Dien Bien Phu, 9th - 10th April, Vietnam
09.04.2009 - 10.04.2009 47 °C
Leaving Sapa for Laos we choose the what appears to be least problematic border crossing at Tay Trang through Dien Bien Phu. Most of such border crossings in the North are fraught with difficulties, materializing in the form of bribing, overcharging, seriously un-roadworthy conditions or forced renegotiation of the fare halfway up the mountains at the risk of abandonment. Horror stories of travelers abound, and this was also the area where that girl we met in Cuc Phoung crashed with her bus. Not a pretty spot to be in and we'd rather not get stranded in the Tonkinese Alps for that matter.
Normally such bus rides are incredibly mundane and most uneventful occasions so at the risk of boring you we won't elaborate on it for too long. Yet, if anything the closest impression we can give you is the striking resemblance with a game of Tetris. A game of Tetris, in which the driver skillfully inserts bags of rice, chickens and backpacks under the seats of his van and then craftily proceeds to fill up the remaining space by folding the passengers around the baggage. He did well all things considering; 21 people in a minivan in a 5, 5, 3, 4, 4 configuration. The only issue being that this game is going to last 9 hours.
The other thing with Vietnamese folks is their non-existent awareness of proximity, that little area we call personal space. So the constant slobbering that ensues, draping heads over your head rest, and coughing in one's neck is something you quickly grow accosted to in Nam. This time we wanted to see if this might work the other way too, with Guido hugging shoulders and draping himself over the poor guy next to him - it did not go down well. The wild rugged scenery of the Tonkinese Alps is once again astounding but with your head tucked into the next person's armpit its magic tends to fade after a while. Hence most of the journey passes us by in a sleep fogged blur interceded by shards of memory of a truly astounding place.
Dien Bien Phu - what to say about it. Allegedly, it's famous as the site of a truly decisive battle where the Vietminh turned a 13,000 strong French garrison into mince pie, effectively ending French colonial control over Vietnam. Strategically, with the French stationed in town at the bottom of a soup bowl shaped valley with the Alps towering above, this slaughter is easy to imagine. Especially when our bus descends onto the rice fields from the mountains above. Yet our encounters with this battlefield of old are brief. Our next 8 hour game of Tetris awaits tomorrow - 5:30am.
Ps: the crossing itself was a breeze and, once in Laos, pace of life slows down a few gears.