On the Road Again . . . .
Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
39Trip End Mar 21, 2013
We were out the door by eight with our first stop in town, a beautiful scenic overlook fitted with the most notorious prison in all of Indochina -- the Son La PrisonDien Bien Phu.
Along the way we found ourselves stopping constantly to take pictures. It is rice planting season in the highlands and we couldn't be here at a better time of the year. The rural areas are incredibly beautiful but this is something special. Today, we were in the ethnic areas of the White and Black Thai people. They are one of the country's many minorities but they are a majority in this area. We shot a mess of pictures.
For lunch, we stopped at a "nice" restaurant, a small town greasy spoon (really greasy) in the USA, but still "nice" here. It was THE stop in Tuan Giao. All four of us ate like pigs for $20. The highlight of the stop was a search for an Internet connection so Dayna could drop a quick note to Amy
As we neared Dien Bien Phu, Thuan decided we should try to find the village of Muong Phang. Off the beaten path? When the guide and driver have to keep stopping to ask directions and you start out the exercise only 20 kilometers from the Laos border, you are at the end of the world! Seems this little burg was the headquarters of the Vietnamese battlefield commander, General Giap. Americans will remember that he was the commander of all Viet Cong forces when they kicked our asses 30 years later
We found the place, 17 kilometers off the main road (which itself is getting sketchy). Beautiful little place and it turns out there is quite the park here. The headquarters have been rebuilt and they are quite extensive. Since a minivan is really more than the road can handle there were no tour buses! Very well done park and nearly no one there -- including staff. From the sounds of it, most all the men in town were across the street watching the cock fights. I wouldn't be surprised if we were the only Westerners to find this wonderful stop in the last year. It's not in the guidebooks, there is NO sign in any language on the highway, and only the dedicated or foolish would drive 17 K, one way, to find this place.
Now here's the high point! We walked across the "street", avoiding the cock fighting arena, to a little shop that sold drinks and some plant (and I'm not shitting you here!) that you have to peel all the way down to find a crawly caterpillar
Then, we drove on to Dien Bein Phu, a rather nice little city. I don't have any idea how big this city is, but I'll guess about 25,000. This was the final battle for the French in 1954. Avoiding a long history lesson, this was a huge victory for Vietnam and a huge defeat for the French. It caused them to sign the peace agreements and book it out of Indochina leaving the next foolish government to try their hand in the Southeast Asia quagmire. What few tourists that are able to find the place on a map are mostly Vietnamese making the pilgrimage to "Mecca." We went to the soon-to-be spectacular museum and a few other historic spots around town before heading to the hotel. We saw a Dutch couple at one spot and that was about it for the foreigners. The government has really done a nice job of preserving the battle sites but don't expect to see a walking guide or English signs to hep you out. If you don't have a guide, you better read up before you get here.
Our hotel is far better than last night's hotel
Tomorrow we hit the road and really get to the sticks. We have already been informed that we will be spending the afternoon on a dirt road before we pick up the pavement again coming from the other direction. We will really be getting into the ethnic areas tomorrow .