Mountainous and in the wet season very, very wet, Gia Lai province sits in the centre of Vietnam's Central Highlands. The provincial capital, Pleiku, sits at the junction of Routes 19 and 14, making it the crossroads for any exploration of the Highlands.
Pleiku town marks the junction of Routes 19 and 14 leading to Kon Tum to the north, Buon Ma Thuot to the south and Qui Nhon on the Vietnamese coast. Most travellers who find themselves here tend to be on the way to somewhere else as the town itself is fairly charmless and while the surrounds are just as mountainous as the provinces to the north and south the infrastructure to explore them is both undeveloped and expensive.
Pleiku is larger than Kon Tum, but receives far fewer tourists -- and for good reason. The major thoroughfares are crowded with noisy traffic throughout the day, and the streets are lined with stores that specialise in selling goods in bulk, as a part of its function as a market centre for the surrounding region. The location figured prominently in the war with America -- this is pretty much where the war started and where it ended -- but rebuilding after the destruction of the town has left no trace of the war, or what the city was like before.
The tourism authority and the local hospitality industry have been trying hard to sell Pleiku to travellers as a destination, even quoting a popular song that sings that city's praises: "You are so beautiful Pleiku, breaking my heart into pieces..." One look at the chaotic, nondescript town will make such poetry seem like wishful thinking, but the city is centred around a deep ravine where an artificial lake has been created, and from that spot it's possible to imagine that the city was in fact pretty, before it was flattened by war, then blanketed with modern buildings.
Leaving the city to the east and west, signs of the modern world quickly vanish, and you'll find yourself surrounded by a somewhat more picturesque countryside.
A wide variety of slightly pricey tours are available from Gia Lai Tourist which make more sense for large groups. There are a number of Jarai villages nearby that may be worth checking out, as well as Yaly Falls to the north along the road to Kon Tum. Within the city there are two museums, and nearby there is Bien Ho, a lake made by a volcanic crater, as well as Dong Xanh, a water park that has some fossilised trees on display and a small zoo.
If you intend being here during the monsoon season, bear in mind that Pleiku boasts the highest rainfall in the Central Highlands.
Text and/or map last updated on 21st August, 2009.
Pleiku interactive map
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Backchat from the Travelfish community
Not so bad
I was in Pleiku overnight some years ago but didn't stay, after discouraging comments in the guide book, and then was sorry that I hadn't looked around a bit, so when I was in the highlands again this year I decided to give it a bit more time. It isn't the place to go if you're doing the usual whirlwind tourist tour through Vietnam, but I really enjoyed it this visit, probably because I'm now more interested in ordinary Vietnamese cities and how people live in Vietnam.
I found people helpful, and enjoyed having a coffee on the footpath near a park and then later in a flash 50s style coffee shop. The national museum opened up especially for me and gave me my own tour; I felt like a visiting celebrity. I ate in two places recommended in my guidebook and found them both good, and much better than my previous visit. My hotel was basic and cheap (though still had free WiFi) and everyone was friendly and helpful.
It seemed to me that the town is more prosperous than at my previous visit and more people seemed to speak English, though I speak a little Vietnamese now so that might have made them more forthcoming. I loved the market and found a number of food shops. It was very hot and dry but the city has some reasonably attractive areas. If you want to visit non tourist cities, this one's a real possibility. It's less than three hours on the bus to Qui Nhon
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By violets (5)
Written on 18th October, 2010 after a visit to Pleiku in April, 2010
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Not so bad
By violets, 18 October 2010