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Road tripping through the hill tribe towns of Vietnam's Central Highlands

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Exploring Vietnam's Central Highland's pine tree forests, waterfalls and coffee plantations by motorbike

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									Road tripping through the hill tribe towns of Vietnam's Central Highlands

                                    Exploring Vietnam's Central Highland's pine tree forests, waterfalls
                                    and coffee plantations by motorbike

                                    The entire K’ho family, including grandparents and extended family,
                                    all sleep together in a single-room nha sang, or stilt house. Cooking
                                    is done directly on the floor, without benefit of a chimney. The
                                    smoke preserves the structure and repels insects.

Despite breathtaking mountain scenery and a rich diversity of hill tribe cultures, Vietnam’s Central
Highlands remain one of the least 'tourorized' areas of Southeast Asia. This region of pine tree forests,
waterfalls and coffee plantations is far from the coastal beach resorts where most tourists flock, and this
remoteness is all part of the charm.

The narrow, winding roads of the highlands are strewn with potholes, some so deep and wide it appears
as if elephants were dropped on the tarmac successively from various heights in some grotesque
experiment. An equally poor bus system and lack of railways make exploration by more maneuverable
motorbikes the best option.

Venturing Inland

                                    This adventure starts in the coastal town of Phan Thiet, though the
                                    mountains can be approached from any adjacent city between Ho
                                    Chi Minh in the south and Danang on the central coast. The road
                                    from Phan Thiet winds through Hindu Cham villages and mountain
                                    rainforests before arriving in the town of Dalat.

                                    The K’ho of Dalat

                                    Dr Alexandre Yersin (the noted explorer and scientist who
                                    discovered the cause of the bubonic plague) is traditionally
                                    considered the founder of the Dalat. The hill station, sanatorium and
                                    eventual resorts that developed more than 100 years ago have
                                    blessed Vietnam with one of the finest concentrations of French
                                    Colonial architecture in Indochina.

The city was named after the Lat clan, a subgroup of the K’ho tribe who inhabit much of Lam Dong
Province. Though the K’ho have been assimilated by the dominant Vietnamese culture of modern Dalat,
their bamboo stilt houses with thatched roofs can still be seen dotting hillsides in remote areas.

An Ede girl in traditional dress weaves textiles in her shop in Dak Lak Province.The M’Nong of Lak Lake

A day’s motorbike journey from Dalat will reach Lak Lake; the lake's shores are inhabited by displaced
members of the M’nong tribe, relocated here from the north by the government. On my road trip, I
spent the night in immense, wooden M’Nong longhouses. After a morning of elephant rides and canoe
trips I drove to Ede territory in Dak Lak Province.

The Ede of Buon Ma Thuat

The Provincial capital of Buon Ma Thuat is the seat of Vietnam’s coffee-growing empire, its capacity now
second only to Brazil. Due to tensions between the government and local hill tribes, the ability to travel
without special permits can be restrictive. Travellers can be expected to only be allowed to travel
between Buon Mat Thuat, which has a few major waterfalls like Drey Sap and Drey Nur, and Yuk Don
National Park.

The Jai Rai of Pleiku

Heading north through Gia Lai Province traverses the territory of the Jai Rai, famous for their elaborate
wooden funeral houses guarded by erotic totems. The capital city of Pleiku was an infamous
battleground in the war with America. Politics in the area is complicated, and hiring a government-
licensed guide is required to visit Jai Rai villages and nearby waterfalls, though travellers are free to visit
the flooded volcanic crater known as Ho Bien on their own.

The Bahnar of Kon Tum

                                    Just a few hours further to the North, the city of Kon Tum, and the
                                    surrounding province by the same name, holds the greatest cultural
                                    treasures of the central highlands. The town is populated by ethnic
                                    Bahnar, most differentiated from Vietnam’s other minority groups
                                    by the thatched communal lodges that tower above the villages
                                    surrounding the city. Like many hill tribes however, common
cultural icons include musical gongs, “buffalo stabbing festivals” and ruou can (rice wine brewed in large
ceramic vases.)

Out to the Coast

The final leg of the journey has almost as many options as the beginning. Roads lead north to Danang via
the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, or out to coastal towns like Hoi An or Qui Nhon. I chose a remote route
to Quang Ngai through villages of the indigo-clothed H’re, then loaded my motorbike on a train back to
Phan Thiet.

Driving logistics

According to Vietnamese law, all foreign drivers must possess a Vietnamese driver’s license. Vietnam
does not honor International Driving Permits, despite persistent claims by the agencies that issue them.
Applicants need a driving license from their home country with a motorcycle endorsement, a translated
and notarized copy, a validation form from the applicable embassy, a local health exam, and must pay a
small fee at a Vietnam Department of Transportation branch in any city.
The process will take a minimum of one week. Without a prior motorcycle endorsement applicants must
take a simple driving test, which could add a delay of several weeks. In truth, most foreign drivers do not
have Vietnamese licenses and traffic police in the Central Highlands have regularly chosen not to
enforce this regulation.

Motorbikes can be rented from many tour offices and guesthouses for US$5 - US$10 per day. Multi-day
trips may require a deposit equal to the value of the motorbike.

Alternatively, the above trip can also be ventured with a hired motorcycle driver/guide, here commonly
referred to as “Easy Riders.”

For more information about Vietnam destinations and travel advice, please visit tour of Vietnam

Useful information: http://tours-of-vietnam.com/index.php/travel-information/vietnam-news/495-
vietnams-central-highlands.html

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Lan Nguyen
Vietnam Heritage Travel Company
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Hoang Mai Dist, Hanoi 10000, Vietnam
Tel: +84437264687
lanvht@vietnamheritagetravel.com
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