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. Each village has a Rong, a huge and impressive communal house 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 easyriders contact : [email protected] ,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. You can hire a bike for US4-5 per day if you prefer drive yourself.
Kontum's bus station is on the northern side of town, just off the highway.
Previously foreigners were banned from buying tickets from the ticket office in Kon Tum province, but this has since been changed. Now you can buy a ticket at the bus terminal like anywhere else. (June 2010)
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. The local bus is dangerous as they race eachother down the mountains in order to collect the passangers (and their fare) first, and can overfill the mini bus to as much as double its capacity. The "high Quality" bus from Denang to Kon Tum is more comfortable, and does not overfill seats, however still provides a dangerous trip due to high speeds and little concern for other road users.
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.
To Laos via Bo Y border crossing.
From Kontum you can get to Attapeu or Pakse in Laos with a bus that leaves from Pleiku. Details about schedules and right bus stop could be asked from Kon Tum Tourist, ground floor Dakbla Hotel, 2 Phan Dinh Phung, T: 060-3861626, open: 7-11am & 1pm-4pm, [email protected]
More adventurous travellers can get a local bus to Ngoc Hoi and a moto ride to the border (about 20 km from Ngoc Hoi). On Laos side you might have to hitch a ride to Attapeu (120 km) as at least as of October 2007 there wasn't any public transport here. However, be warned that traffic on road going from Bo Y border crossing to Attapeu is very low and there isn't any villages or similiar before only 40-30 km before Attapeu.