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.
Pleiku is located around a ravine, but you won't notice it until you're in it because of all the development.
It can be a bit of a struggle to find good internet in Pleiku -- the Online Games place two doors down from the Thanh Lich Hotel is fairly reliable, if noisy and filled with kids playing games. You'll find a spot on Hung Vuong west of the Hung Vuong hotel -- it's quieter but they seem to have a lot of trouble with their system going offline.
The old Vietcom bank that's still on most maps has been closed in preparation for demolition and reconstruction -- in the meantime, the Incom Bank nearby provides full services, including cashing travellers cheques. If there's one thing Pleiku doesn't lack it's 24-hour ATMs that honour a wide variety of debit and credit cards -- if you've been having trouble elsewhere, you'll probably succeed in Pleiku. In addition to the one outside Incom bank, there are two ATMs in the Laly Hotel, and at most other large hotels.
Motorcycle rentals are available 'off the street' but we found overcharging was rampant. The Thanh Lich can arrange rentals, but they really only have one bike of their own to lend -- at least they charge reasonable rates for it: 80,000 VND for a day, 10,000 VND by the hour.
The post office is located near the corner of Hung Vuong and Tran Hung Dao Sts and is open from 07:00 to 21:00 daily.
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Text and/or map last updated on 25th September, 2015.
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