Travel restrictions in the Gia Lai province mean that foreign travellers require a guide and permit to explore ethnic minority villages.
The majority of tourists only breeze through Pleiku as part of an Easy Rider-type motorbike tour, while the small trickle of independent travellers that make it here don’t have much choice and are directed to pre-organised tours: Gia Lai Eco Tourist is the primary local tour company. Given the city’s proximity to Kon Tum, where do-it-yourself travel is more relaxed and the city more appealing, most skip Pleiku in favour of village visits and trekking around Kon Tum.
That said, tours are available for those who want to explore Gia Lai. Of the programmes, Gia Lai Eco Tourist’s trip to see Bahnar villages Dektu, Deral and Dehren sounds like the most appealing option. Tours/treks are on the pricey side, at about US$90-100 a day. They can also arrange a car and driver. For a day trip by car to Phu Cuong and Ayunpa Lake, we were quoted 1,600,000 dong. There are Veteran Tours to Vietnam War sights (Ham Rong/Dragon Mouth Mountain, Camp Enari of the 4th US Infantry Divison, Catecka Plantation, Camp Plei Me), but you can also arrange this in Kon Tum -- we had a great experience with Highlands Eco Tours. Likewise, to explore any villages north of Pleiku close to Kon Tum Province, we recommend arranging it from Kon Tum.
We were repeatedly told that any travel would require a permit and guide. This, we think, is an exaggeration and as we discovered on our scenic motorbike trip to Ayunpa, you’ll have no problems riding through villages and rice paddies along the main roads. But it’s true that having a guide would buy you access – we chased lead after lead about interesting villages around the city but we came up empty handed. Pleiku is a tough nut to crack and feels far more closed off to foreigners than Kon Tum or Buon Ma Thuot. Perhaps in the future the tourist offerings in Pleiku will open up, improve and go down in price; it's certainly not there yet.
Gia Lai Eco Tourist has brochures in French or English and Ms Hoang Anh is helpful and speaks excellent English.
Gia Lai Tourist Travel Service Centre: 215 Hung Vuong St, Pleiku. T: (059) 874 571;(059) 873 354. F: (059) 824 891. email@example.com
By Cindy Fan.