We crossed the Lao- Vietnamese border without any problem and Pomme Pidou met flat Stanley who was also on his way to Vietnam!!! What a nice surprise!!!
Before going to Sapa in the North, we stopped in Dien Bien Phu, sadly known for its battle lost by the French troops during the first Indochina war. As we had the whole afternoon to “kill”, we visited the town and the souvenirs of the war: the A1 hill where the battle took place, the war museum and the Victory monument.
To really understand what happened, let me tell you few milestones about this time period. (Wahou, with all articles about history, geography and natural sciences, you’ll be a genius ;-))
First, “Indochina” represents the territories colonized by France in the XIX and XX century, which is approximately Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam had the particularity to be divided into 3 parts: South was a colony and the centre and North parts were protectorates. Vietnamese are not happy with this situation; first because France oppressed them and second because they wanted independency. Resistance groups are built against France in the 1920ies but the French army still controls its territory. The WW2 will change the situation. Actually Japanese used the war to resist against the French. In Vietnam an anti-French and anti-Japanese group is built. The most effective part, the Viet Minh, is led by Ho Chi Minh.
After few attempts to calm people, the war is declared the 23rd November 1946. Even if the Vietnamese are not well equipped, their leader the General Giap, for whom Human lives don’t count, send thousands of people on the front. Soon, the French army, helped by the USA, is overwhelmed and lose its controlled in the countryside.
In the 50ies, a large discontent grows in Europe because of this expensive war (regarding money as human lives) while Europe still suffers from the WW2. To keep its supremacy, France launched its last operation: Using Dien Bien Phu as a military camp to entrap their enemies. This geographic area in North Vietnam is one of the few places able to host an airport and the French Army, well equipped think they can stop the war. More than 14000 French soldiers went on the A1 hill and wait for the enemies. But the Viet Minh, very flexible, installed Chinese weapon on the hills above Dien Bien Phu while passing on foot sometimes through the jungle. The 13th March 1954, 80000 Viet Minh attack. The French Army will resist but capitulates the 7th Mai 1954. Both sides lost many men!!!
The 20th and 20st July 1954, the Geneva Agreements are signed to definitely stop this conflict. Vietnam is “provisory” divided in 2 parts: North and South.
But this sudden peace will not last long…Do you remember the post about Vientiane : from 1964 the second Indochina war (known as Vietnam war) will start and this time the enemy of Vietnam will be the Americans…. But this will be explained later ;-)
After this short stop in Dien Bien Phu, we moved to the North. How surprised we were when our bus stopped suddenly … because the road was not finished and still building! We waited more than 1h30 that the bulldozers and excavators flatten the road in order to make us drive through!
Once in Sapa, we were completely in the fog… not really great to see the rice fields around the town… We stayed only one day to visit a mong village but the bad weather and the too touristic place made us leave quickly to go to Ha Giang in the mountains. This time we were rewarded: The region is beautiful, with terrace fields (not only rice) and not a single tourist ! We met children playing with spinning tops (not the Beyblades as you may know but wood spinning tops probably made by the children themselves). As launcher they used a rope!!! Romain also played “bull” with few boys (yes, here also, a girl and a football ball are not compatible…).
After these few days in the nature, we took the bus to Hanoi. We “almost” had a big shock! We knew that Vietnam is the country on 2 wheels but we never imagine it will be like this: motorbikes are everywhere: on roads, on footpath, on buses, in houses… everywhere!!! And they don’t only carry one, 2, 3, 4 or 5 people…they also carry alive pigs, chicken, wood pieces, fruits…everything!!!
Vietnam is also a communist country and you cannot forget it! Everywhere, besides the motorbikes, you see red flags with yellow hammer and sickle!! And the poster for advertisement have a propaganda look (even if we don’t understand what is written on it…)
In Hanoi we visited a prison used during the war by the French! Here also, atrocities and tortures were daily life!!! Even the guillotine was used!
But this unfortunate period of History, didn’t refrain us from savouring a delicious cheese plate!!!
We are now heading to the famous Halong Bay… Next post coming soon