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ROAD DISASTER: DBP + SURROUNDS

  • brucemoon

    Click here to learn more about brucemoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    Hi

    I'm alerting travelers to a ROAD DISASTER.

    Let me explain.

    Last year (October) I travelled from SaPa to HaNoi via Dien Bien Phu [DBP].

    Except for a few road re-alignments, the road from SaPa to DBP was sort of OK. Narrow and a bit rough at times, but OK and scenic.

    From DBP to SonLa on the highway to HaNoi was a disaster. From SonLa to HaNoi was OK to good.

    The VN gov't had decided to make the highway from DBP to HaNoi a fast 4 lane road. The mountainous terrian meant that some sections had to be constructed 'in situ'. Thus, at best it was a 4WD track. In the wet it was a nightmare, with soft mud everywhere.

    Yesterday I traveled the DBP - SaPa section. I'd heard from travelers coming into Laos that the road was very bad. One guy told me his bus slipped off the road in the wet, and everybody had to get out and wade through ankle deep mud in the rain to 'better ground' while a bulldozer pulled the bus to clear ground.

    I discovered that the VN gov't has decided to make a fast 4 lane highway along route 12 from SaPa to DBP (the Lao Cai - SaPa section is already complete). Part of the reconstruction is caused by the need to change the route because of an impending damming of the Da River. The remainder is to promote tourism to the south-west (and allow Chinese trucks to get to their resources).

    The whole road is being constructed 'in situ'. That means it's like driving through a bomb site.

    After an hour in the dry dusty conditions, we couldn't see out the side windows. We had to close the windows because of the dust. This meant that many were travel sick, so we also had to endure the 'aroma'.

    When in DBP, I was told there are 2 buses. The 6am was 125,000VNd, the 6:30 was 150,000VNd. Both were supposed to be 8 hours. We left on the 6am, and the trip took 10 1/2 hours.

    The very slow speed was caused by road works and the various delays as bulldozers cleared roads, etc. These all combined to take their toll.

    Today in SaPa I learnt that the 6am bus ALWAYS travels via route 12 (DBP, Muong Lay, Lai Chau, PaTan, SaPa, Lao Cai).

    This is because the 6am bus also takes freight, and picks up and drops off passengers along this route.

    However, if it is full and there is no need to travel on route 12, the 8:30 bus will travel on the alternate route.

    The 'alternate' route is (from DBP):

    route 279 to Nam Bai, then
    route 32 to Huoi Ke (at the base of the Fansipan range), then
    route 12 to SaPa.

    I also learnt that in SaPa, agents can secure a seat on a bus dedicated to the alternate route.

    I'm unsure as to how one secures a seat on the return trip from DBP to SaPa (Lao Cai) on the alternate.

    I'm not aware of any alternative to avoid route 6 - DBP to SonLa.

    Please note that the DBP - SonLa road is NOW anticipated to be completed in 2011. When construction commenced, I'm told the gov't said the road would be completed in 2009!!!

    The DBP to SaPa road is scheduled to be completed in 2013. Many in SaPa believe it will take several more years to complete.

    Ce La Vie!!!

    Cheers

    #1 Posted: 21/4/2009 - 20:24

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  • YorkFoodie

    Joined Travelfish
    27th April, 2009
    Posts: 1

    When did you see the "fast, 4-lane highway" from Lao Cai to Sa Pa? We were there three weeks ago and didn't see any sign of it. They're still clearing the landslide from last year.

    #2 Posted: 27/4/2009 - 13:40

  • brucemoon

    Click here to learn more about brucemoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    YorkFoodie

    And, I was there last week, and compared to other roads in the region it definitely is a fast road. Anything over 30kph is a fast road in rural Vietnam.

    But, the point I was making is that the structure of the Lao Cai - SaPa road is largely complete. All that is needed to be done is bulldoze a few roadside buildings (pity about the occupant's!!!) and lay bitumen.

    That roads are occasionally out of action due to landslides / washaway's, appears to be merely an occasional hiccup.

    cheers

    #3 Posted: 27/4/2009 - 14:53

  • MisterV

    Joined Travelfish
    19th May, 2009
    Posts: 3

    Hi,

    I'm planning to travel in northen vietnam in two weeks from now. Is it to complicated to do this alone with my friend? I really dont want to spend hundreds of bucks on an organized tour, but from reading about your expiriense it concerns me..
    I planned to make the rout hanoi - mai chau - son la - dbp - lai chau - sapa all by public bus. Is it that hard?

    Thank you.

    #4 Posted: 20/5/2009 - 19:37

  • brucemoon

    Click here to learn more about brucemoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    MisterV

    No, it's not complicated - in fact travelling in south-west and north-west Vietnam is easy.

    The only thing you'll have to be mindful of is that public buses in that region are not too frequent. Often there will be only one bus a day.

    So, as soon as you arrive at a destination location, book/pay for your tickets for the next day. There will be a booking office near to where you arrive (and will likely depart).

    Before you go, make sure of the Son La - DBP link. There's not a lot of pax traffic along that route and currently the road isn't that flash.

    I really don't know where in Hanoi you'll get info about public buses on that route.

    It may be best to open a new thread on the Vietnam 'page' seeking where you can find info on bus service details for the Son La - DBP link.

    Cheers

    #5 Posted: 21/5/2009 - 05:03

  • MisterV

    Joined Travelfish
    19th May, 2009
    Posts: 3

    Thanks Brucemoon,

    In fact I was thinking to skip the Son la-DBP part and continue to lau Chai from son la. The problem is I didn't find any information about any public bus available on this route.
    I also would like to hear from you is it possible to hire some local guides in each location for half/full day drips around minorities.
    just want to learn from your expiriensce!
    Thank you so much.

    #6 Posted: 21/5/2009 - 14:47

  • brucemoon

    Click here to learn more about brucemoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    V

    If one wants to travel from Son La to Lai Chou on a public bus, one must travel via DBP.

    As a tourist destination, there is a heck of a lot to see / learn at DBP.

    As for guides for minorities, I didn't pursue that option so I wouldn't know.

    I suspect that one reason for the DBP - Sapa upgrade is to make the south-west more accessable for tourists. And, that means ethnic 'engagements' to the deep south-west. That said, you may be lucky to find 'guides' if you head to the 'deep south-west' from Lai Chau . But, as a tourist destination, Lai Chau itself has little going for it.

    If you look at Lonely Planet for this region, it does suggest options for ethnic 'encounters'.

    Hope this adds to the journey.

    Cheers

    #7 Posted: 22/5/2009 - 06:33

  • brutus123

    Joined Travelfish
    9th June, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Hi Brucemoon,
    A group of 4 of us are planning to travel across Northern Laos from Chiang Khong to Sapa via Muang Sing;Muang Xai; Muang Khua then cross at Tay Trang moving on to DBP and finally Sapa.

    From your comments it appears that there are better ways to go!

    Any suggestions, would be most welcome.

    #8 Posted: 9/6/2009 - 07:29

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    brutus123

    No, please do the journey. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

    I wrote, above, that between DBP and SaPa, try and use the alternate route:

    The 'alternate' route is (from DBP):

    route 279 to Nam Bai, then
    route 32 to Huoi Ke (at the base of the Fansipan range), then
    route 12 to SaPa.

    Currently, I don't know who is able to 'secure' seats on this route 'in advance'.

    But, try google and type in 'dien bien phu sapa bus travel agent'.

    I saw some that may assist:

    http://www.sapaadventure.com/traveller_reviews/Dien_Bien_Phu_to_ Sapa .html

    This one also speaks of the (now) bad main road (highway 12).

    Also:

    http://www.haivenu-vietnam.com/des-north-dien-bien-phu.htm

    I only found out about the alternate route when in Sapa. So, links to Sapa travel agents might also help (with the above) to discover where to book for the alternate route.

    But, I'd be emailing them early to ask where, how, etc.

    Cheers

    #9 Posted: 9/6/2009 - 12:04

  • brutus123

    Joined Travelfish
    9th June, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Brucemoon,
    Thanks for the information.

    I'll get busy and see what I can find about the "alternative" route to Sapa. Any suggestions on where to stay overnight when on route?
    The bus trip seems as though it will be exceedingly long albeit with magical scenery as compensation. However an o/night stop and a relaxed day or so would be great as well.

    Regards

    #10 Posted: 9/6/2009 - 12:27

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  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Brutus123

    I'm assuming you're going to Chiang Khong from Chiang Mai - elsewhere I've suggested to take the VIP direct bus, it leaves CM about 10am and gets to Chiang Khong at about 3pm. But if you do, make sure the travel agent you buy from pouts on the sale docket "deliver passenger to Immigration border departure point" otherwise be dumped somewhere and you'll need to take a tuk-tuk and probably be ripped off. Go across and stay in Huay Xai (it's a bit cheaper). I stayed at Friendship GH, but there are also other OK one's there.

    While I'm sure it's possible to do the Huay Xai - Muang Sing trip, I note in LP it's not straightforward. I did it via Luang Nam Tha. The Huay Xai - Nam Tha road is good (being built by the Chinese to cart consumption goods to Thailand) but the buses drop you about 10k from the Nam Tha township (and they DO have a lend of your wallet to get you to town). I stayed at Zuela GH in Nam Tha: opposite the night market where Lao food offering's were great [the cafe's serve Chinese food].

    The Muang Sing road is very scenic. I hired a moto in Nam Tha and did it. I suggest you'll need a moto in Muang Sing anyway, so you might think of hiring for that trip. Adima GH near MS is worthy (and close to ethnic villages).

    The road from Nam Tha to OudomXai is about 4 hours, but after Na Toei is very very slow. They have a VIP bus, but they aren't well aircon'd so I'd steer clear. There are many GH in OudomXai, but I just travelled thru to LP.

    I didn't do the OudomXai to Muang Khua journey - choosing the boat along the Nam Ou from LP instead. There's really only one GH worthy, its the Keophila Guesthouse. For me, the other's didn't cut it.

    Remember to be at the opposite bank for the bus by about 6:15am. If you are not in the queue, and there's too many pax, you may be left behind.

    For DBP, there's not many places I'd recommend. Because of business, I stay at the Muong Thanh Hotel (pricey, but negotiable). Have a look at the offerings here on Travelfish: go to Vietnam (way up the top under the Travelfish logo) and then on the right side under accommodation, click for DBP and unclick the 'book on line' key to see all.

    For all its concrete, there's much to see at DBP. But, again hire a motorbike to get around (about 100,000VN dong / day - carries 2).

    Hope this helps

    Cheers

    #11 Posted: 9/6/2009 - 13:58

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