Hard by the Laos border in one of the most remote regions in Vietnam, it is easy to imagine that Dien Bien Phu might have remained in obscurity was it not for the seismic role it played in modern Vietnamese history. It was here, in 1954, that the Vietminh defeated the French colonial forces in a decisive battle. The loss effectively meant the end of French colonial power in Indochina and was another milestone in the long and bloody route toward Vietnamese independence. Even as a household name, it was not until the latter part of the 20th century that Dien Bien Phu grew into a town of any significance. It was only given town status in 1992 and was elevated to provincial capital in 2004. Nowadays, with its expansive boulevards and civic buildings, as well as its airport and proximity to Laos, the city has a slightly more bustling feel to it. The main reason to visit is to brush up on the area’s evocative war history, but the surrounding Muong Thanh Valley, with its thick forests and steep terrain, is also worthy of investigation.
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