The Gateway to Vietnam’s Central Highlands
Sitting at the junction of two of Vietnam’s major highways – route 19 and route 14 – Pleiku is the gateway for travellers looking to explore the central highlands. Situated in a ravine, surrounded by rising mountains painted a vibrant green, the city was originally inhabited by the Bahnar and Jarai ethnic groups and is now home to a sizeable Kinh population as well. As the capital of the Gia Lai province, Pleiku was ravaged during the Vietnam War before being rebuilt in the 1980s. While the city itself may lack the charm of more charismatic locales, travellers are rewarded with breathtaking vistas, local historical sites and the ability to explore the surrounding cities and minority villages. Within the Gia Lai Province, a government permit is required and you may need to hire a local guide.
Things to do
Bien Ho opens in new window – or, sea lake – is located about six kilometres north of Pleiku. Covering 250 hectares, the lake fills the crater of an extinct volcano with its name derived from its resemblance to the ocean’s wide spanning surface. A tree lined path descends into the crater where you’ll find a jetty with a gazebo offering some spectacular views.
Kon Tum’s religious heart
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral opens in new window (or the Cathedral of Kon Tum) has been the heart of the Kon Tum diocese for the past 160 years serving the surrounding mountain communities. Built entirely from wood during the French era, the building’s facade is a mix of dark wood, sky blue and wide terraces.
Step back in time
A visit to a local minority village such as the Bahnar is a must-do in the central highlands. From Kon Tum, permits are no longer required however guided day trips are available (from VND 400,000). Gia Lai Tourist Travel Service Centre (215 Hung Vuong Street, Pleiku) is able to organise tours.
Tigers, leopards and elephants
Yok Don National Park opens in new window is one of Vietnam’s largest nature reserves and home to 67 mammal species including tigers, leopards and rare, red wolves. While these are seldom seen, elephants are abundant and you can opt to ride one for VND 220,000 per hour, per person. A guide is required to explore the park (VND 170,000 for sightseeing, VND 280,000 per half day of hiking).
Dray Nur waterfall in Kuop Village, about 25km south of Buon Ma Thuot is the largest and one of the most stunning that flows into the Serepok River. The waterfall and its three adjoining pools are also closed to the legends of the Central Highlands, in particular those of the nearby E De minority. Tours are available through Dak Lak Tour opens in new window.
Travel time 11 minutes
Taxi Approx VND90,000
Motor taxi (xe om) Approx VND 40,000Back to top
When to go
Pleiku has the highest level of rainfall in the Central Highlands and yearly average temperatures of 23°C. The rainy or monsoon season spans from May to November while the dry season begins in December and ends in April.
In the spring, it’s well-worth heading south to Ban Don for the annual Elephant Race Festival which takes place on the banks of the Serepok River usually in March. Around the same time, Buon Ma Thuot hosts an annual Coffee Festival that sees litres of coffee devoured.Back to top
Motorcycles are available for hire along the side of the road however the prices can be inflated. Another option – if you’re quick – is to hire the motorcycle available Thanh Lich, a hotel on Nguyen Van Troi Street (VND 80,000 per day, VND 10,000 per hour).
Pleiku’s bus station is about 2.5km southeast of the town centre. From here, regular buses travel to Buon Ma Thuot (VND 100,000, four hours, every 30 minutes), Kon Tum (VND 20,000, one hour, every 30 minutes) and Quy Nhon (VND 75,000, three hours, five daily).Back to top