Mark Richardson 2004
Virtually everything that I have written in the past is now incorrect.
(Please note that I wrote this info before the problems of Easter 2004 and have not sent it in until Dec 2004. From what I know the situation has returned to normal so that the following info is again correct).
First of all let me congratulate the local authorities on the open door policy now operating in the Kontum province. This has made huge changes in the lives of the locals and for tourists who are now much more welcome. It is now possible to go almost anywhere.
There are now a plethora of hotels in Kontum although I’m informed the Family Hotel and the Dak bla hotel are the most popular. I’m reliably informed that the quality of service has improved in the hotel industry in general to keep apace of the other changes.
(I personally stay in our family’s house in a Montagnard village. Permission was easily and quickly granted).
Hotel Dak bla (just across the bridge when entering Kontum from the south) has the advantage of having the tourist agency in the office underneath where you can find the best tour guide for the province Huynh (mobile 0905112037
If you want to understand what you are looking at then hire him at a very reasonable rate. This is something you will NOT regret. He was one of my best students in1994/5 and his English is fluent due to his hard work. He’s quite a good photographers assistant too.
He will tailor trips to the individual or group. For day-trippers, ex servicemen, backpackers, ethnologists/anthropologists. His knowledge of the area is unsurpassed!!!!!!!!!!
I cannot over stress the importance of having a knowledgeable guide with you. It will make a huge difference to your whole experience. Not all guides are good. I heard some guides from another province telling tourists about the hill tribes in Kontum.
They obviously knew nothing and were making it up as they went along.
Restaurant Dak bla 168 Nguyen Hue Street is still a great place to eat although a little above average in cost (but still very reasonable). Great if you have young children with you as he does the best chips you will find anywhere. Mr. Van is still is a great drinking partner when his wife allows him. Also he serves excellent traditional Vietnamese food.
The food is generally very cheap in Kontum and it is well worth your while to pay for the guide to have the evening meal with you so you can find the best restaurants where the locals eat.
The best dog meat restaurant is on a dirt road near the Hotel Dak bla but is accessed from Nguyen Hue street a couple of hundred metres further up. 4 different courses of dog with copious amounts of strong alcohol cost about 55,000 dong for 3 people (about £2, i.e. 70p each!!!!!!) Go on treat your guide.
Hint- you will be given a small bowl of a foul smelling purple sauce (made from a type of shrimp paste) squeeze the lime juice into it and add a bout a tablespoon full of rice alcohol and stir vigorously.
Wrap a piece of meat in a leaf and dip into sauce. Use very little sauce.
There is a wild meat restaurant serving such things as lizard, wild boar, porcupine and a small fox like creature. All the aforementioned are perfectly acceptable to the western palate although perhaps less acceptable to the conservationally minded. Go north on Le Hong Phong Street straight across the roundabout and continue to the T-junction turn left then take the next right. Restaurant 25?????
A great breakfast can be had at 120 Le Hong Phong Street, consisting of fried egg Vietnamese sausage a small piece of steak and meatballs with some veggies and bread that is superior to anything to be had in England.
Superb noodle based dishes can be bought any where in the town (from about 3000 dong-a little more than 10p!!!!) – just sit down and point at what some one else is eating unless you can speak the language.
Bread rolls with a meat and vegetable filling can be bought from any one of a number of street side vendors for 2000 dong – very filling and tasty.
If you are fortunate enough to visit a village where there is a party in progress you more than likely be offered food and drink (At the moment westerners are still relatively rare). Although the appearance of some of the food can be off putting to some westerners it is all very tasty. The degree of hospitality you will be shown can be overwhelming.
The village of Plei Tonghia has a new rong house (under construction Jan 2004).
A new traditional house has been built (Jan 04) in the centre of the village amongst other traditional houses where one can sample the Montagnard Jar wine and learn a little about the Montagnard culture. This is owned by the one and only Doctor Nghem who is a local Bahnar woman and a great character.
The wooden cathedral is well worth a visit, 13 Nguyen Hue, as is the Montagnard orphanage behind the cathedral and its annexe in the neighbouring village of Kon Hra Chot.
There is a small Hill Tribe museum in the old seminary building. This is most easily found by following the road opposite the wooden Cathedral and following this to its end and the rather large impressive former seminary is almost directly opposite. (although visits are best prearranged through the tourist agency. Again this is best visited with someone who is passionate about the local culture. You may even learn about the tiny earthenware jar containing cotton soaked in elephant tears that functioned as a talisman).
Kon Kotu village, which used to be found following a series of “goat” tracks can now be easily found following the road across the suspension bridge at Kon Klor and following the road (asphalt and concrete) all the way to the village!!!
Arrangements can be made with the tourist agency at hotel Dak bla to stay overnight in the village and experience a gong music party.
I must stress that this MUST be done through the agency and not with guides from other areas or alone. Gatecrashing may not be appreciated, especially if it is a special party for returnees and family. It is not a question of money and as one very arrogant group found out when they insisted that they be allowed to attend one such party they were not welcome and it ended being sorted out by the authorities who then expulsed them from the village. You wouldn’t do it at home so don’t do it here.
The music party can be organised in advance by the tourist agency.
Just before the village of Kon Kotu on a large bend in the road there is the fairies bed of local mythology- a large flat rock by the side of the river.
A short trek can be organised from Kon Kotu to another village across a bamboo suspension bridge.
A nice river trip in a small rubber dinghy is also recommended although this is not white water rafting for extreme aficionados but more for those who want to appreciate the peace and beauty of the area. (Although there are a few small rapids). A stop can be made at the rock where the Giant, Bok Rok dried his loincloth. (Local mythology).
Amateur Anthropologists/ethnologists would appreciate a visit to the Jarrei cemetery west of Kontum where the wooden statues from the grave abandoning ceremony can be seen. Also North of Kontum a visit to see the communal houses of the Jeh, Trieng and Sodra peoples is most interesting.
Konplong old and new!(and over the Mang Den Pass) What was the town of Konplong in the district of Konplong has now changed name!
The new district town of Konplong is being built at the top of the Mang Den pass and was in Jan 04 quite surreal. Wide streets with pavements cut into the forest/plantations with only one or two buildings partially completed for the new infrastructure.
Over the Mang Den pass it is possible to see the Monome people. This is really only for those with a strong ethnological bent. These people are still relatively shy and most of the women will hide from cameras (a shame because they have the most beautiful smiles to be seen anywhere). (Great honey can be bought here)!
It is possible (but only through the tourist agency who can sometimes secure permission) to stay overnight in a Jolong village in the Kon Plong district.
The villages in this area still follow the animist religion.
Beware the women drink and will invite you to drink with them. Although generally speaking they are a lot smaller than westerners they are used to the local alcohol- YOU ARE NOT. (I speak from experience).
Dakto and Tanh Canh The little museum that used to contain a few war relics has now gone.
The war memorial which a few years ago was on the north side of town is now more central due to the expansion of the town (the memorial has not moved).
Here turn left to see the old runway of Charlie base/ Eagle airport with Hamburger hill to the west.
Or turn right and visit the hot springs at Dakto but a guide will be needed to find it and a very scenic series of small waterfalls in the same area.
The hot water springs from which Dak (water) To (hot) takes its name in the Bahnar language are nothing to see but just steam coming from a narrow stream.
The Ho Chi Minh trail is now in places a 4-lane highway!
New modern towns are cropping up where only a few basic houses existed a few years before.
It is possible to go from the Kontum province into Laos if you have the visa.
Before the frontier is the Bru village that now live in modern housing built with compensation money from having the new highway built across their tribal lands.
According to the most recent census the Bru number 250.
If you can speak the local languages- Bahnar, Jolong, Jarrei, Xedang, Trieng, Sodra, Monome, Rengao, Jeh and even Lao amongst others it is possible to visit much of the province without a guide if you don’t mind getting hopelessly lost now and again.
Although it is permitted to ride motorbikes it is not advisable as the number of motorbikes has increased ten fold over the last few years and the number of accidents has increased. (Including accidents involving foreigners) Best to have someone who is used to riding here and who has a reputation of being safe. I used to ride here but wouldn’t dream of doing it now.
CAFÉ EVA is an experience not to be missed. 01 Phanh Chu Trinh Street.
The owner a Mr An is an artist and quite visionary in his approach. This place is popular with locals as well as the few tourists who come here.
The Café is difficult to describe but essentially captures the spirit of the jungle and the hill tribe people their art and culture. DO NOT MISS THIS if you go to Kontum.
Also Mr An is a great source of local knowledge.
You will find it difficult to leave this place.
The best place to get photos developed is at Photo Thanh, 06 Le Loi Street.
Mr Thanh is himself an accomplished photographer.
It is advisable to explain that you want your negatives in strips in sheets, as this is not a standard practice anywhere in Kontum. Mr Thanh’s wife can speak excellent English (Teacher) if you require anything other than standard developing.
The best place to change dollars is at the Jewellery shop at 98 Le Hong Phong.
The owner is a Mr Thanh who speaks English and is a very helpful and friendly person as is his brother, Mr Quyen who owns a souvenir shop opposite.
Mr Thanh also has a very large and impressive collection of Stone Age tools.
There is so much now that is accessible to the tourist/backpacker from battlefields to serene but hidden waterfalls, hot springs and undisturbed Montagnard villages that only can be found with local knowledge.