Tag Archives: Buôn Ma Thuột

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 3 – Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum

The third day of the motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands was the most ambitious one in terms of distances, needing to cover around 300km up to the next resting point of Kon Tum. In terms of millage, it doesn’t seem that long on the face of it, but on a motorbike doing around 60km/h average, it’s a fair distance with the stoppages planned on the way. Not only that, but we were greeted by a ferocious gale which froze us to the bone during the morning hours, the fight against the wind unbearable at times. Strangely, it painted a perfect picture of what we would see throughout the first couple of hours. Buôn Ma Thuột was definitely the starting point for more tales of the Vietnam War. The day was heavily based around its history and the journey was unable to escape the hangover of the war.

Our first stop off point was in fact at a War Memorial which gave me a chance to take a look at the vast amounts of names of people that had succumbed to the battle.

War Memorial - Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

War Memorial – Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam

Moving on, we battled our way through the wind on the incredible zigzagging roads through lower mountains, but the weather couldn’t spoil the breath-taking views of the countryside. I have to say, as much as I love photography, I really struggled to capture the ambiance and atmosphere that I was experiencing on the road without real preparation – this was definitely more a personal feeling of freedom over the photography of what you would probably define as customary countryside.

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam


On The Road - Vietnamese Central Highlands

On The Road – Vietnamese Central Highlands


Cut Through the Forest - Vietnam

Cut Through the Forest – Vietnam

En route, we managed to veer off track to check out a vast Vaseline and rubber tree plantation. With the wind at full force, it was a brilliantly eerie setting, with the tunnels of noise thundering through the canapés as we wandered about.

Vaseline Trees - Vietnam

Vaseline Trees – Vietnam

After scaring ourselves silly, we then hopped back on the bike and stopped off at a nearby rice noodle factory. Again, one might expect the factory to be a huge full blown production system – in fact, it was yet again owned by a small family who milled the rice noodles by hand and basic machinery.

Local Rice Noodle Makers - Vietnam

Local Rice Noodle Makers – Vietnam


Rice Noodle Rack - Vietnam

Rice Noodle Rack – Vietnam

Not too far down the road, we then came across some peppercorn ranches followed by my first proper introduction to the best fruit I’ve ever tasted – the Star Fruit. Mui told me I’d had it in the spring rolls yesterday and this could have been why they were so succulent. As I’d picked these from the source, they were ripe and irresistible, the freshest and sweetest fruit I’ve ever had!

Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam


Peppercorn Groves - Vietnam

Peppercorn Groves – Vietnam


Star Fruit Plant - Vietnam

Star Fruit Plant – Vietnam

It was then time for lunch. We couldn’t have stopped off any further off the beaten track. It was like the American mid-west. There was nothing insight apart from farmland and forest in the distance, a gas station and this one restaurant. We’d obviously arrived just after lunchtime as the place was a complete mess. Mui said that the mess showed signs of why we are here – it gets busy because it’s the best crispy chicken around. And boy was he right. I was beginning to wonder if I was getting carried away, but the chicken was amazing. Crispy as hell skin topped with some secret spice recipe with succulent tenderness beneath. All served with rice noodles and shrimp sauce. We had two servings each…

Back on the bike, we then headed onwards to Kon Tum. This took us through Play Cu and Ham Rong which is otherwise known as the Valley of the Dead and borders Skeleton or Charlie Mountain. Having come through some thick vegetation en route from Buon Ma Thout, this was a complete contrast in scenery. The scars of the Vietnam War were substantial here. There were huge flat plains which were left lifeless from the huge from Agent Orange bombings.

Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rice Gathering - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rice Gathering – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Effects of Agent Orange - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Effects of Agent Orange – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Mui told me how the area used to be thick jungle, the scenery true to the depictions in Vietnam War movies. It used to be brimming with life and the jungle would dominate the area for hundreds of miles. This was a key area for Viet Cong outposts that the US army couldn’t infiltrate and one of the most underestimated treacherous areas the US soldiers would enter – an area the Viet Cong thrived in and ultimately led to their victory. The only way for the US to take the Kon Tum area was to bomb it, even if it meant sacrificing US troops. And the scars were here to be seen.

We arrived in Kon Tum late in the afternoon – a little battered and weary from the earlier winds that then turned into red hot sunshine. The first thing that we bizarrely went to visit was the Kon Tum Wooden Church or the Christian Church of the Tay Nguyen people. The church was built in 1913 by French christian priests during Vietnam’s occupation. It is perfectly designed under the combination of Roman architectural style and Ba Na people’s architecture for stilt housing which resulted in the beautiful convergence of Tay Nguyen culture and Western style.

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

From there, we ventured off to visit the more traditional side of Vietnam and meet two more tribes – the Ba Na and Gie Trieng. As with each tribe, they both have their symbolism and rituals which we had a chance to peek at. The Ba Na Tribe is easily recognised by the huge sky-scraping village halls or communal housing (rong), built on high stilts with huge thatched roofs and long corridors. Within the Ba Na tribe, the focal point of marriage is the responsibility of the individuals – which is quite rare. They also worship the God of Water and the Mountains, with human spirit being central to life. Music is a huge part of the Ba Na tradition, and I had a chance to watch the local councilman play on his hand built t’rung xylophone and even have a go at playing myself.

Ba Na Tribe Hall - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Tribe Hall – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam


Beams of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Beams of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ba Na Councilman on the T'rung Xylophone - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Councilman on the T’rung Xylophone – Kon Tum, Vietnam

The Gie Trieng Tribe were located nearby and were quite similar. However, the buffalo is the most symbolic to them, with regular ritual ceremonial sacrifices. They believe that this transfers the strength and presence of the animal to their tribe.

Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam

As we wandered through the villages in the late evening sunshine, we were greeted once more by local children on their way home from school. As we sat witnessing the sunset over the nearby river, we also saw the local rush hour home, with horse and cattle carts coming back across the bridge from the nearby farmlands.

Sunset over a Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Sunset over a Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Farmer En Route Home - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Farmer En Route Home – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Steel Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Steel Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Children behind Bars - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Children behind Bars – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Suitably chilled out, we ate at a local pancake stall in the village – a concoction of rice flour, eggs, beef and vegetables. Simple and delicious again. Then, it was time for bed in preparation for Day 4…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/kon-tum/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/kon-tum

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 2 – Lak Lake to Buon Ma Thuot

For the second day of my journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, Mui and I woke up at around 7am with the aim of reaching the waterfalls of Drây Sáp and Drây No on the edges of Buon Ma Thout – a couple of hundred kilometres further North for around lunchtime.

After a traditional beef noodle breakfast, we headed to some local M’Nong Villages in the early morning sunshine to take in the beautiful view across Lak Lake. It was peaceful scene with some elephants wandering around the banks with their keepers and the occasional out of towner.

Peaceful Solace - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Peaceful Solace – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Morning Stroll - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Morning Stroll – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Stork at Breakfast - Vietnam

Stork at Breakfast – Vietnam


Grazing - Vietnam

Grazing – Vietnam

Looking around the M’nong villages once again highlighted how there were distinct social class divisions within the tribe. There were two particular families with greater wealth and prosperity – one of their homes was built out of good quality solid wood with tiling on the roof, with the inside spacious in comparison to the standard fare. The other was built out of concrete, with a sheet metal roof and densely decorated on the outside. These two homes were completely removed from the disorder of some of the shacked huts we saw yesterday. What was more intriguing was that the style of housing remained consistent. They were also on stilts, oblong shaped and with a gable roof (a roof with two sides only). What differentiated them was purely based on the quality of the materials used and how they were decorated.

Mui Entering M'nong Tribe Home, Vietnam

Mui Entering M’nong Tribe Home, Vietnam


Upper Class of the M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Upper Class of the M’nong Tribe – Vietnam

Mui managed to get us an invite into one of the local’s homes to have a look around. The house was quite spacious inside and as with yesterday’s fair, limited in terms of luxuries. However, they did have material possessions which were key to their social class status within the tribe. Just like having an expensive car on the front drive or a conservatory on the back of your house, certain possessions had certain meanings. For example, I touched on the importance of the huge jars that sat at the foot of the tombs of the M’nong cemetaries on the first day of my trip – these jars were hugely significant before you passed away. A family’s economic and social status within the village would grow with each additional bigger and better quality jar. At time of your passing, these jars would then sit at the foot of your tomb to show others how important you had been. They even had huge metal pan type objects which were apparently as important – again, quantity, quality and size qualified you. I found it quite fascinating how only a few kilometres further on from tribes like the Chil and the Ma, there’s another tribe who actually thrives on social infrastructure and materialism. Two complete extremes within touching distance of each other. The M’nong Tribe also embraced foreigners and was used to them, often capitalising on them through trade. The secluded Chil and Ma Tribes yesterday had barely seen an outsider. Their roots were the same; however the M’nong Tribe – even though still not technologically advanced – decided to try escaping isolation.

M'nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Social Status Jars - M'nong Village

Social Status Jars – M’nong Village


Trophies - M'nong Village

Trophies – M’nong Village

As we moved on, the heat intensified throughout the morning – much more so than yesterday – which meant we stopped off quite regularly to take on some fluids. One stop was at a huge brick producing factory – this again was not a machine dominated factory, but instead driven by manual labour. There wasn’t that much interest here, but it gave me another opportunity to take a couple more interesting snaps. Further on, we relaxed whilst looking out at some fisherman going about their days business on a stunning lake encircled by a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

Men at Work - Vietnam

Men at Work – Vietnam


Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat - Vietnam

Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat – Vietnam

After around 4 hours, we arrived in one of the most important towns in the Central Highlands – Buôn Ma Thuột. This was a hugely influential strategic post for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the current capital of the Dak Lak Province. It was here I encountered the next real gem of the trip. Mui did his usual by randomly pulling up in someone’s driveway. After knocking on the door and smiling at me, he beckoned me forward. At the door was a very old frail man who invited us in. Upon entering, all I could see hanging on the walls were certificates of the Viet Cong, with flags and emblems scattered around the place. The old man was a 90-year active communist who served for the Viet Cong throughout the war and has been a member of the Communist Party for over 50 years. He’s still an important spokesman of the Northern Vietnamese committee that still congregates within the town. His wife was a radio operator – although she was there, she kept to herself, with obvious affects from the war taken toll on her mind.

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Coincidentally, it was also the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and although he was a practiced communist, he was due to meet up with US veterans of war in Buon Ma Thuot that week! As Mui spoke to him, he recounted tails of fighting off the Americans and how to this day, he’s still proud of standing up to them in the fight for their own freedom. He described tales of shooting US soldiers from point blank range to save his own skin, to the extreme tales of shooting fellow comrades in order to help injured enemies. He said he mainly did this as dying was an easy way out of the pain. He’d gone through it all – the main story that stuck out centred around the horrendous napalm bombing – many times whilst evading the shells himself he would stand watching friends scratching away at their skin to try and release themselves from the burning sticky mess that had concealed them – again he would shoot them to ease the pain. He also explained how although 35 years had passed, the war scars were still there to be seen in his town and throughout the highlands. And it seemed like he was right from a brief tour round town, with the Vietnamese flag in full flight everywhere you go in amongst the War Memorials and statues. Mui told me to expect more to come as we move up through the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam


Iron Bridge - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Iron Bridge – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Bridge View - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Bridge View – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

It was then time to bid farewell and head for one of the best lunches I’ve had. Again, it was nothing too complex – just some traditional fresh spring rolls – but their taste and freshness was just unbelievable. The rolls were served open for you to make up as you wished. Aside from the rice wraps, it came with rice noodles, banana cucumber, lettuce, pork scratching, fried batter, the delicious star fruit and some incredible shrimp sauce. Wrap that all up and it exploded in your mouth – the freshness combined with the impish fats of the pork and batter.

With our stomachs content, we then headed about half an hour further up the road to the second highlight of the day – the beautiful Drây Sáp and Drây No Waterfalls. The lunchtime sun was a killer, beating down on both of us and it was a perfect way to cool off – diving into the lagoons with the waterfalls coming down from high above for a good hard massage. After taking a dip, it was time to relax in the surrounding jungle foliage before heading to our hotel.

Krong No River - Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Krong No River – Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam


Massaged - Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Massaged – Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Dinner was another interesting affair – we headed back into Buôn Ma Thuột to a huge diner. This was one of the best places to get duck stew and I wasn’t let down. What was amazing was the fact the whole duck came in the stew. Not just the unrecognisable meat – but we’re talking feet, neck, and head! But the stew was incredible – the duck fatty and delicious, the soup itself refreshing yet tangy.

Mui Stirring Duck Stew - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Mui Stirring Duck Stew – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

With day 2 over and the stories of the war in my head, we were gaining ground on the Ho Chi Minh trail itself…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/sights/other/dray-sap-dray

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |