FEATURE: Luang Prabang, Bien Dien Phu attract French tourists

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - More French tourists are visiting the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang since the upgrade of roads linking provinces in Laos to Dien Bien province in Vietnam.

Dien Bien Phu is the site of a historic victory for the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, as a battle fought there during the Indochina War ended French domination in the region.

Today the site attracts an increasing number of French tourists, who are now taking advantage of better roads to make an additional trip to Luang Prabang.

The international Panghok-Taichang border between Laos and Vietnam is located in Phongsaly province’s Khua district, from where the road runs to Luang Prabang through Oudomxay province. A bus leaves daily from Khua district in Laos for Dien Bien Phu. 

Luang Prabang province also has a border with Dien Bien province in Vietnam, but this is not formally recognised as an international border.

Deputy Director of the Luang Prabang provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Mrs Soudaphone Khomthavong, told Vientiane Times that over the past few years travellers did not stay in Khua district before crossing the border because of poor road conditions.

Nowadays, they travel from Luang Prabang to Dien Bien province leaving at 7am and arriving at 4pm. These travel arrangements mean that more French tourists are travelling to Luang Prabang.

“I do not know the precise number of tourists because Luang Prabang does not count them. But I do know that some French tourists visit Luang Prabang after going to Dien Bien,” Mrs Soudaphone said.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu was a strategic campaign that was bravely fought until victory was achieved, according to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

The bloody, 56-day battle ended on May 7, 1954, precipitating the collapse of France’s colonial empire.

The Indochina forces fought under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap. The victory led to the signing of the 1954 Geneva Accord in which France agreed to withdraw its troops from colonies in Indochina.

President Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Vietnam People’s Army, were revered as war heroes for their roles in the triumph at Dien Bien Phu.

The victory played a decisive role in ending Vietnam’s resistance war against the French and in bringing new momentum to Vietnam’s revolution and the struggle for peace, independence and socialism.

Without this victory, there would have been no peace in the north in 1954 or liberation of provinces in southern Vietnam in 1975, and the country would never have become independent, reunified or prosperous.

After France’s defeat in Vietnam, American soldiers arrived in South Vietnam and another two decades of war ensued.

The fighting incurred many deaths and injuries on both sides before the war ended on April 30, 1975, when Vietnam was reunified.

This year is the 64th anniversary of Vietnam’s triumphant defeat of the French colonial forces.

2018 is important for other reasons as well, with the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism making every effort to attract 5 million tourists to Laos.

In 2016, tourist arrivals dipped to just over 4.2 million. During the first nine months of 2017, tourist arrivals numbered 2.8 million.

According to the provincial Public Works and Transport Department, the road that connects the Laos-Vietnam Panghok-Taichang border to Phongsaly provincial capital is about 200 kilometres long.

The distance between Luang Prabang province and Phongsaly is about 400km, while from Vientiane to Luang Prabang it is also about 400km.

Unlike many other towns in Laos, Phongsaly’s capital was not destroyed by bombing during the American war. Its old quarter has Yunnanese wooden architecture which today is even rare in Yunnan itself. Most of the people living here belong to the Hor ethnic group and speak Chinese. Until the 1970s there was a Chinese consulate in the town, which is now the Phou Fa Hotel.