Central Highands

Da Lat - Around Da Lat - Di Linh - Bao Loc - Dan Nhim Lake - Ngoan Muc Pass - Buon Ma Thuot - Around Boun Ma Thuot - Pleiku - Kon Tum


IDD Code ( + 84 ) 60
Quite possibly the friendliest city in Vietnam, when people stop you on the street in Kon Tum to ask where you're from, it's because they're actually interested. In the Bahnar villages, discreetly hidden behind trim rows of Vietnamese houses on the town's outskirts, the kids love to pose for giggly photos and the adults may even invite you into their homes for a chat. So far Kon Tum remains largely unspoiled and the authorities remain blessedly invisible. There are several sights in the town itself, and this is also a gateway to the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail (see the boxed text). Like elsewhere in the highlands, Kon Tum saw its share of combat during the American War. A major battle between the South and North Vietnamese took place in and around Kon Tum in the spring of 1972. when the area was devastated by hundreds of American B-52 raids.
B1DV (Tell:862 340; 1 Đ Tran Phu; closed Sat) Exchanges US dollars and euros, and gives cash advanceson major credit cards.
Incombank (ĐT: 910 714; 90 Đ Tran Phu)
Internet Cafe (21 Đ Nguyen Hue)
Kon Turn General Hospital (Tell: 862 565; 224A Đ Ba Trieu)
Kon Turn Tourist (Tell: 861626; 2 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; 8-11am & K30pm) In the Dakbla Hotel, staff can help answer queries and arrange trekking tours, overnight stays in villages and boating trips on Yaly Lake and the Dakbla River.
Main post office (Tell: 862 361; 205 Đ Le Hong Phong)
There arc quite a few hill-tribe villages around Kon Turn. Generally the local people welcome tourists, but only if you are not too intrusive, It's fine to wander around the village, but ask permission before pointing a camera into people's faces or homes. Some small villages (or perhaps we should say neighbourhoods) are on the periphery of Kon Tum. There are two Bahnar villages, simply called Lang Bana in Vietnamese: one on the east side and the other on the west side of town. Cows and pigs wander around the dirt lanes, while the kids play naked or in dirty clothes. You're unlikely to see people in traditional garb, unless they're on their way to the Mass in the Bahnar language, held on Sunday nights at the wooden church (right). Also on the east side of Kon Tum is Kon Tum village (Lang Kon Tum). This is, in fact, the original Kon Tum before it grew to become a small city. If you have time for a multiday trek in the jungle, Kon Tum Tourist can arrange homestays in villages. Because the guides here are careful not to intrude too frequently on any one village, visitors are always welcomed and traditions remain intact Email ahead to book a rare and real look at village life. The Kon Tum police continue to have a relatively open attitude to tourists visiting local minority villages without permits. Check in with Kon Tum Tourist for the latest scoop on the situation.
Kon Tum's rong house (Đ Nguyen Hue) is the venue for important local events, such as meetings, weddings, festivals, prayer sessions and so on. Rong houses are a type of tall thatched-roof community house built on stilts. The stilts were originally for protection from elephants, tigers and other overly assertive animals.
Behind the rong house is a beautiful French wooden church (Đ Nguyen Hue) with a dark front, sky-blue trim and wide terraces. Inside it's light, airy and elegant Serving the Bahnar community, the altar is bedecked in traditional woven fabrics.
Another exquisite Catholic church (92 Đ Nguyen Hue), this one's painted in candy pastels and has large, brightly coloured bas-reliefs on its facade, including a wonderfully Vietnamese-looking St Michael stomping on a Chinese dragon. Check out the beautifully carved wooden door. While distinctly European in style, it's blended with Asian curved motifs along the roofline.
Welcoming you into town as you cross the bridge on Hwy 14 from Pleiku, this lovely statue (Đ Phan Dinh Phung) in socialist-realist style is a rarity for Vietnam - nobody's holding a gun. Instead it celebrates the local hill tribes, with its three main figures banging gongs and drums.
Kon Tum is home to a lovely old Catholic seminary (Đ Tran Hung Dao) that looks as if it was beamed here from a provincial French village. The residents are generally welcoming of visitors, and the Hill-Tribe Museum ( 8-11am & 2-4pm Mon-Sat) on the 2nd floor is worth a look, if it happens to be open, as is the chapel below it.
A short walk from the town centre, these sister orphanages are well worth spending a few hours at staff at both the Vinh Son 1 and Vinh Son 2 orphanages are welcoming of visitors who come to share some time with the adorable multi-ethnic resident children. If you plan to visit, please make a donation to the orphanage; it is very much in need of support. Canned food, clothing or toys for the kids would be appropriate, and monetary contributions are of course appreciated. Vinh Son 1 is just behind the wooden church on Đ Nguyen Hue. From here you can continue east to visit nearby minority villages. Vinh Son 2, at the southern edge of town and beyond a small Bahnar village, is less visited and more populous (with around 200 children) so is usually in need of more help. The villagers are used to seeing visitors coming through and will point you in the right direction. You'll find it at the end of the second dirt track on the right after the small paddock.
This former prison compound (730-nam & 1-5pm), by the edge of Kon Tum, is now a quiet park on the banks of the Dakbla River. It was once one of the famous prisons run by the South Vietnamese; VC who survived their internment were made into heroes after liberation. There's a small museum at the prison site, but nothing is left of the original buildings. Outside the museum is a memorial statue; inside, you'll find old photos of prisoners and models of the prison cells, but the explanations are in Vietnamese only.
The obscure Dak To outpost, 42km north of Kon Tum, was a major battlefield during the American War. In 1972 it was the scene of intense fighting and one of the last big battles before American troops pulled out. Dak To has become popular with visiting groups of US veterans, but you probably won't find much of interest if you're not a war buff-More intriguingly, those few VC veterans with sufficient free time and money also like to come here to stir their memories. About 5km south of Dak To is Charlie Hill. The hill was a fortified South Vietnamese stronghold before the VC tried to overrun it The South Vietnamese officer in charge, Colonel Ngoc Minh, decided that he would neither surrender nor retreat and the battle became a fierce fight to the death. Unusually for a guerrilla war, this was a prolonged battle. The VC laid siege to the hill for 11/2 months before they managed to kill Colonel Minh and 150 South Vietnamese troops, who had made their last stand here. Although largely forgotten in the West, the battle is well known, even now, in Vietnam, The reason for this is largely because the fight was commemorated by a popular song, 'Nguoi 0 Lai Charlie' (The People Stayed in Charlie). Not surprisingly, the hill was heavily mined during the war and is still considered unsafe to climb. There's a rong house in Dak To that is worth seeking out.
Viet Tram (Tell: 869 269; fax 869 334; 162 Đ Nguyen Hue;rUS$8-10; A friendly minihotel with basic but clean and comfortable rooms.
Huu Nhgi (Tell:911 560; fax 911 556; 69 Đ Ba Trieu;rUS$18-30; There's no English spoken in this new, upmarket and attractive hotel. Rooms at the back look out on a quiet courtyard.
Indodiine Hotel ( 30 Đ Bach Dang; r US$2-40, ste US$70; This large new place right by the river is downright flash by highlands standards and has great views from the rooftop bar.
Eating & Drinking
Dakbla's (Tell: 862 584; 168 Đ Nguyen Hue; dishes 25,000-60,000d) With good food and reasonable prices, Dakbla's tends to draw the most travellers, serving Vietnamese standards plus exotic fare such as wild boar and frog. An impressive collection of hill-tribe artefacts adorns the walls, some of which are for sale.
Quan 58 (Tell:863 814; 58 Đ Phan Chu Trinh; hotpot 50,000d;( lunch & dinner) This is an indoor-outdoor goat-meat speciality restaurant. Goat (de) can be ordered in over a dozen ways, such as steamed (de hop), grilled (de nuong), sauteed (de xao lan), curried (de cari) and the ever-popular hotpot (lau de).
Restaurant 78 Le Loi (Tell: 864 404; 78 Đ Le loi; hotpot 50,000d; (lunch& dinner) This place is crowded with locals eating hotpot and drinking beer.
Nghia 11 (72 Đ Le Loi; mains 10,000d). A few doors down from Restaurant 78 Le Loi, there's good vegetarian food here.
Eva Cafe (Tell: 862 944; 1 Đ Phan Chu Trinh) A pleasant surprise, this is set up like a hill-tribe village, minus the pigs and cows, with thatched buildings scattered throughout the garden. There's a fantastic sculpture of a soldier fashioned from a large bomb, wearing a peace sign on a chain around its neck. This chic cafe seems a little incongruous in simple Kon Tum, but it's a good place for a coffee, cold beer or a delicious mango smoothie.
Getting There & Around
Kon Tum is easy to traverse on foot, but xe om are in ready supply. It shouldn't cost more than 10,000d to get anywhere on the back of a bike. The local Vietnam Airlines Tell: 862 282; 129 Đ Ba Trieu; (7-11am & 1-5pm Mon-Sat) office can handle air-travel bookings; the nearest airport is in Pleiku. Kon Turn's bus station (Đ 279 Phan Dinh Phung) has plenty of services to Pleiku (30,000d, one hour) and Danang (85,000d, five hours). The newly opened Bo Y border crossing into Laos lies 86km northeast of Kon Tum. There are buses that leave Quy Nhon on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, passing through Kon Tum en route to Pakse. These services are new and don't seem to have a fixed stopping point or schedule as yet. The best thing to do is to inquire at the bus station for the latest details. Another option is to catch a bus to Ngoc Hoi (30,000d, two hours, one daily) and then pick up a Lao minivan returning to Attapeu (80.000k, three hours). Note that Lao visas are not available at this border, so you'll have to arrange one in Danang or HCMC. Hwy 14 north and south of Kon Tum is now in very good repair. Pleiku is 49km south and Danang 300km north.
This legendary route was not one but many paths that formed the major supply link for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong (VC) during the American War. Supplies and troops leaving from the port of Vinh headed inland along inhospitable mountainous jungle paths, crossing in and out of neighbouring Laos, and eventually ending up near Saigon. It's hard to imagine what these soldiers endured - thousands were lost to malaria and American bombs. While the nature of the trail means that there's no one official route, a widely accepted sec -tion follows Hwy 14 north from Kon Tum to Giang, not far from Danang. This exceptionally beautiful track is now served by an excellent road winding along the edge of steep mountains. If you catch a bus between Danang and Kon Tum you'll be following this historic path - albeit in considerably more comfort than the men who first trod it. For an impression of how the trail once looked, DMZ day tours often stop at a branch of the trail near Khe Sanh where the path heads under the jungle canopy-