Kontum is the capital of Kontum Province in Vietnam's Central Highlands.
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.
Motorcycle tours to the Central Highlands (Vietnam) are offered from Da Nang, Dalat or Nha Trang. You can hire a bike for US$4-5 per day.
Roads under construction
As of early 2015, the road between Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot is under heavy construction, making it a very slow and dusty road. Constructions planned to last at least until 2016
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.
- Tan Huong Church is on the western End of Tran Phu.
- The Wooden or Montagnard Church is east of Tan Huong Church, was built in 1913 and restored in the 1990s. It is remarkable for its blending of local artistic tradition and Christian symbols: Bahnar villages, elephants, a scale model of a rong.
- A Bahnar Orphanage is just behind the church, visitors and donations are very welcome here.
- The Catholic seminary', 56 Tran Hung Dao, houses a small minority museum, but colonial-style building itself is well worth a visit.
- The area is also frequently visited by war veterans revisiting battlefields to the north.
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. 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.
- Lang Xanh souvenir shop (637 Nguyen Hue): small shop on the western end of Nguyen Hue street, near Dakbla bridge. Lots of tribal tools, paraphernalia and decorative items, for reasonable price. Speaks some English.
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.
- Nghia, 12 Le Loi. Solid vegetarian option with rice, pho and bun dishes for 20,000d.
- Dakbla Restaurant, 168 D Nguyen Hue. Separate from the hotel of the same name Dakbla is nicely themed with decorations from the surrounding minority peoples. Wide variety of food including local and western staples, excellent wild boar. Popular with tourists. English spoken. 25,000-150,000d.
All over town you'll find beautiful garden cafes to while away.
- Eva Cafe, 05 Phan Chu Trinh (eastern end), ☎ 060 3862944 Cell:0905672442 (Mr. An) ([email protected]). a 20 years-old garden cafe designed by a local artist with the influence of the Montagnards culture. The owner is also a tour-guide, organizing 2/3-day trips to the mountain where tribals are still maintain their old style of living: "eat the forest". At these places, you will be verified the vivid open-fire through the journey of the tribal's living. You could also learn by experience their "fire meditation", a panorama picture about the remains of "the world of the forest eaters".
- Dakbla Hotel restaurant has a nice terrace from which you get excellent views of the sun setting over the Dakbla river.
- My Hotel (48 Hoàng Van Thu) Really nice hotel in the south of the city with immaculate doubles (ac, fan, balcony, tv) for 250,000. [Oct 2015] The lady who owns the hotel is really nice and is helpful. She speaks very little English but will Skype her husband (when he is away) as he speaks fluent English. This hotel far exceeds the others we viewed that were the same price.
- Hong My Hotel (09 Ngo Quyen) Fairly nice hotel with standard rooms with TV starting from 150,000. Aircon, TV, Minibar, free Wifi, hot shower. Maybe best value in Kon Tum. Also very close to the wooden church.
- Hoang Thinh Hotel (intersection of Nguyen Hue, Le Hong Phong, 060.3958958, [email protected]) one-star hotel conveniently located in the south of the city along the same road as the wooden church (Nguyen Hue); nice clean rooms; 180-200,000d
- Hotel Thinh Vuong (16b Nguyen Trai) Excellent clean mini hotel located a few blocks walk from the market. All rooms have hot water, air-conditioning, wifi, mini-bar and a tv. The deluxe rooms also have a balcony and PC. Off road parking for motorbikes, simple but tasty breakfast 55,000d; double room 250,000d
- Hoang Van Hotel (1A Hoang Van Thu Street, phone 060.3917555) Clean two-star hotel with a slight luxurious feel to it. English-speaking staff. Free WiFi. Minibar prices only just above the street price. Restaurant downstairs. Bath tub. Air-conditioning. Quiet location in a non-busy street close to the Dak Bla river just after crossing the southern bridge. Hot water not always hot in some rooms. 200,000 Dong for a "single" room (which nonetheless has 2 beds so it could be 100,000 per person).
- Little Cottage, built by Poussiere de Vie in Kon Ko tu village (7km from Kon Tum). Two cottages, about ten person in each. Located near the community house and the bon fire.
- Konklor Hotel (155 Bac Can) on the outskirts of town, next to a village and the Golden Gate Bridge over the Dak Bla River leading to more villages. SOFT BEDS! Clean rooms, air conditioned, good wifi, mini fridge, hot water, flat screen tv with lots of channels, about $15.00. Pancakes, pizza, and tunafish subs, as well as Vietnamese food.
The Central Highlands are a high-risk region for malaria. Be sure to follow recommended precautions.
To Laos via Bo Y border crossing.
From Kontum you can get to Attapeu or Pakse (300 kđ [Oct 2015]) in Laos with a bus that leaves from Pleiku. Details about schedules and right bus stop could be asked from: KONTUM TRAVEL SERVICE CENTER. 01A, Hoang Van Thu st - Kontum city. Hand Phone: 0989 235 478. Email: [email protected]
More adventurous travelers 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 aren't any villages or similar before only 40-30 km before Attapeu.