North West Vietnam
The North West Vietnam
The north west Vietnam is famous for picturesque mountain scenery and historic sites, especially Dien Bien Phu battle field where the French troops were defeated in May 1954, ending the Indochina wars which lasted almost 100 years. There are 21 ethnic minority groups living in this region, mainly H’mong, Day, Thai, Ha Nhi, Kho Mu etc.
In Dien Bien Phu you can visit the following sites:
- Former bunker headquarters of the French commander, De Castries
- Muong Thanh Bridge
- Him Lam Hill
- A1 Hill where Vietnamese soldiers detonated some 960kg of explosives to start the general attack in the Dien Bien Phu battle field, this is the most important defense hills for Muong Thanh
- D1 Hill now is located in the heart of Dien Bien Phu city
- Dien Bien Phu museum
- Pa Khoang lake by boat (600 ha) in Muang Phang commune
- Tham Bang cave
- Phieng Nam – Muong Phang primitive forest, there was a house made of bamboo and palm, and tunnels where General Vo Nguyen Giap used to live and command during the 56-day campaign
- Pathom cave at Pa Thom commune
Vietnam Airlines has daily flights Hanoi - Dien Bien Phu – Hanoi, however sometimes the airplanes cannot land as it’s too foggy. Flight Hanoi – Son La is temporarily suspended at present.
You can take a package tour or rent a car (with a local driver) and travel on your own. Russian jeep is cheap but it's hard to sit on a long distance. Japanese car like Land Cruiser is more expensive to rent, but it’s more comfortable and safe. The most challenging section is Pha Din pass (35km).
From Sapa (Lao Cai) back to Hanoi you can go by bus or by train. If you want to get from Sapa to Hanoi through the north west Vietnam, here is the route and distance:
Sapa – Lao Cai: 30km
Lao Cai – Lai Chau: 225km
Lai Chau – Dien Bien Phu: 105km
Dien Bien Phu – Son La: 166km
Son La – Hoa Binh (toward Mai Chau): 227km
Son La – Hanoi: 306km
(Dien Bien Phu – Hanoi: 472km)
Below is what "Hling" posted in 2006 about the NW route. He has contributed a lot of good info in TT. Thank you Hling and I hope you don't mind if I post here, so that you could share these great experiences with other TTers.
The whole loop is interesting. You can go Hanoi- Mai Chau- Moc Chau- Son La- Tuan Giao- Dien Bien Phu- Muong La (old name: Lai Chau)- Lai Chau (old name: Tam Duong)- Sapa. Contact Sapa Travel
If you have not been to Mai Chau, it's worth a night in the Thai village there. The trekking/ cycling
from the village is really beautiful. Just 22km from Mai Chau is Pu Luong which is very new place for
tourist, and the place offers great trekking through villages, rice terraces, limestone mountains,
streams...The drive from Mai Chau to Moc Chau is awsome too, ask your driver to drive in the OLD road
(pretty good though), the scenery is so beautiful. Stop in Thuan Chau on the way for the market. The best drive is from Lai Chau (old name: Tam Duong) to Sapa which you will go over Hoang Lien Son mountain range from the west to the east, it's the most beautiful mountain road in Vietnam. For the cost, it's about 250-280USD for a maximum 7 days loop. One night extra will cost 30 USD more without using the car or if you go not over 100km total.
Take the night train to Lao Cai and go directly to Sapa on Friday. Hang around or do trekking to the
villages. It's very easy to do by yourself to Cat Cat (Black H'mong village and waterfall), Lao Chai
(H'mong), Ta Van (Dzay), Ta Phin (Red Dzao). Further villages such as Giang Ta Chai, Ban Ho...it's better
to go by motobike or have a local guide with you. Two days in Sapa is great. If you are unsure about doing the treks by yourself, just book a local guide with your hotel.
To go further from Sapa towards Binh Lu and Tam Duong, it's best if you can take a jeep. If you are more than 2, it will not cost much. I guess it's 200USD maximum for the trip. You can find a driver at a house near Handspan office in Sapa. Do bargain. He doesn't speak English but there are many guys around who can help you. The couple there provide all jeeps, landcruisers.....for all hotels and tour companies in Sapa so you surely get better deal. To have a private jeep, it will be very flexible for you as you may want to stop on the way. Old landcruiser will be slightly more expensive. If you leave Sapa on Thursday or Sunday, do leave early (6 h) so you can see two markets in Binh Lu and Tam Duong. The logistic should be: Sapa- Binh Lu- Tam Duong (awsome drive- some very nice trekking in Tam Duong)- Lai Chau- Dien Bien Phu- Tuan Giao- Son La- Moc Chau- Mai Chau.
But the driving from Lai Chau to Dien Bien Phu is not nice and there are not many things to see in Dien
Bien Phu. I would go directly from Lai Chau to Tuan Giao by old National 6 road. Stay one extra day in Mai Chau is also great. Ban Lac is beautiful and very peaceful. Some walking around the villages are great. Pu Luong is also very nice which is 20km from Mai Chau and on the way to Na Meo.
If you want to go by public bus, you can go to Sapa bus station and ask for the bus to Lai Chau. Don't get off in Binh Lu as it will be difficult for you to go from Binh Lu to Tam Duong. If Sunday or Thursday, ask the driver to drop you at Tam Duong Dat market. See the market and walk/ mortobike (4-5km) to Tam Duong town. From Tam Duong, you can ask the hotel people to help to find the bus to Lai Chau or to Dien Bien Phu.
In Tam Duong, I stayed a few times at Phuong Thanh. $10/ room. I think there are cheaper guest house but I wanted to do trekking so the hotel owner help me (Ms. Ha).
In Lai Chau, I stayed at Lan Anh. They have different types of rooms which they may ask $15-$25. I also paid $10.
In Dien Bien, I stayed at Muong Thanh. $12.
In Son La, I stayed at Sun Rise. $12.
Mai Chau: only homestay. Ms. Chung at Pom Coong village or her mother, Mrs. Vuong. Ban Lac is just
next to it but more touristy. 50,000 VND per person. They will cook for you with 50,000 VND/ person/ dinner or lunch.
NOTE: The goverment has just changed the name of some towns in the Northwest. I used all the old names, the same as the names in the guide books that you may have.
But do ask for the new name:
Tam Duong: now called Lai Chau.
Lai Chau: now called Muong Lay.
Note: If you want to go by local bus from Sapa to Dien Bien Phu, send a pm to "Sakya" or search his name for the reports.
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