The Central Highlands

Much of the Central Highlands is a series of flat plateaux, mainly inhabited by various ethnic groups. Apart from Dalat, the tourist guide books are somewhat dismissive of the area. Many remarkable sights and attractions are not even mentioned, probably because they are too far off the regular tourist routes.

At present, this is a blessing for Haivenu travellers because it provides an opportunity to visit one of Vietnam’s most fascinating areas without bumping into groups of tourists. However, the Ho Chi Minh Highway, a new north-south scenic route, makes the area more accessible.

Usually referred to as Trung Nguyen (the Central Highlands), the area is home to a large number of ethnic minority communities mostly living around a series of small towns strung at long intervals on a road from Dalat to Danang. The climate and topography of the area means that they have evolved entirely different cultures to those of their northern counterparts.

Other communities live further north, but the mountains there are far less accessible.

The three main highland towns, Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku and Kon Tum are bisected by the single road that runs the length of the plateaux area. They have a few interesting features, but the main attractions lie outside in the scenery, wildlife and ethnic diversity. All three are associated with events occurring during the American War.

Gia Long Waterfall near Buon Ma Thuot CitySome of the scenery is stunning. Forests, waterfalls, lakes and rivers are accessible for hiking and trekking, and there’s plenty to see. To the south, Nam Cat Tien National Park is one of the most biologically diverse locations in Indochina.

Tourism infrastructure in the area is very limited. Both Buon Ma Thuot and Pleiku have small local airports with regular flights connecting with Ho Chi Minh City and Danang.

The only international hotels are in Dalat – the rest are what we regard as ‘local’ standard. Nevertheless, several offer comfortable accommodation and acceptable service.

Long house near Buon Ma ThuotMore attractive to many of our prospective customers are the possibilities for homestay accommodation and opportunities to get close to the communities in the area. In general, the people you encounter will be very friendly. They have a gentle, relaxed lifestyle, and are remarkably welcoming and hospitable despite the poverty in the area. A singular feature is the lack of beggars and the gangs of children who normally materialise as soon as you appear anywhere else in Vietnam.

The Central Highlands is one of the most fascinating areas in the country, but to enjoy it at its best, it helps to have a phlegmatic approach to any inconveniences that occur. For example, it’s not unknown for the police to suddenly decide that you’d be happier in a hotel than homestay. A sunny smile, a glass of local rice wine, and some gentle persuasion by your guide can usually solve the problem – if not, we’re only a ‘phone call away.

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