Monday, June 20, 2016

Vietnam 2016 - Day 5

It is Sunday April 3 and the mission group is in the northwestern city of Dien Bien Phu, located on the Laotian border.  It is an off-day, a day of sight-seeing and relaxing after several days of riding our motorbikes up into the mountains of northern Vietnam. We enjoy a relaxing breakfast, then around 9:00 am the manager of our hotel volunteers to guide us in and around historic Dien Bien Phu.

*A little background... Dien Bien Phu was the sight of the regional headquarters of the French Army in Vietnam. The French had been in control of Vietnam for over 100 years, and had built up a very large military base in and around the Dien Bien Phu valley that included an airbase and several French garrisons. In late 1953 and early 1954, the Vietnamese Army surrounded this valley and laid siege to the French troops stationed there. Despite having the most modern equipment and significant help and material from the U.S. and other allies, the Vietnamese, using out-dated equipment that had been man-handled up and over the mountains surrounding the valley, soundly defeated the better equipped and modernly trained French Army. As a result of this enormous defeat, the French were forced completely out of Vietnam in July 1954.

Our sight-seeing tour today included a war museum dedicated to that 1954 victory over the French. On display were many pictures, statues and busts of various Vietnamese generals and others responsible for the victory, along with many dioramas portraying images and scenes of heroic Vietnamese endeavors.

Across the street from the war museum was the sight of the main headquarters of the French Army. This sight included trenches and underground tunnels used by the French to fend off their attackers, along with displays of captured and destroyed tanks, trucks, planes, artillery batteries, and other French equipment left behind after the battles. We spent quite some time walking around and climbing in and out of trenches and peering into the abandoned French bunkers.

After climbing around the battle display in the heat of the late morning for several hours, we paused for a little lunch.  After lunch, we boarded our little bus for a journey back into the moutains in and around Dien Bien Phu. This trip took us up and down back roads and crude lanes... bumpy, curvy, mountainous, mostly one-lane roads (although we often encountered motorbikes, water buffalo, goats, walking Hmong villagers, road construction crews, and the occasional dump truck. We made stops at a newly constructed man-made lake with a resort hotel on the shore, and we stopped by the headquarters of General Giap, the Vietnamese commanding general who orchestrated the defeat of the French Army. 

A quick note about our Vietnamese bus driver... I'm not sure, but I think he must have learned to drive at a NASCAR training facility! Our sight-seeing trip this day was fast, it was furious, and more than once, he had this captive group of preachers praying earnestly for their safety!

We arrived back at our hotel around 5:00 pm with supper scheduled for around 6:00 pm. A special surprise awaited us... First was a group of young ladies who surrounded each of us for pictures... then we were especially surprised with pizzas for supper!  We had our choice of chicken and mushrooms, sausage and cheese (the sausage was a cut up hotdog!) or beef pizza. And a special topping adorned each pizza... kernels of corn! Not sure who thought that one up, but corn instead of pizza sauce??

Well, our off day had been a very warm and filled with travel and activity. We learned a lot about this far flung corner of Vietnam, and of the determination of the Vietnamese people. It was a very tired group of preachers that finally made their way back to their hotel for a well deserved rest. Tomorrow, back on the bikes as we travel deeper and higher into the real mountains of northern Vietnam! 

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