From Dien Bien Phu Battle's history to countryside wedding: French-Vietnamese couple's love journey

By Phan Duong   March 31, 2024 | 03:00 am PT
At first encounter, Guillaume Richard found himself engrossed in Tran Quynh Anh's talk about the history of Dien Bien Phu Battle and her family traditions, while Quynh Anh admired his grandparents’ commitment to peace.

As a tenth grader with a good command of English, Anh applied to be a volunteer at the Dien Bien Phu Victory Museum, which preserves documents and artifacts associated with the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, one of the most major confrontations in the First Indochina War, fought between the Viet Minh Communist Revolutionaries and the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps.

One summer afternoon in 2017, a French man named Guillaume approached the 17-year-old girl, asking about the illuminated spots on a world map at the museum.

Quynh Anh explained that the spots represented the locations of 17 African countries. Inspired by the Dien Bien Phu victory and the subsequent Geneva Accords of 1954, these nations had risen up in 1960 to gain independence. Lasting from March 13 to May 7, 1954, the Dien Bien Phu Battle, in northern province of Dien Bien, was decisively won by the Vietnamese side, effectively terminating the French presence in Indochina and the signing of the Geneva Accords.

Quynh Anh and Guillaume visited Hong Khenh Lake in the spring of 2019, located in northern Dien Bien Province. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Guillaume

Quynh Anh and Guillaume visited Hong Khenh Lake in the spring of 2019, located in northern Dien Bien Province. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Guillaume

Following the captivating conversation, Guillaume asked Quynh Anh to guide him through the relics of A1 hill, which once served as the last line of defense for the French headquarters in Dien Bien Phu.

From the top of the hill, Anh’s eyes sparkled with pride as she recounted the epic battle - one her grandfather had actively participated in when he was young.

A young volunteer from Hanoi, her grandfather stayed in the Northwest of Vietnam promote literacy among the people after the end of French colonial rule.

During their conversation, Guillaume proudly revealed that his grandparents joined numerous protests against the Indochina Wars.

"I had met many foreign tourists up till that point, but Guillaume left a lasting impression," Quynh Anh recalled. "He listened to my stories with genuine interest; there was no trace of hatred or bias."

Before parting ways, the two exchanged contact information.

Months later, a message from Guillaume sparked a lasting friendship.

Guillaume loves math, science, and history, while Anh has a passion for cultures and people. They started sharing knowledge of their differing interests to each other, thereby forging a unique bond.

Love started to blossom naturally day by day as the couple talked more and more.

In 2018, Quynh Anh entered the University of Economics of Ho Chi Minh City, while Guillaume was taking a doctoral program. The long-distance relationship became a source of solace for the couple during their stressful student days.

The couple at their wedding ceremony in France, December 2023. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Guillaume

The couple at their wedding ceremony in France, December 2023. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Guillaume

During the 2019 Lunar New Year holiday, Quynh Anh invited Guillaume home to visit her family.

As soon as he set foot in the house after a late-night bus ride, the young man immediately took part in helping with traditional Vietnamese food preparations, like making banh chung (square sticky rice cake).

An inquisitive person by nature, Guillaume felt no hesitance to learn about Vietnam. He spent his time immersing himself in the local culture and exploring historical sites whenever he visited his girlfriend’s hometown.

"Guillaume would take off his shirt every time he was doing work around the house, just like a Vietnamese guy," Anh recalled. "The most memorable sight was when he was sitting with my uncle, chatting about all sorts of things and chewing on raw sugar cane."

Also in 2019, with three weeks off from school, Quynh Anh seized the opportunity to visit her boyfriend’s hometown in France. The Vietnamese girl was full of worries and anxiety, since it was her first time travelling abroad.

But all of her worries faded away as she stood at the doorstep of Guillaume’s home.

His big family – parents, younger brother, paternal and maternal grandparents – welcomed Anh with the tightest and warmest hugs, making her feel like she belonged.

Guillaume’s grandparents, both paternal and maternal, had been to Vietnam in the early 2000s. The fond memories that they had of Vietnam came flushing back in the presence of their "future granddaughter-in-law."

Everyone talked with each other for hours on end, even though they had just met for the first time.

"Both Guillaume’s paternal and maternal grandparents were so excited to visit Dien Bien. His paternal grandparents even planned a one-week sightseeing trip prior to our wedding ceremony in Vietnam," Quynh Anh said.

Quynh Anh, Guillaume and their parents at their city hall wedding in December 2023. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Guillaume

Quynh Anh, Guillaume and their parents at their city hall wedding in December 2023. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Guillaume

In 2022, Anh moved to France to pursue a master's degree in international business at Bordeaux University. As soon as she settled down, Guillaume made a plan to pop the question to his girlfriend.

It was the enchanting lavender season.

Guillaume asked Quynh Anh to join him on a hiking trip in Provence. With breathtaking nature surrounding them, the young man got down on his knee and asked Anh to be his wife. The girl said yes.

The couple’s much-anticipated wedding was the first in 40 years for Guillaume’s extended family.

In the winter of 2023, Guillaume and Anh had a city hall wedding alongside their friends and family, followed by a cozy celebration in the garden of the French countryside.

After that, the two families started to plan for a grand wedding in Vietnam. They decided to hold the celebration in early March 2024, which coincided with the Hoa Ban festival – a spring festival celebrated by the Thai people in the Northwest of Vietnam - as well as the anniversary of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu Victory.

As a way to show their respect, the groom’s family willingly followed all of the Vietnamese wedding traditions. On March 2, the couple’s traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony took place. Everyone in Guillaume’s family came to the bride’s residence, dressed in custom-made ao dai and adorned with traditional accessories.

Guillaume’s mother shared that it was her son’s passion for history that led him to Dien Bien and gave him a chance to meet his life partner.

"Just a little over half a year after returning from Vietnam, he told us he was in love with a Dien Bien girl," she said.

Thu Thuy, Quynh Anh’s mother, reflected on the experience of attending the wedding in France, which got her and her husband pondering about organizing a wedding celebration that could be the best of both worlds.

She wanted the celebration to retain the lively and festive atmosphere cherished in Vietnamese tradition, while also emphasizing on meaningful and intimate interactions that are typical of a French wedding.

The result was a spectacular gathering, with Quynh Anh’s family and relatives from across the country, as well as Guillaume’s family and friends from all over the world.

The most unforgettable part of the celebration was the ending, when people of all ages and nationalities came together to join hands in a "xoe vong" dance – a traditional dance of the Thai people – to the music of "pi" oboes and gourd lutes.

"Many people told me it was a wonderful wedding. There is no greater joy than that," Thuy recalled.

Guillaume proudly declared that every aspect of their union – from their love story to the wedding celebrations – serves as a symbol of peace and connection between Vietnam and France.

After the wedding ceremony in Dien Bien, the couple returned to Paris. Quynh Anh has successfully completed her master’s program; now she plans to learn new languages and open a store to promote the products of Dien Bien to people in France.

"My husband and I also wish to become a bridge between French organizations and Dien Bien. Our goal is to contribute to improving the lives of the people and children in my hometown", Quynh Anh shared.

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