh Valley, approximately 470 kms to the west of Ha Noi and surrounded by steep and densely wooded hills.  The “heart shaped” valley that is about 20 kms and 6 km wide and is home to a population of around 125,000.  It is only some 34 kilometres to the east of the Laos border.

 Dien Bien Phu Muong Thanh Valley

 

Its significance to Vietnamese history stems from in 1954 this quiet rural setting saw a ferocious 57 day battle fought between the, then, colonial occupier of French Indochina and the Việt Minh, who wanted self determination for Vietnam.  The French had long attempted to draw the Việt Minh into a “set piece” battle and to this purpose had fortified the lush farmlands of Điện Biên Phủ.  The French rationale was that through additional support to its soldiers at Điện Biên Phủ, enacmped deep in the hills of this area of north-western Vietnam, it would cut off Việt Minh supply lines and tactically draw the Việt Minh into a major confrontation.  The French believed that such tactics would cripple the resolve and resources of the Việt Minh.

The French however were unaware of the Việt Minh’s possession of heavy artillery, that they had dissassembled and man hauled over the harsh terrain to strategically place and oversight the French positions.  On 13 March 1954, under the leadership of Senior General Võ Nguyên Giáp (who celebrated his 100th birthday on 25 August 2011) the Việt Minh surrounded and besieged the French with withering artillery bombardments and fearless ground attacks.  The French forces repulsed wave upon wave of attacks until their positions were gradually taken and all the time the Việt Minh anti-aircraft fire took its toll on the French air supplies.

The French garrison was overrun on 7 May 1954, with the survivors captured and taken prisoner, to be released some months later.  This significant event effectively ended France’s colonial reign of Vietnam, which had commenced in 1887, and the completion of the Geneva Convention on 21 July 1954, saw Vietnam freed of colonial influence.

The road from Hanoi (National Route 12) is not an easy trek that takes about 12 hours and although a modern road is anticipated for completion in 2013, the easiest way to travel to Điện Biên Phủ from Hanoi is by air with Vietnam Airlines.  There is a border crossing from Laos at Tay Trang that, when open, allows you to pass into Vietnam at Sop Hun, however, this crossing is frequently closed and does not issue visas.  If you’re travelling from Laos, you’ll need to have secured a visa at Vientiane and confirmed that this border crossing is open, prior to your departure.

 

Điện Biên Phủ is steeped in its military significance to modern Vietnam history and remnants of the famous siege, such as French General Christian de Castries’ command bunker, General Giáp’s tunnels (some 40 kms out of Điện Biên Phủ), A1 Hill (a fortified French hill), Mường Thanh Bridge, Điện Biên Phủ Museum along with French and Vietnamese War Cemeteries can be readily visited.  A magnificent monument is under construction at D1 Hill to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory on 21 July 2014.

 

 Dien Bien Phu General Christian de Castries Command Bunker

To solely focus on Điện Biên Phủ’s military past does not do this delightful city justice, as its rustic charm is ever present that is reflective of its distance from Hanoi combined with its “off the beaten track” location.  The countryside is fertile and beautiful that, with its relaxed pace, makes a delightful change from the energy of Ha Noi.  The residential and commercial precincts are still distinctively Vietnamese, without too much external influence, evoking the city’s establishment, in the 1840s, as a township developed to assist in preventing attacks on trading caravans to and from China and Burma.  These precincts are predominately located on the eastern side of the Ron River that flows through Điện Biên Phủ.

 

 Dien Bien Phu Township

 

Although not catering for a mainstream tourist trade, there are many lovely guesthouses together with numerous places to enjoy the local life and cuisine.  As with all of Vietnam, visitors are made to feel welcome and obtaining guides and transport to visit the varity of places of interest is readily organised through your guesthouse.  Apart from ethic Vietnamese, Điện Biên Phủ’s population is an eclectic mix of Thai and Hmong peoples known as Montagnards.  Điện Biên Phủ also provides for a terrific location to use as a base for day trips further afield to nearby townships such as Sơn La, where Vietnam’s colonial past can be further experienced through a visit to the former French prison and museum.

 

 Dien Bien Phu One of the Vietnamese Monuments being built in Honour of the Dien Bien Phu battle with the French

 

Time spent in Điện Biên Phủ is positive, as you are able to experience Vietnam as it used to be before the recent influx of western tourism whilst providing you with an appreciation of the struggle that the Vietnamese people have had to take control of their country’s destiny.

Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers Wins Luxury Hotel of the Year Award

The Sheraton Saigon Hotel &
Towers has been awarded Luxury Hotel of the Year and Spa Operator of the Year
at the recent Tourism Alliance Awards.

The full media release from
Starwood can be read below:

 Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers Wins Luxury Hotel of the Year Award

Sheraton Saigon Hotel &
Towers proudly added to its long list of awards last night when it was
acknowledged in the inaugural Tourism Alliance Awards as the Luxury Hotel of
the Year and Spa Operator of the Year.

“We are of course very proud and delighted to
receive these awards”
said Dietmar Kielnhofer, General
Manager of the hotel after the Awards Ceremony.
  “The most pleasing thing however is that it gives our associates a
reason to walk a little taller in their shoes.  They can be proud of the
hotel they work for and they can feel rewarded for their hard work and effort”
he said.

These awards
occur in a very timely manner as Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers has also
just received a nomination in the World Category for the World Travel Awards,
the travel industry’s equivalent to the Oscars.

“Sheraton Saigon has received many awards but
we have never been nominated by our peers at this level”
said Mr. Kielnhofer. 
“The World Category is not something you can choose to nominate for, you must
be nominated by travel industry professionals throughout the world.  The
fact that our clients put us forward amongst a short elite list of nominees is
a great testament to the service and standard of excellence we provide and the
relationships we maintain with those to which we provide it”
he said.

The World
Travel Awards will be announced at a star studded ceremony of the travel
industry’s top players in London on 7 November.

 

Travel Indochinas Cycle Vietnam Trip Features on Channel 9 Getaway Travel Program

Travel Indochina has just been
featured on Australia’s Channel 9 Getaway travel show, with their Cycling
Vietnam Tour, the segment featured Getaways Natalie Gruzlewski taking a cycling
tour and exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The full media release from
Travel Indochina can be read below:

Travel Indochina, Australia’s
leading Asian travel specialist, will feature on ‘Getaway’, Australia’s most
watched TV travel program, on Channel 9 tonight, Thursday 11th March.

‘Getaway’ will showcase part of
Travel Indochina’s popular Cycling Vietnam Small Group Journey – exploring the
fascinating backroads and boulevards of Vietnam’s charming capital, Hanoi.

The Travel Indochina cycle trips
include a comprehensive pan-Vietnam itinerary. The 19 day package includes
accommodation and equipment, tour leader and local guide, support vehicle, most
meals and an overnight cruise on Halong Bay.

Managing Director of Travel Indochina, Paul Hole, says cycling may not be the
quickest way to see Vietnam but it is certainly amongst the best.

“Travelling by two wheels is truly a magnificent way to see the
country, and in Vietnam it’s a ‘when in Rome’ kind of experience and definitely
not a lonely activity!,”
says Paul.

“As you will see on ‘Getaway’, Travel Indochina’s cycling tours
allow our clients to experience the true ins and the outs of day-to-day life in
Vietnam.

“The journey is designed for part time peddlers, travellers do not
need to be tri-athletes – far from it.

“Cycling through both the cities and the beautiful countryside
provides a unique and intimate experience of the scenery, people and culture of
this amazing country.

“And that intimacy is carried through in our Small Group Journey. With a
maximum of 16 participants, Small Group Journey is like a tailored trip among
close friends but with the full support of a local guide and tour expert,”
says Paul.

Travel Indochina’s Asia experts can be contacted
on 1 300 365 355 for details, or
visit our website travelindochina.com.au.

 

 

Vietnamese Food Guide – The Food to try on a Trip to Vietnam

For
the majority of International travellers, trying food from a different country
or culture is one of the most exciting aspects of visiting a different country and
Vietnam is no exception, Just remember to be adventures and write down the names
of the food you like, so you can order it on your return home!!

 

Vietnamese
food is a one of the most delicious styles of food in Asia if not the world, its
style and taste shares slight similarities with its near neighbours (China,
Thailand, and Cambodia) yet the food of Vietnam is distinct and original.
Unsurprisingly French cooking has much influence on the food and cuisine of Vietnam,
which is most apparent in the countries outstanding breads.

 

So
what are the foods Asia Travel Magazine recommends trying on a trip to Vietnam?

 

Pho
Vietnamese Noodle Soup
– This is perhaps the most popular & famous
Vietnamese Dish of all time. You can try two main types of Pho, the first and
most popular is Pho Bo (Beef) with the other being the chicken variety Pho Ga.
Pho is made with rice noodles and the dish is always served with a plate of
fresh mints, bean sprouts and lime, along with Hoi sin Sauce & Nuoc mum
(Fish sauce).

 

Pho
originates from Northern Vietnam and is usually eaten for breakfast; however
you can pick up a bowl at any time of the day or night.

 

If
you are a little adventurous ask for a Pho Bo Dac Biet, Dac Biet is the
Vietnamese word for Special, and you will usually get beef tendon, Beef Flank
& Beef tripe.

 

 

Banh
Xeo

– Crispy Vietnamese Pancake with pork & prawn (shrimp)

 

Banh
Xeo is a crispy rice flour pan cake filled with pieces of pork, school prawns
& bean sprouts, which when cooked and crispy is folded in half and is about
the size of a large plate (I have seen them bigger). To eat tear off a piece of
Banh Xeo and wrap in Vietnamese Lettuce leaf along with fresh mints, then dip
in Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese dipping sauce) 

 

Banh
Xeo is not very well known in the west, yet everyone I have ever suggested it
to or made it for has absolutely loved it. As with most Vietnamese dishes Banh
Xeo is quite simple yet bursting with freshness and flavour. Banh Xeo is highly
recommended, if you visit Vietnam without trying you are simply missing out.

 

In
Saigon’s district 1,
Dinh Cong
Trang
Street
specialises in Banh Xeo, Asia Travel Magazine recommends heading straight the
restaurant named
Bánh Xèo 46a,
at 46A Dinh
Cong Trang.

 

 

 

Bun
Bo Hue

– Spicy Vietnamese Noodle Soup 

 

As
the name suggests this dish originally heralds from the imperial city of Hue in
central Vietnam. Bun Bo Hue is made from Pork broth & served with
Vietnamese sate sauce (Dried chilly & oil mixture) along with beef meat,
and noodles. Even though this is referred to as Spicy Vietnamese soup I
generally find it is far from spicy, so it is normally up to you to add additional
chilli and/or sate sauce at the table if you like it hot.

 

As
with Pho and most other soup dishes Bun
Bo Hue
is served with a side plate of fresh herbs/mints & bean sprouts
which are added to your bowl prior to eating.

 

 

 

 

Nem
Nuong

– Grilled/BBQ Pork Balls Wrapped in rice paper with mints

 

Nem
Nuong is made from a mixture of pork mince and various spices then grilled/BBQed
 on bamboo skewers. To eat put one or two
Nem Nuong balls on a sheet of moist rice paper, along with fresh mints, lettuce,
Cucumber & vermicelli, wrap the rice paper and dip in Vietnamese dipping
sauce. 

 

I
was introduced to Nem Noung at An Ngon Restaurant in Saigon on my first trip to
Vietnam,
and it became an instant favourite of mine. It was so good that I returned to
An Ngon several times before the end of that trip, and have always make the
point of returning on each trip since. 

 

Lau – Vietnamese Hot
Pot

If
you ever go out for lunch or dinner with Vietnamese this is always on the menu,
and will usually be a Fish or seafood hot pot (but you can get beef &
chicken). As the hot pot slowly cooks away at your table add more seafood and
fresh mints & vegetables.

 

 

 

Cha
Gio

– Vietnamese fried Spring Rolls are very similar to Chinese spring rolls;
however some of the ingredients are different. Cha Gio is normally made out of
pork & prawn mince with the addition of Black Fungus (a type of mushroom)
& shredded taro.

 

Cha
Gio can be eaten alone (with Vietnamese dipping sauce) but more often than not
is eaten in a bowl with Vermicelli noodles mints & Vietnamese fish sauce
(similar to the dish below)    

 

Bun
Thit Nuong/Bun Dac Biet –
Bun Tit Nuong/Bun Dac Bit is
a rice noodle dish, which is served with various meats along with the
obligatory fresh mints and famous Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese fish sauce)

 

 

 

 

Chao
Tom –
Prawn
(Shrimp) paste grilled on a sugar Cane stick

 

Chao
Tom is similar to Nem Nuong in that the cooked Chao Tom is usually wrapped in rice
paper and eaten with mints however the main difference is that Chao Tom is made
from Prawn (Shrimp) and cooked on a sugar cane stick. For eating take the meat
off the sugar cane stick & place on a piece of moist rice paper with fresh
mints, lettuce, cucumber, finally roll & dip in that wonderful Vietnamese
dipping sauce.  

 

Bun
Rieu

  A pork soup base soup with prawn’s
& shrimp paste, Bun rieu is severed with rice noodles and usually also
contains pieces of tofu & tomato. Like I have mentioned for other dishes
you also get a plate of herbs/mints & bean sprouts, which are added to the
bowl prior to eating.

 

 

 

 

Banh
Cuon

– Large rolled rice noodle sheets filled with pork mince, black fungus (a type
of mushroom)  Severed with fresh mints
and Nouc Mam (a Vietnamese Fish sauce with chilli garlic, lime, sugar) Sliced
Vietnamese ham (Cha Lua) is also mixed amongst the Rolled Rice paper sheets.

 

Canh
Chua –
Hot & Sour (a little sweet also) Fish Soup,
cooked with tomato pieces, pineapple & Okra. The sour flavour usually comes
from tamarind, this soup is severed with fine vermicelli rice noodles along
with the standard plate of fresh mints & bean sprouts.

 

 

 

Banh
Mi Thit

– Vietnamese Bread roll with sliced Vietnamese ham (Cha Lua), Roast Pork, pate
and vegetables

 

Banh
Mi is the Vietnamese take on a French Baggett, add Thit (meat) to Banh Mi and
you get Banh Mi Thit, a Vietnamese bread roll (Baguette) with Vietnamese ham, roast
pork, pate & vegetables.

 

The
plan Vietnamese Roll (Banh Mi) is also served with the Vietnamese stew/curry
dish Bo Kho.

 

 

 

 

This
is by no means a complete list of Vietnamese dishes, I could go on for pages,
and I am sure I have left out a few of my other favourites.

 

Below
are some great sites & blogs about Vietnamese Food & Cooking