The lush gateway to Vietnam’s Central Highlands
Strategically placed 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 Vietnam's entrancing Central Highlands. Cradled by a ravine and surrounded by vibrant green mountains, the city is a melting pot of ethnic minorities, originally inhabited by the Bahnar and Jarai ethnic groups and also home to a sizeable Kinh population.
As the capital of 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 centres, travellers are rewarded with breathtaking vistas, fascinating historical sites and easy access to explore the surrounding cities and minority villages. Be aware that in Gia Lai Province a government permit is required to visit villages, 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. The 250ha lake fills the crater of an extinct volcano, its name derived from its resemblance to the wide expanse of the ocean. A tree-lined path descends into the crater, where you’ll find a jetty with a gazebo offering some spectacular views.
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral (or the Cathedral of Kon Tum) has been the beating 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 charming facade is a mix of dark wood, sky blue and wide terraces.
Step back in time
Vietnam's Central Highlands are home to many of the country's ethnic minorities, and a visit to a local Jarai, Bahnar or Sedangsuch village is a fascinating and enriching experience. It's easier to organise from nearby Kon Tum, where permits aren't required and you can do overnight treks with a minority language-speaking guide.
Yok Don National Park opens in new window is one of Vietnam’s largest nature reserves. While it's home to 93 animal species including gaurs and wild elephants, many of them are now endangered and sightings are relatively rare. Luckily, Yok Don is a great spot for trekking, boat trips and even cooking classes.
A Central Highlands highlight, the stunning Dray Nur Waterfalls, south of Pleiku and about 25km south of Buon Ma Thuot, are one of Vietnam's largest. Fed by the Srepok River, the waterfall and its adjoining pools are closely connected to the legends of the Central Highlands, in particular those of the local Ede minority. You can picnic, get up close for great photos, and even bathe in the cascade's spray.
Distance to city centre 5km
Taxi Meter taxis, available outside arrivals, should take around 10 minutes and cost about VND 80,000.Back 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 worth heading south to Ban Don for the annual Elephant Race Festival which takes place on the banks of the Srepok River, usually in March. Around the same time is Buon Ma Thuot's annual Coffee Festival, celebrating the local crop and favourite energy drink.Back to top
Meter taxis are available and xe oms (motorbike taxis) are plentiful in the centre of town – be sure to agree on the fare before you ride. Motorcycles are available for hire along the side of the road, however the prices can be inflated (and be sure to check that your travel insurance covers motorbike travel. From Pleiku’s bus station, about 2.5km southeast of the town centre, regular buses travel to Buon Ma Thuot, Kon Tum and Quy Nhon.Back to top