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 ) 59
Well off the tourist track, PIeiku (or Playcu) makes for little more than a pleasant stopover on Hwy 14. The threat of unrest among the local ethnic minorities means that much of the potential for village tourism has been stymied. You'll need a permit to go anywhere off the highway, and Westerners with their own wheels may find themselves quickly separated from them if they attempt to go it alone. However, you're unlikely to see any aggression on the streets of this sleepy market town. In February 1965 the VC shelled a US compound in PIeiku, killing eight Americans. Although the USA already had more than 23,000 military advisers in Vietnam, their role was supposed to be noncombative at the time. The attack on PIeiku was used as a justification by US President Johnson to begin a relentless bombing campaign against North Vietnam and the rapid build-up of US troops. When US troops departed in 1973 the South Vietnamese kept PIeiku as their main combat base in the area. When these troops fled the advancing VC, the whole civilian population of PIeiku and nearby Kon Turn fled with them. The stampede to the coastline involved over 100,000 people and tens of thousands died along the way. The departing soldiers torched PIeiku, but the city was rebuilt in the 1980s with assistance from the Soviet Union. As a result, it lacks much of the colour and antiquity you find elsewhere in Vietnamese towns.
You need a permit to visit villages in Gia Lai province and you'll also be required to hire a guide. This puts off many travellers, who usually just skip PIeiku entirely and head north to Kon Turn where the authorities are more hospitable. Gia Lai Tourist can arrange the permit and guide as part of one of its packages, for which you're likely to be charged a set fee depending on the length of your tour. Gia Lai Tourist ( 215 Đ Hung Vuong) Located beside the Hung Vuong Hotel,Gia Lai offers a wide variety of tours, including trekking,elephant riding and programmes catering for war veterans.
Incombank (Tell: 871 054; 12 Đ Tran Hung Dao) Branch offering foreign currency and travellers cheque exchanges,and credit-card advances. Internet 42 (42 Đ Dinh Tien Hoang; per hr 2000d) Cheap and fast.
Main post office Tell:872 123; 69 Đ Hung Vuong;(S 6am-9.30pm) Vietcombank ATM (89 Đ Hung Vuong) in the foyer of the (aly Hotel.
PIeiku has two museums, neither of them remarkable and both often closed. The Ho Chi Minh Museum (1 Phan Dinh Phuong; admission free; (8-11am & 1-4.30pm Mon-Fri) displays documents and photos to demon-strate Uncle Ho's affinity for hill-tribe people, and their love for Uncle Ho. There are also displays about a Bahnar hero, Anh Hung Nup (1914-98), who led the hill tribes against the French and Americans. There's a statue of Anh Hung Nup (cnr Đ Le Loi & ĐTran Hung Dao) outside the nearby Hoa Lu Theatre.
The Gia Lai Museum (28 Đ Quang Trung; admission10,000d; (8-11 am & 14.30pm Mon-Fri) features hill-tribe artefacts and photographs that memorialise Pleiku's role during the American War. Check in first at Gia Lai Tourist to get a ticket and an appointment.
This little public park ( 26B ĐTran Hung Dao) has manicured gardens, a rong house and a full-length swimming pool.
Bien Ho, or Sea Lake, is a deep mountain lake about 7km north of PIeiku, where it's possible to swim in the green water but most visitors prefer to admire it from a dry distance. It is believed to have been formed from a prehistoric volcanic crater. The surrounding area's beautiful and, thankfully, there's little here in the way of development apart from a tiered viewing terrace. This makes a pleasant bike ride and picnic from PIeiku.
Thanh Lich Hotel ( 86 Đ Nguyen Van Troi; r US$6-1S; Old and a bit grungy. this place still has clean sheets, hot water and, in the more expensive rooms, air-conditioning. Given Pleiku's comfortable climate you might want to forgo this for the cheaper but quieter rooms at the rear, some with terraces looking across the back-alley roofs.
laly Hotel ( 89 Đ Hung Vuong;r 220,000-400,000d; Also aging shabbily, the laly still remains a solid choice. The more expensive rooms are large and suite-like, fitted with new furniture including a desk and lounge area.
Due Long Gia Lai ( 95-97 9 Hai Ba Trung; r US$20-30;A crazy yellow coconut tree welcomes you to what is easily the best-value accommodation in town. The staff are friendly and the rooms spotless and new, with good furniture and facilities. The more expensive rooms have balconies and corner tubs.
Tre Xanh Hotel (18 ĐLe Lai;r US$25 30; Next to the fancy plaza of the same name, this new upmarket place has huge rooms with bathtubs. Ask for a room with a view.
Eating & Drinking
Tamba (Tell:j826774;5-7ĐTranPhu) A cross between a bakery and a supermarket, this popular shop serves excellent pastries.Nem Ninh Hoa (80 Đ Nguyen Van Troi; meals 15,000d;(lunch & dinner) This simple restaurant does deli-cious roll-your-own fresh spring rolls.
Hong Ha Cafe (Tell: 824 573; 26 Đ Nguyen Van Troi) This is chic, light-strewn cafe is a good spot for an ice cream, coffee or cocktail.
fan Tay Nguyen (Tell: 874 217; 24 Đ Quang Trung) With a thatched longroom looking on to a garden bar, this is a pleasant place to knock back a beer or a coffee.
Getting There & Away AIR
The local office of Vietnam Airlines (Tell:824 680; fax 825 096; 55 fi Quang Trung; 7.30-nam & 1.30 4.30pm) can book tickets on the daily flights to and from HCMC (550,000d) and Danang (400,000d). The airport is very near the town and easily accessible by taxi or xe om.
Pleiku's bus station is on the main highway, just over 2km east of town. However, you can usually flag down a minibus circling Đ Le Loi or Đ Hung Vuong without too much trouble. Regular buses head to Buon Ma Thuot (46,000d, four hours), Kon Tum (30,000d, one hour) and Quy Nhon (45,000d, four hours). There is also an international service link¬ing Pleiku and Attapeu (US$10, 12 hours), departing Pleiku Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and Attapeu on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The nearest cities to Pleiku are Buon Ma Thuot (199km), Quy Nhon (186km) and Kon Tum (47km). There is a particularly barren stretch of land on the road from Buon Ma Thuot, the result of Agent Orange and over-logging. From Pleiku it's 550km to HCMC and 424km to Nha Trang.
The Jarai minority of the Pleiku area honour their dead in graveyards set up like miniature villages. Each grave is marked with a shelter or bordered with stakes of bamboo. Simply carved wooden figures are usually placed along the edge, often pictured in a squatting position with their hands over their faces in an attitude of mourning. For years relatives bring food to the grave and pass the death anniversaries at the gravesite, mourning and celebrating the deceased by feasting and drinking rice wine. After several years the grave is abandoned - the spirit having moved on from the village. A horrific part of the Jarai funerary tradition was the burial of live babies with their dead mothers, a practice that persisted until the government clamped down on it in the 1990s. This stems back to a time when there were no alternatives to breast milk and the death of the mother would always lead to the baby's death. In order to save on the expense of funerary rites, which involve the slaughter of a water buffalo for a village feast, the two funerals would be combined and the baby buried alive.