Kontum is a relaxed little town with few sights in their own right. What nevertheless puts it on the map of interesting places in Vietnam are the surrounding minority villages, including settlements of the Sedang, Bahnar, Jarai, Gieh Trieng and Rengao ethnic groups. Most impressing are the Rong, huge communal houses where the villagers gather for special occasions. Strangely enough, French catholics missionary work has been quite successful in this remote part of the country, rendering some of the minorities converts and leaving a few Christian vestiges.
Kontum is on Highway 14, the inland-parallel to ever-congested Highway 1. In an relief effort to transfer traffic from that route to here, the road has been upgraded recently, so the place is now easily reached. Northbound to Da Nang it runs along the northern part of the famous Ho Chi Minh-Trail, winding through some of the roughest mountainous jungle terrain in the country.
So-called Easy-Riders offer tours to the Central Highlands (Vietnam) starting from Da Nang, Dalat or Nha Trang. If the "real" Ho Chi Minh-Trail is part of your arrangement, you're likely to spend a night here.
(Information as of February 2005)
Kontum's bus station is on the northern side of town, just off the highway.
Buses reach here from any coastal city between Da Nang and Nha Trang, while the neighbouring towns of Pleiku and Dac To are en route from Dalat/Buon Ma Thuot to Da Nang and thus see some through traffic.
Kontum's major draw is the villages of the indigenous hill-tribes (called montagnards by the French). It is strongly recommended to go with a guide, since he or she will be able to communicate in the minority language and keep you from inadvertently breaking taboos. Kon Tum Tourist, ground floor Dakbla Hotel, 2 Phan Dinh Phung, T: 060-861626, [email protected] can make arrangements. If you are on a tight itinerary, it might be good to fix things beforehand, since they are often crowded with tour groups. Though some of the Bahnar villages actually form a part of Kontum's eastern and western edge, the ones farther away are more interesting. Highlights would be the different kinds of rong, the cemeteries of the Jarai and joining in a rice-wine party with the locals.
There is the usual selection of hole-in-the-wall restaurants or streetside stalls, mainly on Tran Phu, around the market and on the road running parallel to the river.
On the northern parallel to Tran Phu (Phan Chu Trinh?), just a few house from the corner with Phan Dinh Phung, there is a small vegetarian restaurant (an chay). They serve excellent fake-meat with dishes described as tuna-fish, chicken, crab and the like.
All over town you'll find beautiful garden cafes to while away.