Excellent for motorbike riding, Ho Chi Minh Road from Buon Ma Thuot to Pleiku and Kon Tum passes through almost 250km of agricultural land including a lot of cassava and cattle.
Highlands hospitality on HCM Road
By Michael Smith in Kon Tum
A boy grills nem at a highlands restaurant on the HCM Road - Photo: Michael Smith Excellent for motorbike riding, Ho Chi Minh Road from Buon Ma Thuot to Pleiku and Kon Tum passes through almost 250km of agricultural land including a lot of cassava and cattle.
Also known as National Road 14, it has red capped milestones all along the way to prevent you taking a wrong turn. There are some stretches of top quality highway along the way but mainly it’s a good road, a little bumpy at times, but none of those awful potholes that blow tires or throw people off their bikes. However the traffic is pretty diverse.
Black filth belching buses with operatic horns dodge around workers coming home, walking with baskets on their back or riding 10-up on strange farm jalopies that are just a naked engine powering two wheels with a trailer. It’s not advisable to go too fast because cows walk along the highway with old ladies. The traffic is a big drawcard for going inland, Ho Chi Minh Road is pretty quiet, often you will be alone, it doesn’t compare to the mayhem of the coast road.
The three cities are nice in different ways. Buon Ma Thuot has big wide streets and is very ordered and neat. Pleiku is smaller but the streets are very lively for a country town, especially with a lot of young people about at night. Kon Tum is the friendliest of the three with a bit of English and French spoken by some locals. All three are very multicultural, a real mix of Vietnamese, ethnic minorities and people from the North. As well as that they are near the border meaning there are Lao and Cambodian influences. The mix is most apparent in Kon Tum. With many Bahnar and Jarai around town, it’s rare to hear the Vietnamese language; it’s like all that study went to waste. But don’t be discouraged because though they prefer to use their own language with each other most can speak the national tongue as well as several local dialects.
The food is also awesome and as you’re likely to be invited to eat you’ll be trying lots of new taste sensations. One of the great dishes in the highlands is the banh xeo (a local pancake that you roll up with salad vegetables in rice paper) and nem (sausage meat that is wrapped on chop sticks and grilled, sometime with leaves wrapped around). The two go together and vary from town to town. In Buon Ma Thuot the pancakes are big with lots of mungbeans while in Kontum they are smaller, yellower with pork. Prices vary but the servings are as big as the Highlands hospitality.