No festival really, but the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu battle the 7th of May, where the colonial French forces made their last stand against the Viet Minh and lost in a disastrous debacle. Vietnam still being “on paper” a communist regime, their existing propaganda apparatus relies heavily on these military feats and victories to foster a sense of unity within its citizens; one against the enemy. Reminds me of North Korea…
The so called festival not being for another three weeks, the city was nonetheless filled with busloads of old Vietnamese veterans making their way from monument to monument. The streets were being cleaned, a new war museum built, its adjoining cemetery was getting a face lift and propaganda posters were being installed everywhere; in short, the whole city was putting its best looks on for the upcoming celebrations.
I wanted to start my tour with the ColoneI de Castries’ bunker but tried as I did, I just could not find it. I proceeded inside the city to visit the cemetery and memorial and then went to A1 hill, where I got stuck dumbfounded in front of long stretch of fences with no obvious signs of an entrance. I was not alone in that situation, a French traveler by the name of Frank came up to me to ask for directions and together, we came to the conclusion that the small map provided in the Lonely Planet was completely off. We tried the war museum that was nearby but it was closed for renovations, so defeated, I went for lunch.
I decided to check again on A1 hill and through asking some people that were inside the compound, I finally was directed to the entrance. That visit done, I was determined to find the bunker, but I was over with walking around like a headless chicken in this scorching heat and decided it would be best to get back to the hostel and hop on my bike. I stopped at another memorial and after a cold shower to cool down, was on the motorcycle cruising around town. Eventually, I made it to the bunker, which having been entirely recreated in concrete was nothing really interesting, except for the large groups of Vietnamese veterans visiting it along with me.
All of them were giving me smiles and prolonged stares, as if they had met me in the past. In fact, they might have, but not my exact person, other young white guys which might have looked much like myself. The Vietnamese themselves were much much shorter of stature than I was and the discrepancy might have been similar 60 years ago. One even poked me in the leg with his cane while speaking to a nearby comrade. No clue as to what he was saying, but I bet it was something along the lines of him having driven his bayonet into a big man like me during combat.
It was too late to visit anything else so after a short ride around town, I came back to my hostel and retired for the evening to work and write. My computer has clearly suffered from the bumpy roads of the last coupe of days. The screen has pressure damage on a couple of areas and the keyboard disconnects itself intermittently.