ENTRY BY: Rat
The Lonely Planet describes Kon Tum as a "dusty little town with not much going on." Perfect for two travelers seeking an escape from the city buzz! Granted, we've hardly been overtaxing ourselves with big city activities, but nevertheless, a quiet town sounds appealing.
When our minibus - a glorified van with too many benches - left Quy Nhon, we were the only ones in it. We knew that wouldn't last very long, and it didn't. The minibus experience can be exhilarating or harrowing, depending on your perception. If you're the minibus "conductor", your job is to dangle out of the open side door (like an Eddie Izzard rhesus monkey) calling out for passengers and throwing them inside while the vehicle is still in motion; conversely, you can also toss people out of the minibus as their stop approaches. If you're the driver, your only concern is to beat the other minibuses to the punch, and with a limited number of passengers to go around, you have to take measured risks to fill your minibus to capacity. That may mean playing chicken with an overloaded truck, scattering motodrivers off the road like startled geese, or driving with only one wheel in full contact with the asphalt. As long as you have paying passengers and enough plastic bags for the inevitable by-product of severe motion sickness, your minibus is good to go.
Thus, we arrive in Kon Tum. Let's see what it's got:
1) Dust - Tons. During a moto ride, we turn a slightly reddish brown that is only washed off when we encounter bitterly cold rain at the top of a mountain.
On the way back to town, we discover a side road that leads to beautiful groves of rubber trees and manioc (cassava) plants. Giddy, we zip around the scenic dirt paths, rolling hills and babbling brooks...and, at some point, lose the key to the moto bike (which apparently does not require it in order to keep running). Time to play "Where Would I Be If I Were A Key."
2) Ethnic minority tribes (a.k.a. Montagnards or "mountain people") - Yep. However, many in the central highlands - like the Bahnar in Kon Tum - do not wear traditional dress, so other than a tad more melanin in their skin, it can be difficult to visually distinguish them from the ethnic Vietnamese. But no matter where you are in Vietnam, it's rough being a Montagnard: they've been clashing with the financially and politically powerful ethnic Vietnamese for centuries, resulting in discrimination and marginalization (plus there's the wee matter of the Montagnard's pro-American actions during the Vietnam war).
3) Catholicism - OK, this one took us off-guard. Apparently, in Asia, Vietnam is second only to the Philippines in their assimilation of Catholicism. And the Bahnar have taken to it with a passion: in and around Kon Tum, it seems like there are as many churches as community longhouses ("rong
" houses). Might even be a one-to-one ratio.
4) Intrigue - This one gets a double check. On our first full day in Kon Tum, we meet a person named...Kramer. Kramer is an expat who's been living in Kon Tum for a couple of years and elsewhere in Vietnam for a decade.
Kramer has a lot of helpful advice - where to eat, where to stay, what to see - but he also has some interesting insider tidbits involving the words "orphanage" (Kon Tum has several), "donations" and "siphoning." It's probably a bad idea to write about it in detail on our blog - lest Big Brother happens to stumble on Rooster & Rat's Wanderings - so if you're truly dying to know, send us an email and be prepared to verify your identity.