Vietnam: The Central Highlands

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Asia » Vietnam » Central Highlands » Kon Tum
May 31st 2009
Published: June 2nd 2009
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Central Highlands run

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Vietnamese coffeeVietnamese coffeeVietnamese coffee

Have to wait 20 minutes for it to filter into cup...

Open tour bus versus local bus

So I was ready to leave Hue, but instead of doing the same route everyone else seemed to be doing, that of the trip south to Na Trang, I decided to go to the Central Highlands. The hotel receptionist in Hue just couldn’t understand this and asked “why you not go to Nah Trang?” even saying that the Central Highlands were not nice! They are so obsessed with getting us foreign tourists on the open tour bus because they all get a commission for each hotel - that getting a “local” bus instead is not an option. Frustratingly, not one travel agency I visited was able to find out when buses ran from the local bus station. So I just had to get up early and make my way to the bus station, getting a motorbike there in a mad rush because I was told there was a bus at 8. Got there at five past of course and the bus had gone. So I then had to make a two hour bus journey to Denang to catch the bus to Kon Tum. Got some grub in the station at Denang - steamed rice, some vegetables (looks like sea weed), a boiled egg (yeh, didn’t ask for it either) and some chicken.

Got on the “bus” - a Ford Transit van of all things and was designated a seat at the back right over the bloody wheel so that every time we hit a bump, my head struck the roof. Nice! Then they picking up and let off people along the sides of the road but basically squeezing in as many people as they could into rows of seats - so much for designated seats! The open tour bus seemed very attractive by this stage, however crumpled I was I always had Myanmar to fall back upon. Nothing can get much worse than that!

Kon Tum

Enjoyed the scenery into the Highlands and by the time I’d reached Kon Tum, it was chucking it down (as in Hue) and very little light because of the low cloud cover. So I got a taxi ride to a hotel and checked myself in. However the hotel and the room were in darkness, they’d had a power cut and also the light was so bad - it was like evening out or a very crappy January day in England. No one spoke much English at the hotel so I went for some food at the restaurant next door. Later on I went in search of the post office so I took an enigmatic bike ride through the streets at night, catching glimpses of town life, people out on the streets and lit churches. I couldn’t find the Post Office in the location described by the LP so I asked some geezer and with what looked like his dad on the back of his motorbike he led me to it through many streets.

Next day I took in a few sights by bicycle, checked out some of the old characterful churches and seminaries from when the French were lording it here. Then through some local tribes people’s villages, pretty cool they were too, I was looked at with amazement, and I at the pot bellied pigs and children running around everywhere. Then I took a little trip along the river to a former South Vietnamese prison where captured VC were imprisoned, predictably I had to pay to get in and then there was no museum! Equally, there was a big old very Soviet-style statue dedicated to the prisoners. I moved off pretty quickly after that as the storm clouds were a brewing, but I got some nice pics of the surrounding countryside.

Buôn Mê Thuột

The next day I got another local bus, this time to Buon Ma Thuot, the capital of coffee production in Vietnam, and I still have no clue how to say it as the locals say it so differently to how it is spelt. I had trouble communicating with the hotel staff about times of buses so got there at 7ish just to make sure. I waited around till 8.45 until we got moving, another Ford Transit, but this time I was near the front and without a headache. Just before I left the geezer in front with his young daughter, got up and calmly crouched next to the van and wretched his guts out, and then got back in the van.

The “conductor” - or geezer who takes the money and shouts at people in the street, took a liking to my cowboy hat and proceeded to wear it for most of the 5 hour journey. When we stopped somewhere, they even got me some coffee, the ice cubed Vietnamese variety- and very nice it is too, apparently only second after Brazil in terms of world production.

Anyway, the bus journey over there had some very scenery and scenes of village life with shepherds and motorbikes carrying huge things. I took a few pictures with difficulty because the van was going everywhere in and out of traffic, overtaking mopeds and jolting. We finally got to the city and I got another motorcycle taxi into town, driven by a dangerous driving lunatic, ducking in and out of sometimes oncoming traffic. I had a look around the Revolutionary Museum but it was just random framed photos of stuff, the Victory Monument was pretty cool, featuring a tank commemorating the taking of the city by the North. I then went to some random bakery and picked out a couple of weird looking cakes, I just which I could find a decent cup of tea to have them with. The coffee is excellent mind.

In the evening I went to a great little restaurant/eatery type place where I had these rice paper rolls wrapped up with loads of juicy herbs and salad and meats. The proprietess even showed me how to roll it properly and I took a video of it too, really cheap (about a quid) and totally delicious. I’ve had some great food here in Vietnam, but I’ve also had some pretty basic and disappointing stuff too. Afterwards I had a bit of a wander around the streets, nothing doing much apart from coffee shops with loud music, full of men. Where the ladies at?

Anyway, the next day, I got myself to some waterfalls (about an hour away), two in fact, by getting another motorbike guy to take me there before my bus down to Dalat. Pretty spectacular stuff and I think the largest I’ve visited so far, and to my surprise no one else was there. Got back and got another bloody Ford Transit to the station and then off again to Dalat through amazing scenery, really a highlight of the trip, if only we got to stop at some of the places for a picture or two.

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 26


Victory Monument - Buon Ma ThuatVictory Monument - Buon Ma Thuat
Victory Monument - Buon Ma Thuat

Buon Ma Thuot has the d"istinction of being the site of the last major battle between the North Vietnamese Army and South Vietnamese troops during March 1975. As a testament to that battle, the first North Vietnamese Army tank to enter the city is perched in the center of town as a monument to Buon Ma Thuot's "liberation."

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