Vietnam’s Central Highlands
Vietnam’s Central Highlands region has slowly opened up to tourists over the past decade after years of government enforced travel restrictions and today foreigners can explore the main centres of this region with relative ease. Occasionally regulations will require you to use a guide when visiting the hinterland but for most places you will be fine just on your own.
Travelling through Vietnam via the magnificent Central Highlands is a fabulous alternative to the much trodden coastal route. The Central Highlands boast beautiful natural features such as relatively untouched forests, waterfalls and spectacular scenery, which contrast with areas still bearing the savage scars of war. A large number of ethnic minority groups still live traditionally in the highlands, particularly around Kon Tum, Pleiku, Buon Ma Thuot and Da Lat. During the summer season, Da Lat becomes a popular destination as its high altitude offers a slightly cooler temperature than the almost unbearable heat of the southern plains. This, combined with its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City and some great animal-shaped paddle boats plying its main lake, has made it the epicentre of domestic tourism.
The Central Highlands is a plateau bordering the lower part of Laos and northeastern Cambodia. Kon Tum Province shares a border with both Laos and Cambodia but Gia Lai Province and Dak Lak Province only share borders with Laos. Lam Dong Province is landlocked, and thus has no international border with any other nation.
Actually, the Central Highlands is not situated on a unique plateau, instead it lays on series of contiguous plateaus, namely Kon Tum at the height of 500 m, Kon Plong Plateau, Kon Ha Nung Plateau, Pleiku with the height of around 800m, Mdrak Plateau of approximately 500 m, Dak Lak of around 800m, Mơo Nong with the height of about 800–1000 m, Lam Vien Plateau of approximately 1500 m and Di Linh Plateau of about 900–1000 m. All of these plateau are surrounded by the high mountain ranges and mounts (South Anamite Range).
The Central Highlands can be divided into 3 subregions according to its deviation in topography and climate, namely: North Central Highlands (Bắc Tây Nguyên) (inclusive of Kon Tum and Gia Lai Provinces), Middle Central Highlands(Trung Tây Nguyên) (including provinces of Dak Lak and Dak Nong), South Central Highlands (Nam Tây Nguyên) (covering Lam Dong Province). Middle Central Highlands has lower altitude and therefore has a higher temperature from other two subregions.
The Central Highlands has an average altitude of 500–600 m with basalt soil, suitable for planting coffee tree, cacao, pepper, and white mulberry. Cashew and rubber plants are also planted here. Coffee is the most important product of the Central Highlands. It contains in it many primitive forests and is protected in its national parks, such as Cat Tien National Park, Yok Don National Park, Kon Ka Kinh National Park.
Vietnam’s Central Highlands are a distinct contrast from the tropical south, with an arid climate, rolling hills, and blue skies. The cool season in the Highlands runs between November and January, with temperatures averaging around 12 to 15 degress Celsius. In February, March and April the mercury surges into the 30s. Come late April, early May, the rains begin and the temperatures begin to drop a little, with the monsoon ending in October. July and August are the wettest months.
Due to the Highland’s elevated altitude, year-round the weather is cooler than on Vietnam’s coast. Even in the hot season, mornings and evenings can be chilly and downright cold late at night. If you are planning on travelling by motorbike, keep these conditions in mind when packing as those morning chills will slice through a T-shirt with ease at 60km/h. The best time of year to visit the Highlands is between November and January, when the landscape is lush, the rain minimal and the weather temperate.
During the warming, dry months of February through April, the area can be parched and not particularly pleasant to travel in. By April, dust and haze are major issues, as can be bushfires (both intentional and natural). The rivers are low and the scenery is not as scenic, as the remainder of the year.
Across wet season, torrential rains can cause flash flooding. The dust turns to mud and getting around, particularly on the minor roads, slows down considerably. Through July and early August the rain can seem to be almost continual. If the rain and mud do not deter you, this is a good time of year to see the region at its lushest.
Favourite places to go…
Wedged towards the southern end of the Central Highlands, the rolling hills and lush landscape of Lam Dong province have attracted domestic and international visitors ever since the founding of the provincial capital, Da Lat, in 1897. Da Lat is one of Vietnam’s premiere destinations for kitsch-hardened domestic tourists. If you are planning on just visiting Da Lat, two to three days should be plenty of time to take in all the province has to offer. Add another day if you want to overnight in Cat Tien National Park. The province boasts a comfortably temperate climate and tremendously fertile soil — both of which have helped it develop as a tourist retreat (the original intention) and as an agricultural centre producing some of the finest fresh produce in the region. Taking in the sights and scenery surrounding Da Lat, with the longer trips heading out to Cat Tien National Park, many people opt to pick up a trip with the Easy Riders, an informal motorcycle tour group.
The Linh Phuoc Pagoda, or Glass Pagoda, has a penchant to set national records – biggest bell in Vietnam, longest glass dragon (49 meters long), tallest Quan Am Bodhisattva statue, and so on. It’s a fact that this pagoda does things bigger and more beautiful than countless others, and there’s no denying it after you turn into the alley that leads you to the entrance. The most eye-popping feature remains the broken pottery and glass used to coat the majority of the temple. While this is prevalent throughout Vietnam’s pagodas, there are few religious sites that take it to this level of meticulous detail and grandiosity. A single pillar or section of wall or figurine is a work of precise art in and of itself. The result is breathtaking.
The Dalat Easy Rider Club tours themselves are customizable adventures. You’re not going with a stiff guide who mutters a pitch through a series of semi-interesting sights. Your easy rider is very well informed, down-to-earth and easy to mingle. You jump on the back on a roaring motorcycle and ride twining roads edging mountain valleys and steep rock faces to a series of memorable destinations.
The official name is Hang Nga Guesthouse and gallery, but all locals refer to it as the crazy house. And when you stand in front of its entrance it is easy to see why: this house is indeed strange. It does not comply with any convention about house building, has unexpected twists and turns, roofs and rooms. It looks like a fairy tale castle, it has enormous “animals” like a giraffe and a spider, no window is rectangular or round, and it can be visited like a museum. In the middle of Vietnam, up in the hills, someone has built a crazy house. It’s the Crazy House, by architect Hang Nga.
Bao Dai’s summer palace is around two kilometers from the city center, built at a great vantage in a wooded area that used to be prime hunting grounds – one of Bao Dai’s favorite pastimes.
Waterfalls of Da Lat. The waterfalls around the city of Da Lat in Vietnam: Cam Ly Falls, the waterfall Datanla, the fairy stream, Prenn waterfall, elephant waterfall.
Buon Ma Thuot is the second most popular centre in the Highlands and the trips here tend to be done by pre-organised groups and are focused on city tours, some villages in the immediate surrounds and Yok Don National Park.
Located at a height of 536 m, Buon Ma Thuot is the capital of Dak Lak Province and also the biggest city in Tay Nguyen
Located at a height of 536 m, Buon Ma Thuot is the capital of Dak Lak Province and also the biggest city in Central Highlands (Tay Nguyen). The city has a calm, cool weather during the year, with an average temperature of 23oC. In the language of the E-de ethnic people, Buon Ma Thuot (or Buon Ama Y Thuot) means the village of father Thuot, the man who built the first village on the bank of the Ea Tam Stream.
Tourists coming to Buon Ma Thuot can visit the spectacular waterfalls: Dray Sap, Dray Anour, Dray H’ling – to name just a few. They can totally enjoy the trips to the villages of the E-de and M’nong ethnic groups to experience the essences of the Gong Festival, ride the elephant during a hunt in the mysterious forests, or simply sit still on a piragua and breath in the air of the Asian wilderness.
Another must-visit attraction is the Yok Don National Park which is considered the largest nature reserve in Vietnam and here visitors can find rare animals and birds, as well as endangered species. However, ethnic tribes such as the Ede and M’nong live here as well and they are known to domesticate wild elephants.
Other attractions accessible through Buon Ma Thuot are the Ban Don Village and the Lak Lake. The former is a village notable for its tribal architecture, while the latter provides an idyllic scene where one can witness the slow pace of rural living. On the shore of the lake is June Village, where people live in thatched-roof houses on stilts.
In Pleiku, you can visit Banhar and Jarai minority villages, including a day-long trek that takes you through four Banhar villages.
The rather forgettable capital of Gia Lai province, Pleiku is better known as a strategic American and South Vietnamese base during the American War than for any postwar accomplishments. It makes an adequate pit stop, but there’s little to detain a traveller for more than a few hours. Unless if you are a big fan of remote trekking tours up to 3 days !Torched by departing South Vietnamese soldiers in 1975, the city was rebuilt in the 1980s with help from the Soviet Union, which thoroughly explains its lack of architectural appeal today.
Kon Tum offers the best potential as a true trekking destination, with a selection of possibilities including multi-day trips involving sleeping rough and visiting very remote villages.
Kon Tum Province lies in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam and shares borders with Laos and Cambodia. If not a big fan of trekkings, it is possible to travel straight between Danang or Quy Nhon and Pleiku.
Vietnam’s Central Highlands really attracts tourists for its cool climate, mountain scenery, numerous of stream, lakes and water falls, the pine-forest hills, cultivated vegetable, flower valleys and many other sites. Visitors will be able to experience adventure in natural surroundings and many well-known sightseeing spots…