Kon Tum hidden charm of Central Highlands

By Xu Kien    March 28, 2020 | 08:05 pm PT
Kon Tum hidden charm of Central Highlands
An aerial view of Tu Ma Rong District. Photo by Xu Kien.
Kon Tum proved a rollercoaster of emotions, as I traveled from the mighty Truong Son mountain range, via Indochina junction, to Mang Den town.

Kon Tum Province in Vietnam's Central Highlands adjoins Quang Nam to the north, Gia Lai to the south, Quang Ngai to the east, while bordering Laos and Cambodia to the west.

I came to Kon Tum after a 50 km journey from Gia Lai Province via the straight and convenient Ho Chi Minh Highway. Arriving in Kon Tum Town, capital of Kon Tum Province, at noon, I contacted an acquaintance for a place to stay despite the many available options.

My first destination was the wooden Kon Tum church, built entirely from shorea roxburghii wood, native to the Indochina region. Its design resembles ethnic Ba Na homes in Kon Tum. The church includes an orphanage as well as small carpentry and weaving workshops run by skilled hands from Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai provinces.

Beside the church stands the bishop’s residence, built in 1935 with a mixed architectural design. The building is currently used as a museum focused on local ethnic culture.

Kon Tum church. Photo by Xu Kien.

Kon Tum church. Photo by Xu Kien.

In the late afternoon, I drove to Kon Klor suspension bridge crossing Dak Bla River to enjoy a sunset resplendid with the far off smoke of kitchen hearths, the occasional buffalo cart and the laughter of kids leaving school.

The following day, I accompanied my friends to Tu Mo Rong District, an area similar to Da Lat, a famous hill town in the Central Highlands, with its many valleys and dirt roads.

After traveling 60 kilometres from Kon Tom Town via 678 Provincial Route, which took us two hours due to the many twists, we were greeted in Tu Ma Rong by the ethnic Xe Dang, village elders contemplating life from their doorsteps.

After Tu Mo Rong, I hit a new milestone on my backpacking journey at Indochina Junction, where Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia adjoin.

As evening drew near, we decided to hurry back to Mang Den Town, heart of Kon Tum. Passing through chilly Mang Den Pass, we arrived half-frozen.

Pine trees line along a road in Mang Den township. Photo by Xu Kien.

Pine trees line along a road in Mang Den Town. Photo by Xu Kien.

People tend to fall in love with Mang Den for its chilly, but sunny weather. Here we snacked at Pa Sy Waterfall before visiting nearby Khanh Lam Pagoda and the Catholic statue of Maria, a well-known pilgrimage site.

We also passed through Kon Bring cultural village, home Mo Nam ethnic people, and had lunch with ethnic homestay owner Lim.

Taking National Route 24 to reach twisting and fog-covered Violac Pass, we first passed by Hieu Village with its quaint ethnic dwellings. The pass itself cuts through dense forests and offers a splendid view of Re River flowing from Kon Tum through Quang Ngai, my hometown, before reaching the East Sea.

Leaving Mang Den, I promised myself I would return to Kon Tum again one day to further explore the Central Highlands magic.

Until next time, I told myself.

Pa Sy Waterfall in Mang Den town.

Pa Sy Waterfall in Mang Den Town. Photo by Xu Kien.

*Notes to assist your journey


-Coaches: This is the method recommended to foreigners, as well as Vietnamese inexperienced with backpacking motorbike journeys. You can choose many coaches from HCMC to Kon Tum, such as Phong Phu, Phuong Thu, Minh Quoc, etc, all priced around VND300,000 – 400,000 ($13 – 17). If you travel from Hanoi, coaches such as Viet Tan, Thien Trung, or Van Nam cost around VND600,000 ($26).

-Motorbike: To adventurous travelers, using a motorbike is recommended, as the routes in Kon Tum are gorgeous. But be aware, most leading to travel destinations are rather dangerous, so please do not ride motorbikes unless confident.


Despite there being no homestays in Kon Tum, there is an abundance of hotels, including Konklor, Bac Huong, Hong My, Tay Nguyen, etc. In contrast, Mang Den has a wider variety of options, such as Sum Villa, Doi Thong Hotel, or Lim Lim Homestay of the ethnic Mo Nam.


Dining in Kon Tum offers diversified jungle specialities like snail noodles, roasted pork, fried crickets etc.


You would be glad to find a wide variety of souvenirs here, including the sweet wine of Mang Den, young bamboo, and pressed banana slices from Ha Trang restaurant in Kon Tum Town.


Kon Tum’s weather is mostly hot, but if you decide to visit Mang Den, warm clothing is essential. Be wary that once you arrive in Mang Den, you will feel colder than expected because of mountainous humidity and winds.

Xu Kien at the Indochina Junction. Kon Tum Province shares the borderline with the two Lao provinces of Sekong and Attapeu, and with Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

Xu Kien at the Indochina Junction. Kon Tum Province shares the borderline with the two Lao provinces of Sekong and Attapeu, and with Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Saigon. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.

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