Kon Tum is a small and very peaceful town in the Central Highlands, rarely visited by foreign tourists. It is most famous for the spectacular communal houses of the Bahnar people and the villages belonging to other ethnic groups. A couple of lovely churches built in the French colonial era and a pleasant landscape complements it as a very rewarding destination.
A QUICK VISIT
Our stay in Kon Tum was very short as we wanted to catch up with our Catalan friend in Hoi An. We arrived from Buon Ma Thuot around noon time. The bus station in Kon Tum was as usual outside of the town but we asked the driver to drop us off at the roundabout in the centre, just after the bridge.
We were lucky to find an amazing deal on Agoda: we stayed in a brand new, very posh hotel in the centre of this small town, very close to the market and a vegetarian eatery. It was a shame we didn’t really have time to fully relish those luxuries. After a quick vegan lunch, we set off to explore Kon Tum and the surroundings.
KON TUM’S CHURCHES AND RONGS
First, we headed to Kon Tum cathedral located on Nguyen Hue road. It was a beautiful, large, wooden Catholic church left by the French during the colonial times. Despite the fact it was Saturday, it seemed we were the only tourists in the entire town.
Our main reason for choosing this destination was to see famous rongs– communal houses with incredibly high (sometimes 30 meters), thatched roofs. They are used for village festivals or village court hearings and serve as a symbol of pride and power of the community. Quite a few of those can be found in Kon Tum itself.
From the church, we headed eastwards, taking smaller lanes parallel to the main Bac Kan road. We saw a couple of rongs on our way, still within Kon Tum. One of them was beautifully decorated in preparation for the wedding.
Eventually, we reached the Dak Bla river. A rong in Kon Klor was standing just before the bridge but it was surrounded with a fence and couldn’t be accessed.
We crossed the bridge and turned left to dirt roads leading to Kon Kotu (and a couple of more hamlets).
VISITING THE VILLAGES WITHOUT A GUIDE
Despite the information found on some popular blogs, the guided tours of the villages are not cheap, unless you consider $30 as affordable price for a one day tour.
Do not fret: many of the villages surrounding Kon Tum can be easily visited independently. You most probably won’t be invited to join in local celebrations or to visit somebody’s house. On the other hand, if you participate in the villagers’ life as a part of a tour this certainly wouldn’t be a fully authentic experience.
We visited the villages in and around Kon Tum on foot, following Google Maps. Hiring a xe om (motorbike taxi) would be the only other alternative to get there.
A WALK TO THE VILLAGES
The road leading to Kon Kotu was very picturesque – we had a long, pleasant walk along the river. Each village on the way had its own rong.
Kon Kotu was particularly beautiful, with its own, small, wooden Catholic church which was facing the rong located on the other end of the village’s square.
Kon Kotu was supposedly the most often visited village in the area, hence the existence of a couple of home-stays in that lovely village.
On the way back, we took slightly different road which took us uphill to Kon Kri– the village we hadn’t even noticed before. It also had a (less impressive) church and a rong.
The rong in that village was open, finally allowing me to peek inside. I climbed on top of the platform using a ladder cut in the log of wood. To my disappointment, the rong was almost empty inside so I could only marvel at its structure rather than interior.
MUCH MORE TO EXPLORE
I’d love to check other ethnic minority villages lying to the west of Kon Tum and inhabited by Giarai, a different ethnic group known for its interesting cemeteries. Sadly we had to leave the next day for Da Lat and Hoi An.
How to get to Kon Tum?
There are buses to Kon Tum from Pleiku (1h), Buon Ma Thuot (5h), Hue (8-9h), Nha Trang (9h), Da Nang (10h), Da Lat (11-13h), Ho Chi Minh City (12-13h).
If you drive, the rarely used road between Kon Tum and Hoi An is very picturesque.
Prices [in Vietnamese dong as of July 2018]
190 000 sleeper bus from Kon Tum to Da Nang
163 000 high standard double room in a hotel (60% discount)
150 000 bus from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum
20 000 vegan buffet at com chay (vegan eatery)
10 000 coffee
10 000 bahn mi (baguette) with meat filling