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how to get the most from DBP trip

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Canberra, Australia
posts: 6
reviews: 3
how to get the most from DBP trip

We will be in Hanoi next week. My partner has his heart set on visiting DBP but cannot decide on the best way to do this. We only have 5 days available. Ideally we would like to see as much as possible of the countryside whilst getting there and back. Where should we stop off enroute? I hear that the road from DBP to Sapa goes through amazing scenery but we don't have enough time alas. Any suggestions / advice to help us put a plan together would be very welcome!

1) If we stay 2 days in DBP where else should we stop off besides Son La? Are there interesting villages nearby?

2) Is it a better use of the time available to fly there and return by road? or fly there and back, and explore the area around DBP?

3) Is taking the bus a feasible option for a couple of not-so-young, not-so-fit would-be travellers? What are the roads like? What are the buses like?

4) or should we hire a car and driver? in DBP?

Thanks in anticipation.

20 replies to this topic
posts: 529
reviews: 54
1. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

Bus can be rough (only local buses which can stop a thousand times during the trip to take more customers, not reliable on time).

I would recommend to hire a car and driver from Hanoi to Dien Bien, then you can stop at Mai Chau, Moc Chau and Son La on the way.

It will be not that too expensive to spend on car (if you think you will fly two ways plus paying for a private car in Dien Bien which is absolutely not cheap at all ). And the best part is on the road before Mai Chau to Dien Bien.

A good guide can make your trip more interesting too.

Hamilton Parish...
posts: 9
reviews: 16
2. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

As not-so-fit travelers in our 60's we flew from Hanoi to DBP on Feb 6th (Vietnam Airlines US$48 pp ) stayed at ASEAN Hotel opp the Airport (see our review dated 15/02/12). Then took minibus leaving at 0630 the following morning for SaPa (195000d) around 9 hours. Rugged but worthwhile journey and motion sickness a problem even for the locals. The difficulty in DBP is a lack of English everywhere. We found John at a Nokia phone shop who acted as our guide and also bought our bus tickets for SaPa. Very pleasant man but with a thick accent. Asked for US$80 but we eventually paid approx US$65. There is not enough to do to stay for 48 hours in DBP. Plane arrives around 1000 so provides plenty of time to see military sights then leave the following morning. John's phone number 0914919048

Canberra, Australia
posts: 6
reviews: 3
3. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

Thanks Saggie and Sadika47 for your helpful replies. We've decided to hire a car and driver/guide in Hanoi, stop off at Mai Chau, Son La, finish at DBP. So SaPa will have to wait.

Hopefully will not need a guide for DBP sites - partner is a war history tragic - as "John" may be the same character named in an earlier post (with 1.5 inch fingernail?!!) who overcharged at every opportunity apparently.

Would it be cheaper to keep the car for the return journey to Hanoi or to fly back?

Edited: 9:20 pm, February 16, 2012
posts: 628
reviews: 27
4. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

I've spent a total of seven days on two trips at Dien Bien Phu. There are two flight a day from Hanoi to DBP. The best hotel in DBP is the Him Lam Hotel and everything else goes down hill from there. The Muong Thanh Hotel is pretty basic but cheap.

If you are going to DBP I would suggest you read Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall and/or The Battle of Dien Bien Phu by Jules Roy if you want a good background for visiting the battle sites. There is really no reason to spend a whole lot of time there unless (like me) you have a real interest in the French experience in Indo China

You can easily visit most of the important sites in a day or two depending on how much time you want to spend at each place. With a guide (more about that later) you can do it much faster. It is only if you are on the ground walking around and looking at and in the bunkers and strongpoints that you can really get a real appreciation for what took place in 1954 between the French and the Viet Minh.

Guides: There are not many guides but you really, really, really need to avoid Pham Truong Giang (John or Johnny). He is on the same level as the worst cyclo driver in Sai gon. His English is very good (but my Vietnamese is much better) and he knows his way around DBP (which is not that big).He and a taxi driver wanted $400 for two days touring in DBP. I found that so insulting. The very, very most you should pay for a tour guide in DBP is probably $30 or so for all day including a car and driver and tour guide. Maybe a little less if you go on the back of a motor like I did. John also demands a kick back from all the cafes where you stop. (It is very nice if you speak the language fluently, like I do, and they don't know it. Then you know who is talking smack and who is really taking care of you).

There is very little vehicle traffic in that area so you could probably walk the whole valley or rent a bike and see everything on your own. The Fresh Beer in DBP is the best I have found in all of Vietnam. Not a whole lot of cafes and no Western style restaurants.

The first trip I did there I stayed at the Muong Thanh Hotel and got a motor driver/tour guide. We went for what was suppose to be a one hour lunch at a "minority people" long house. The one hour lunch turned out to be an over night stay as we had continueous toast with the local rice wine. The grandfather fought at the battle in 1954 and after lots of effort and toasts he finally started talking about it. Utterly fascinating experience, but had to spend the night as everyone was total smashed. The Lo Family was incredibly nice and after a lot of beer and wine you start eating things you typically would not.

Rather long winded but hope this is useful in your planning. Highly recommend DBP. Very few tourist. Beautiful countryside. The weather (as the French found out) can be iffy depending on the time of yearr. If nothing else about this post remember to avoid Johnny (seldom do you have a name to put with an individual to avoid). If they try to give him to you, demand some else. Hope this is useful.

Canberra, Australia
posts: 6
reviews: 3
5. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

Thanks Jason, all tips much appreciated. Sounds like you had a terrific time there. I'm definitely looking forward to enjoying the scenery, and doing some (gentle) walks. Yes, got both those books. And maps. Reckon Johnny's out of luck with us.

Edited: 8:27 am, February 17, 2012
posts: 529
reviews: 54
6. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

Vietnam Airlines is at cheapest rate (super saver) is 30$ and normal rate at 60$/person. The car may charge you 80% of the total km from Dien Bien back to Hanoi instead of 100% if you take the plane. Flight save you time but obviously more expensive.

Canberra, Australia
posts: 6
reviews: 3
7. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

I've got one quote for 3 days:day one drive from Hanoi to Mai Chau, includes car, guide, meals and accom in Mai Chau, next day drive to Son La, includes accom, B,L in Son La, day 3 drive to BDP includes guiding, accom, B,L in BDP, End of services.

Price $436 per person for 2 people.

I think this is quite high. Am I right to be shocked? Considering we still have to include airfare back to Hanoi.

After I pointed out that we could probably find our own way to the museum and prison in Son La, also make our own accommodation booking in BDP, and do not need any guiding in BDP, the price was still about $400 each.

Are we likely to do better by asking around when we get to Hanoi? Or is that the sort of price to expect to pay if we want to stop off at Mai Chau instead of flying straight to BDP?

Edited: 6:12 am, February 20, 2012
posts: 529
reviews: 54
8. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

It sounds right for me. The private car for 3 days is not cheap, plus guide and food, accommodation on the way.

Canberra, Australia
posts: 6
reviews: 3
9. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

Greetings from DBF! We did make it, thanks to all your kind advice and suggestions. We've been here for 3 nights at the Muong Truanh hotel and flying back today to Hanoi. This sure is a one-horse border town. Will be doing a review of the hotel later.

Just to complete this topic, we found a driver and car from a travel agency across our hotel (Hanoi Diamond Elegance) cost $430 for both of us for 3 days. Starting from Hanoi, overnight in Mai Chau, overnight in Son La and finishing in DBF, meals and accommodation not included, but our guide/driver Antoine, was excellent. He took us to markets enroute, stopped for us to walk aound various ethnic tribal villages enroute.

Edited: 11:49 pm, March 01, 2012
posts: 281
reviews: 34
10. Re: how to get the most from DBP trip

Would love to hear more about your trip from Hanoi to DBF Mellowyellow8, we are doing the same route in May riding pillion on motorbikes and then on to Sapa, am very exciting about seeing things like the markets and villages on route. We are also stopping at Mai Chau andf Son La.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday

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