Situated in a fertile valley near the Lao border, this historic town’s main claim to fame is the deci sive battle of Dien Bien Phu . In 1954, following French infiltration of the area, Viet Minh troops system atic ally broke down the French posi- tion. In the end, General de Castries, comman der of the French army, and his troops were captured. Today, the town has moved past its violent history and is developing at a rapid pace. Dien Bien Phu was once part of the Lai Chau Pro vince, a section of which has now been sub merged by the waters of the rising Son La Dam. As a result, the new province of Dien Bien Phu was created, leading to a boom in construction work, both for administrative build ings and for resettlement purposes.
Rapidly being encroached on by new build ings, the main battlefield on the east bank of the Nam La River has a few old, rusty French tanks lying around even today. Nearby stands a poignant memorial to the French dead. Chronicling the great battle, Dien Bien Phu Museum is full of weapons, pictures, maps, dioramas of the battle field, and personal possessions of soldiers. Just oppo site is the Dien Bien Phu Martyrs’ Cemetery, where the Viet Minh fallen are buried. To the north is the famous Hill A1, named Eliane by the French, after one of General de Castries’ mistresses. The most interes ting relic here is the French general’s subter ranean bunker, covered with a rusting, corrugatediron roof and reinforced with concrete. On the hilltop is a monu ment to martyred Vietnamese heroes, and a tunnel entrance used by the Viet Minh to reach a French camp, which they blew up with a mine. Farther north is the 120ton (109tonne) victory monument in bronze, which commemorates the battle’s 50th anniversary. This is one of the largest monuments in the entire country.