One reason to linger in this remote mountain town is that Tuan Giao attracts a lot of ethnic minorities who still dress in the traditional way -- particularly White Thai and H'mong -- and it's really the best spot along the route to Dien Bien Phu to take some of those classic photos you'll want to send back home.The folks in town seem to be very camera shy, but along the highway leaving town, they were lining up to have their pictures taken. You're always supposed to ask before taking a picture, but that typically results in some very stiff postures being assumed by the photograph-ee. Our trick is, after getting the go ahead, hang out for a while, try to chat if you can, get people relaxed and smiling, then start snapping.
The trip from Son La to Dien Bien Phu used to be a bumpy, 155 km ride along a narrow, poorly paved road that hugged the sides of every mountain and provided breathtaking vistas at every turn. But an effort is under way to make Highway 6 friendly to large vehicles transporting goods between Hanoi and destinations in Laos. As of now, and for the next few years at least, it's a hellish ride through dust and mud, among heavy construction vehicles, with a few sections so torn up you'll feel like you're in a commercial demonstrating how tough your motorbike really is. It is, officially, the worst road in Vietnam, but only because they're trying to make it better. You will not move faster than 20 km per hour, on average, along this road, unless you want to die, and every hour will be hard won. For those of you on the bus to Dien Bien Phu, unless you revel in the kind of misery of a long haul through remote northern India, also consider scheduling a night here if possible. Large vehicles breakdown frequently, often blocking the road in narrow, hilly places for hours at a time. The chances of making it from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu in less than ten hours are not good.