Central Highlands, Vietnam
Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
88Trip End Jan 28, 2005
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We leave Nha Trang at 8.30am in a minibus headed for Lak Lake in the Central Highlands. There's 6 of us plus our guide Kuong and the driver Long (Lom). We have booked through a company called Vu Tours which had a good recommendation in Lonely Planet.
The Central Highlands cover the southern part of the Truong Sou Mountain Range and is renowned for its cool climate, mountain scenery, innumerable streams, lakes and waterfalls. Its also home to many highland minority groups or montaguards.
The highlands were considered strategically important during the American war with the area seeing a great deal of fighting. After 2 hours of driving we see our first evidence of the destruction caused by the Americans in the war as we reach an area known as Eagle Pass
By mid afternoon, following a brief stop at a coffee plantation and a stop for lunch, we reach Jun village on the edge of the picturesque Lak Lake. The locals here are M'nong, a matrilineal tribe in which the family name is passed down through the female line and children are considered members of their mothers family. The M'nong are fiercely belligerent towards other tribes in the area but luckily not towards to us. They live in thatch roofed stilt houses, farm, fish and hunt wild elephants.
Joe and Holly, much more detail available if you look up Vietnamese Hill Tribes on the internet.
A slow stroll throu Jun is follwed by a short boat ride to Lien village on a small island on Lak Lake
After a fascinating afternoon we travel 2km to our accomodation. We are staying in a mock thatched roof stilt house constructed exactly as we'd seen earlier near a small lake with a floating restaurant and concrete shower blocks. Not quite what we had been led to believe. The floating restaurant is actually built on stilts, has a long wooden walkway and is surrounded by flowering waterlillies and is lovely as is Helene a local M'nong girl who serves us beer and food.
A table full of local men had been drinking all afternoon and took a shine to Rene, trying to get her to down her beer in 1, she failed and is now the 3rd wife of a local elephant hunter
Later we retired to our stilt house for a couple of games of cards before retreating into our mosquito nets.
Fri 11 June - Day 43
Woken at 5am by the Butlins style loud speakers playing vietnamese music. The other stilt house was packed full of 2 coachloads of Vietnamese tourists and they're leaving early. They also empty the huge water tank, so there's no shower or toilet, so slightly fruity we all pile on the minibus. The drive to Yok Don National Park takes 2 hours. We are dropped at Bon Don village just inside the Park. Yok Don is home to 70 anmal species, 38 of which are listed as endangered in Indo-China and 17 of those endangered worldwide. There are aslo 200 species of bird. To have much chance of seeing any of these animals we would need to be much much deeper into the jungle near the border with Cambodia.
We are here to trek between local vollages with a local guide and once again we get a fascinating insight into how these people live day to day
Change of author to Rene
We trek to the visitors centre for lunch but things start to rapidly go down hill. The first sight to greet us is the aged elephant, rocking herself back and forward from foot to foot and chained to a tree
Then we spied a monkey in a sparse cage at the back of the centre which had apparently been found injured, nursed back to health but when released kept returning to ransack the centre. The solution of course was to cage him!
We skip lunch having lost our appetite and laze in hammocs, reading and contemplating while the others do the elephant trek. We then leave the park and make whirlwind tour of Dray Sap Falls before making our way to our base for the night Trinh Nu Falls.
Here things plunge from worse to abysmal. We'd been expecting a long house in a village. We got another Vietnamese tourist camp whose longhouse was full but whose pink bungalows were to be home for the night. To my horror and distress the three main attractions were a monkey chained to a branch of a tree adjacent to the restaurant, a 10 foot python curled up on a 4 x 6 concrete slab and chicken wire cage and a crocodile housed in a sess pit. We complained to our guide and asked for details of the ownership of the resort and spent the rest of our evening / night feeling physically sick and extremely helpless
Sat 12 June - Day 44
We leave at 7am for the long drive to Cu Chi. A short stop for lunch and an uneventful trip leads us to the Cu Chi Tunnels mid afternoon.
The network of tunnels, over 200km long, were used by the Viet Minh in the French conflict and the Viet Cong against the Americans. The tunnels took 20 years to dig, using the most simple tools and in some places are several layers deep. Whilst many of the tunnels have collapsed, a section has been rebuilt and opened as a tourist museum.
Our visit included a film and guided tour of the tunnels, through the jungle. The land was scarred with huge bomb craters from the American attempt to hunt out the Viet Cong. The tunnels themselves, which have been widened to enable Westerners to enter, were eerily atmospheric. I went down the first layer of tunnel but the dark, humid, hot conditions were very constricting and uncomfortable. I opted out of the trip down to the second layer but Lee went for it, crouching on hands and knees and emerging hot, sweaty and soily
The stories told by our guide of life in the tunnels and the strategic advantage gained in the war against America were sobering to say the least. Our remaining 1 hour bus trip to Saigon was quiet.
As we reached Ho Chi Minh City the heavens opened and our first sights were of flooded streets and alleyways. We were dropped in the centre of the mini-hotel district and with the bargaining power of wanting 3 rooms, again managed to land ourselves a lovely hotel for $7/night. After a shower we all went out for a few beers and a bite to eat together and lots of talk of Euro 2004!
Expenses: Lunch 12,000; Dinner 235,000; Internet 5,000, Beer 17,000.