one simple message: go there!
i couldn't decide whether to take the coastal route or the mountain route heading north from saigon. many people told me the coast was overdeveloped and tacky and i decided i couldn't face that: my beach standards are high! so i took a mai linh coach from siagon to dalat and from there an easy rider motorbike to lak lake from where i caught a localbus to kon tum. it was the right decision.
if you're sick of feeling like you're not really in s.e. asia as you're surrounded by tourists, travelling on backpacker buses, etc etc you will not regret hitting the central highlands.
i highly recommend taking a coach with mai linh- not only are their vehicles top notch, you will meet lots of vietnamese people instead of lots of foreigners - i was lucky enough to meet 2 local english speakers and had fascinating conversations about life here.
then travelling on the back of a motorbike was a great way to see the central highlands - at $60 a day I couldn't afford a lengthy trip but would have, had it been financially viable. just the one day was a good deal though. and it kept getting better. i was stunned at the hospitality and helpfulness of the people i met on the journey from lak lake to kon tum. sitting at the side of the road waiting for the bus, i didnd't even know in which direction i was headed and the owner of a nearby cofee shop waited with me till i was on board, to make sure i was ok. the 2 drivers and 4 passengers made great efforts at sign language communication and when we stopped at a restaurant they explained to the owner that i was vegetarian and he hopped on his motorbike, returning a few minutes later with a packet of veggie noodles for me! i had no idea what was happening when we stopped in pleiku and was lead by the arm to the connecting bus for kon tum by an old lady. and on that bus i met a young english-speaking teacher who was insistent that i go and stay with her family in kon tum for the tet holiday! i was sorely tempted but didn't want to impose so i regretfully declined, but in the meantime my new friend had hailed a motorbike to take me to my hotel so she could make sure i was charged a good rate.
over the last 20 years i have visited asia many times but i have rarely had as much fun in a market as i did in kon tum. lonely planet describes kon tum as possibly the friendliest city in vietnam and my experience was exactly that. giggling kids, raucous old women and inquisitive old men, all smiles and laughter and dying for me to take their photos. it was fabulous. i then spent ages talking with the friendly owner of eva cafe and felt i had abused his hospitality by staying for hours, literally, to use his wifi, but it was no problem at all. i stayed 2 days longer than planned on my tight schedule as i couldn't bring myself to leave.
the road from kon tum down to danang (with mai linh again)was stunning and finished off my highland adventure nicely. it was something of a shock to hit hoi an and find myself back in the tourist zone.
if you want to see a little of the unspoiled vietnam, visit the central highlands.
and thanks a million, cat ba for your advice - i'm glad i followed it!
#1 fishtails04 has been a member since 2/1/2008. Posts: 33
I live in Ban Me Thuot (when I'm not on the road) and I simply love the area. Glad you used the new Mei Linh OpenTour and enjoyed it (no other Open Tour up there).
So many visitors travel the coastal route and miss the REAL VietNam.
#2 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
I just did the drive from Kon Tum to Hoi An today, as I too wanted a break from the main tourist track. Not to be soon forgotten...
Although I didn't know about the Mei Linh tour company (and instead hopped on a local minivan for 107,000 dong), I was fortunate to be sitting right by the window, behind the driver and I must say that it was one of the most spectacular scenic drives I've been on in Asia! The fog covering the mountainsides, lush dense forests at every turn.. it really is nature at its best (ok, minus a healthy dose of slash n burn / deforestation).
#3 ajinasia has been a member since 8/1/2008. Posts: 21