Stunning and historically interesting
Published/Last edited or updated: 14th January, 2021
This 110 kilometre one-day motorbike loop from Kon Tum will take your through rolling country roads close to both the Cambodian and Lao borders, past stunning lake vistas and idyllic farmland before arriving in Dak To, home to several key Vietnam War sites where the damage caused by Agent Orange is still visible on the landscape.
You’ll return to Kon Tum via Highway 14, part of the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail. See our coverage of the Vietnam War sites mentioned here.
From Kon Tum town centre, head west on Hai Ba Trung. It will snake north and meet DT675. Turn left and west, travelling on DT675 towards the town and district of Sa Thay.
There will be a nondescript narrow paved road leading right off of DT675 at 14.388499, 107.843829. Turn right on this road. Markers on the road will indicate this is 20 kilometres from Kon Tum, 6.5 kilometres to Sa Thay.
Here the journey accelerates from pretty to pretty freaking stunning. Follow this rural road for 40 kilometres until you hit Hung Vuong St in Dak To. On this section of the journey, we only encountered a couple of people and motorbikes. The road is paved though there is the occasional pothole to watch out for. The first part of the drive leads up to several pause-a-while unobstructed views of Pleikrong Reservoir, a feature that still does not appear on many maps.
Construction of the dam on the Dak Po Ko River, a tributary of the Se San River, started in November 2003. The Pleikrong Reservoir covers an area of 53.28 square kilometres and holds 1,048.7 million cubic metres of water; its creation displaced 4,537 people (according to Hydropower Development in the Mekong Region: Political, socio-economic and environmental perspectives). Locals call the lake Dak Drong, dak referring to a body of water in the ethnic M’nong language.
After the lake views the road joyously undulates past farmlands of coffee, rubber, cassava, tapioca and manioc. In the second half, you will start to see Charlie Hill and Rocket Ridge looming on your lefthand side.
The rural road ends at Hung Vuong Street in the town of Dak To. Turn left and travel four kilometres to reach the roundabout which contains an impossible to miss Rong house and a war victory memorial with two Russian tanks belonging to the North.
From the roundabout, veer west—in the same direction towards Bo Y (Vietnam) and Phou Keua (Laos) border—and travel five kilometres to see Phoenix Airstrip and at a distance, Charlie Hill.
Phoenix Airfield, also known as Dak To Base Camp and Dak To II Airfield, is now a bare patch of asphalt used by locals to dry cassava. Beyond it is Charlie Hill, the affects of chemical defoliant Agent Orange still clearly visible as the surface is devoid of any growth; people in the region still suffer from the water and soil contamination.
To complete the loop return east to Dak To and at the tank roundabout, travel south along QL 14, once part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, now the Ho Chi Minh Highway. Dak To to Kon Tum is 40 kilometres. It’s all nicely sealed road and relatively lightly trafficked though large transport trucks do use this route. Along the way, approximately 25 kilometres from Dak To at 14.482616,107.932582, you can find the memorial for the North Vietnamese killed in action. The obelisk-like structure is surrounded by a fence and locked gate.
Just a kilometre further south, at 14.474377,107.933893, is “Skull Hill” or “Skull Slope” and a small shrine for the fallen South Vietnam soldiers. From Skull Hill, it is approximately 16 kilometres back to Kon Tum.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.