Deciding how to get to Dien Bien Phu should be pretty easy. If you’re short of time or only interested in visiting the battlefield, then taking a plane is the best alternative. Flights are not expensive and take an hour from Hanoi International Airport with Vietnamese Airlines.
If, on the other hand, you would like to explore Vietnam’s remote northwest and visit some villages of the ethnic minorities, you’d be better off travelling by bus or rented car and driver. Another possibility, but only for experienced off-road riders, is to rent a motorbike in Hanoi and find your way here yourself. The nearest train station is at Lao Cai, roughly 150kms away.
Due to Dien Bien Phu’s recent promotion to be a provincial capital, it is now served by daily flights from Hanoi. The airport is just north of town on the road to Muong Lay, and there are always taxis and motorbike taxis waiting when flights arrive. The bus station is at the junction of Highway 12 and Tran Dang Ninh near the centre of town, and the journey of nearly 500kms from Hanoi takes about 14 hours if you don’t stop along the way.
Travelling by car or motorbike takes about as long as the bus, though most people prefer to break the journey at Mai Chau and perhaps at Son La. Road conditions can be poor between Son La and Dien Bien Phu, and then going on to Muang Lay, especially during the rainy season.
Getting Around Dien Bien Phu
Dien Bien Phu is no country village. In fact its broad boulevards seem to stretch on forever, with clusters of habitation here and there. Though it’s possible to walk from the hotels to the battle sites, the distance involved makes it more comfortable to hire the services of a motorbike taxi. Ask staff at the hotel to help sort you out.
Getting into Laos from Dien Bien Phu
There is a relatively new border crossing into Laos from Vietnam at Tay Trang, just 31kms west of Dien Bien Phu. To get there take a taxi or a local bus from the town’s main terminal (05:30, seven hours, 100,000D) to the Lao town of Muang Khoua. From here you can take a boat south on the Nam Ou River to Nong Khiaw or Muang Ngoi. Buses from Muang Khoua also go to many destinations, including Udom Xai and farther afield to Louang Phabang. Visas for Laos are available on arrival for US$30-$42.