Had planned to drive from Dien Bien to Sa Pa, but my wife wants a different route for exploring as we have already been to Sa Pa, and the road is passable, but not so comfortable.
So, I'm thinking of flying from Ha Noi to Dien Bien and driving back or vice versa.
Anyone have some experience with this route i.e. road conditions, travel time, layover points etc.
It looks as if Mai Chau would be a good layover point, but is it on the more popular and most convenient route to get to Dien Bien. Also, I believe I've read that Son La is a good layover point. Should I plan two nights on the road, with some time to explore the layover points, or is their much of interest?
Please advise. Purpose of this leg of the excursion (will help you to point me in the right direction)is to get out of the cities, see some spectacular scenary, hang out with the ethnic people, and get to Dien Bien for the history lesson. If there is a better round trip drive out of and back to Ha Noi in which these experiences can be better, minus the history lesson, please let me know as I can postpone Dien Bien until another trip.
Come on Bruce, I know you'll get me going in the right direction.
#1 anhluc has been a member since 15/5/2009. Posts: 32
Thanks for the vote of confidence.
I made a post on road conditions here.
As indicated, there are overland two routes to DBP. One: via Lao Cia > SaPa > DBP (2 ways, only 1 OK), and two: via Son La (Hwy 6 from HaNoi).
Highway 6 from HaNoi is sealed and quite OK to Son La. From Son La, the gov't is doing a major re-route and some parts are really bad. If you go this route, try and schedule to overnight at Son La as there really isn't much in the options for accommodation anywhere in between. Also, the time between HaNoi and Son La is also long and unless you like a 12 hour drive you should be planning to stay somewhere in between.
There are two routes between DBP and SaPa. I described each (in route numbers) in the link (above). The Lai Chau road is now so bad, I would seriously suggest you entertain taking the other route. Both can be travelled in a (longish) day, but it would be advisable to stopover for the night along the way. If you take what I call the 'alternate' route, then maybe plan for a longish drive as I doubt there'd be much accommodation available as tourists are only now starting to take this route. If needs be, consider Muong Than as a possible stopover, with accommodation options being basic.
From Muong Than, you can head to SaPa, or continue along route 279 towards the Red River valley to Pho Rang on Hwy 70. Or, just short of this there is a road down the valley (hwy 151) which I'm told is quite scenic. Both take you to HaNoi. I haven't been on these routes (across to the Red River valley), so I can't comment (but for onwards see below).
Assuming you go to SaPa, then from SaPa to HaNoi via Lao Cai, some parts of the road are OK, others in need of repair. It's great from SaPa to Lao Cai, and OK along route 70 to Bac Ngam (the turn off to BacHa - where the colourful Sunday market is held), and reasonable to Pho Rang.
Unless you like negotiating potholes, the road from Pho Rang to HaNoi the main road (hwy 70) is not worth the drive. Instead take 279 across to Hwy 2 (meets at Viet Quang) and go to HaNoi that way (good road).
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I've just described the route. The points that I've indicated are Ok for stopovers are the (Han) Vietnamese towns, and have normal Vietnamese people staying there. If you want to engage with ethnic minorities, then as they aren't in towns (eg. like Son La, etc), then you'll have to plan to stop over in different places. On Route 6, the first 'usual' stopover is Moc Chau for white Tai and the accommodation there is an 'industry'. There are some green H!Mong in villages around Than Chau (west of Son La), but I don't know the accommodation options there. etc., etc., etc..
Hope this helps.
Thanks Bruce - it was your earlier postings about DBP to Sa Pa that made me rethink if I wanted to go that route and endure the divorce that it would cause - or see if there was another, still scenic route that I could enjoy, still get the history lesson, and only have to have seperate beds for a week or so.
I'll add a post when we get back to give an update on road conditions etc. - once we have figured out the route we will actually take.
#3 anhluc has been a member since 15/5/2009. Posts: 32
I went by bus two years ago. I stopped a night in Mai Chau, interesting but gets very crowded with students on weekends. That's only a few hours from Hanoi , though you might have to get off at the turn off and catch a bike in (no problem, there are always bikes there). The road is mostly pretty good. From there to Son La takes much longer but the road surface is good. The day I went we had a detour off road because there was a serious head on smash involving a 4 wheel drive and a truck. There was also light drizzle and fog and lots of local people walked on the road. The buses and trucks drive like crazy and the road is winding with steep drops.
The road from Son La to DBP was being rebuilt when I was there and as it had been raining a lot the road was just a sea of mud. It took our bus 7 hours for what is quite a short distance, but at least we got through, most of the tourist 4 wheel drives turned back. The scenery was sensational.
The bus from Hanoi to DBP is supposed to take 14 hours. You can fly, though I understand it is a difficult take off because of the mountains so they are sometimes held up. I flew back to Hanoi. You can get buses through to Sa Pa and I gather that road is rather better.
#4 violets has been a member since 6/7/2009. Posts: 151
Hi anhluc - came across your question because im thinking of doing the same thing.
Can i ask did you have any luck - i would really love to fly to Dien Bien Phu and drive to sapa or back through son la to hanoi - but I doubt anyone will rent me a bike to drop back at either spot.
#5 baylyst has been a member since 24/11/2010. Posts: 4