Kon Tum for me was the highlight of our journey through Vietnam. It felt a little off the backpackers trail. If you don’t have a bike you’re not likely to stop here. If you do, I’d advise you go. The only other Westerners we met were staying in our homestay. Be warned, this post is going to have a lot of pictures.
Kon Tum is located in the northernmost region of Vietnam’s Central Highlands (see map). A very rural area with only a small amount of tourists passing through. I’d read somewhere that Kon Tum is the best place in Vietnam for a homestay tour. Without too many tourists it felt like we where going to get a genuine experience.
The road from Hoi An to Kon Tum was fun. Through many mountains and small rural villages, with some of the most breathtaking scenery we’ve seen so far. The ride was definitely without its sketchy moments.
As we were riding through a forest Alistair noticed a large group of bee hives. Since Alistair is a super geek when it comes too all insects, and at his allotment in Leeds he also kept a small beehive, he obviously wanted to point them out to me (he was riding in front). This was when as he was pointing, he rode his bike into the grass verge coming off his bike. Luckily we were traveling at around 30km/h so the fall wasn’t so bad. He was very lucky to have a few grazes to his arms and legs and on his hands and thankfully he was wearing a helmet (never go without one!) which suffered a large scratch along the top. We stopped, patched up his war wounds (road rash) and two lovely Vietnamese ladies who witnessed his accident on their bike stopped to help. The fall was quick but he did do a pretty decent forward roll off his bike!
VIETNAM PHUOT HOMESTAY.
After a long ride we arrived at our home stay. It was a little difficult to find since it was down a small side street off the main road. Once we found it, we rode our bikes in and were welcomed by the family. The main house was large where the family lived and then in the rear garden (which was really well kept) there were the shared rooms. Which were all very clean, modern and with a slight sea side feel to them. All the interior design and most of the decoration was done by the daughter (I’m sorry I can’t remember their names :(). We were asked if we would like to join the family dinner at 7pm and how could we refuse!
We settled into our room and Alistair had the great pleasure of cleaning the burn on my leg which I’d had covered for the journey so it didn’t get dirty. We peeled off the bandage which was a little stuck to my leg at this point. And then Alistair applied the Iodine. Honestly some of the most brutal pain I’ve been through in a long while and Alistair enjoyed every moment of it!
Once sorted we headed to a cafe I had read about and one of the reasons we came to Kon Tum. This is were we booked our tour. But I’ll mention that later.
We came back to the homestay for dinner. The table was set out with so much food and of course, a family dinner in Vietnam isn’t complete without a tonne of rice wine. All the food was amazing. Cooked by one of the brothers. We were joined by the guy that was staying in our room, he was a bit of a douche (actually a massive douche). And two American twins. We drank heaps of rice wine and then the host mum asked me and Alistair if we would like to choose the next batch. We followed her into her home were she showed us the jars of rice wine she was infusing. We tasted each one and settled on the one with what looked like ginger in it.
After dinner and rice wine we went into their living room to enjoy some tea with the family.
The next day we set off to meet An at Eva cafe for our tour. We left our main bags at the homestay.
On returning from our tour. We stayed in the homestay for one more night. We enjoyed dinner with the family again and this time were joined by two Irish guys Alistair met in Hue.
The family at this homestay were so lovely. They made us feel at home and our host mum seemed genuinely sad when we had to leave. They’d helped us out a lot and Alistair has kept in touch on Whatsapp. If you’re going to Kon Tum I’d really recommend this place although I’m not sure there’s that much choice for places to stay any way.
This place is pretty special! Again it was a little difficult to find on the road, just look for some big arches and you’ll find it.
We pulled up on our bikes and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Everywhere you look there’s sculptures created by An. We wondered round taking pictures and ordered coffee. As we sat An came over to say hello. He told to us about his process of making the sculptures in the traditional tribal way and how he often goes into the villages to visit and keep their traditions alive. We also organised our tour with him.
I’m not sure where I found this place. But I’d read that if you want a real authentic tour through the villages and tribes. An was the guide to go to. We booked onto a one and a half day tour with him at a cost of around $200 each. We had deliberated on a longer tour but couldn’t really afford to stretch it too far. It felt like a lot of money but after hearing about what we would be experiencing we felt like it would be worth it. Especially considering before this we hadn’t really done anything that cultural!
After we sorted times etc An asked us if we would like to join him and his wife to go to a temple as there was a celebration going on where the monks will be cooking up a dinner for the community. Unfortunately we had already said to our homestay that we would have dinner with them and didn’t want to cancel.
We met up with An the next day and set of on our tour.
The Mountain/Village Tour.
We met An early in the morning and set off, on the way we stopped at a shop to pick up some gifts for the people in the villages, sweets for the kids and cooking oil, spices and other items for the adults. We then rode to the first village we would be stopping at. Along the way we stopped off to see a huge community building with a long thin thatched roof. This particular one was very old (not sure how old sorry!) and the shape of it was like a boat. This is the hub of the community and a place people come to worship. Inside there’s seating and also on the walls Buffalo skulls/horns from previous sacrifices. There was a definite tribal feel to it and the thatching was incredible.
We then headed into the mountains to visit the first village. We were greeted by the chief of the village who invited us into his home. Then headed further into the village to another house where a celebration was going on. Everyone inside was totally pissed. One guy in particular was absolutely mashed. We sat down with them in a circle, had many rice wines forced on us and generally just had a party with a fair amount of dancing going on! We were then told that because of the celebrations, a pig would be sacrificed and they would like us to see. With Alistair previously being a vegetarian before coming to Asia, we were a little reluctant but said yes.
We waited outside and Alistair went to the shop to buy some cigarettes with the hope that he might miss the sacrifice. Luckily he arrived back just in time for the pig in a bag to be brought over and then have its throat cut. The screams from the pig weren’t pleasant. The pig didn’t die immediately. For us this wasn’t the most pleasant experience but is an every day part of life for these villagers. There were even small children watching.
The next stage in the process was to remove all the hair from the pig. This was done by pouring boiling water over the body whilst rubbing a knife along the skin to remove the hair. It was a pretty thorough technique, the pig was then taken to be gutted.
It was starting to get dark and late and we still had to ride our bikes deep into the mountains so An told them we would need to leave. So we missed out on the BBQ but they gave us a bag of the pork to take with us.
We headed off and An told us that the journey might get a little bumpy. “If you can ride these mountain roads, you can ride any road in the world”. We gave it a good try but stopped half way and left our bikes to hike the rest of the way. The hike wasn’t super difficult but you could see by the bike tracks, we weren’t skilled enough to ride the rest of the way. We did pass a couple on a bike riding down the mountain. I’ve no idea how they both stayed on that bike!
We got to our home for the night and were greeted by our hosts, we gave them our gifts and then had coffee and food.
For the whole time we where with them, the food was amazing. Our host dad marinated the pork and barbecued it on the open fire in the house. It was by far the best pork I’ve ever eaten.
Whilst we were eating, a guy came in with what looked like a coconut shell, then left. After we’d finished he came back with a guitar like instrument he’d just built from scratch! We sat with coffee, cigarettes, rice wine and listened to him play. Super chilled.
Next we decided to get freshened up after riding and drinking all day, we honestly thought this would be the time in Vietnam that we wouldn’t be drinking so much but from the start it was rice wine after rice wine!
The “shower” was located in the river just outside of the Village. It was dark so we took head torches. The shower is designed on a small waterfall with a pipe creating the shower. It worked well, was pretty cold so super refreshing. We also decided since we’re in the middle of a mountain, we might as well just go bollock naked! As I was drying myself I looked at my leg and there’s a fucking leech on me, mild panic sets in as we flail about looking for more leeches.
It’s getting late and we’re tired but we’re invited into one of the neighbors homes whilst An set up our beds. Its dark in here, lit only by a simmering fire and one candle. The family are sat in a circle drinking wine from bamboo cups. We’re given some and suprised at how nice it was! It tasted a little like cider, strong refreshing cider. There’s a slight language barrier here as not one person in the house spoke English but this didn’t feel like a problem. We drank, laughed and then Alistair got his head torch out which mesmerized them. It’s one of these fancy head torches that changes as you wave your hand in front of it. Kept people entertained for quite a while! We drank some more then headed to bed. Hoping for a good sleep before our jungle trek in the morning.
The jungle trek.
This is what we came to Kon Tum for. To stay with genuine people, in a mountain village and trek through the jungle. We woke up early (probably the earliest in quite a while to be honest!) and drank coffee, had breakfast and a quick shower. Then I realised I needed a shit. There’s no toilets here, the jungle is your toilet. So I go off to find a secluded spot in the bushes, told not to let the pig with the ring in its nose to follow as it’ll eat it and to bring a stick in case of snakes and to bury it after. I’m not lying saying it was the biggest most solid shit I’ve had in Vietnam! (I took a picture but I’ll not post it here).
Awkwardness over, we get ready to head up into the jungle. Our host dad as our guide. We look like idiots next to An and him. They’re decked up in long pants, boots, long sleeve shirts, hats. And us chumps are there in (fake) converse, shorts and t-shirt.
The treks not hard but a little steep and the heat is pretty intense. We stop at various spots where corn is grown, rice paddies and even a large pond for fish. We get further into the jungle, with our guide beating away bushes with his machete. Being a good foot taller than him, my face was regularly brushed by spider webs. I’m fucking terrified of spiders so was a little paranoid. Albob was in his element looking for any kind of bug we could find along the way and watching the ants at work. The trek took the full day with us walking around the whole mountain where the villagers work every day. An even picked up a new plant along the way for his cafe.
So we’re back at the village and expecting to pack up and go back down to the mountain (we’d paid for a 1 night, 1 and a half day tour). We’re waiting around and then eat again. More coffee. The coffee is really good. The freshest coffee, straight from the fields. Then in the covered hut to the side of the home, host mum is setting up a fire, laying out food and brought a giant clay pot with straws. More wine! We’re expecting to be leaving so were suprised to be drinking again before riding back to the city. We’re joined by more villagers and some more food is laid out including some rice cakes which I helped (badly) make one of them. They’re rice and corn that’s boiled, packed into Banana leafs and then boiled again. The result is a sticky sweet rice “cake” that was actually really tasty. The wine is good. There’s maybe 6 or 7 straws coming out of the top of the clay pot, you’re handed a straw and drink with someone. Drunk again. We decide to ask An when we’re leaving because its getting super dark and neither of us wanted to ride those roads in the dark. Turns out we’re staying another night! We’d not payed for this but are happy to just roll with it. The whole tour with An was just like being with a guy visiting his friends, which was cool. He’s a popular guy and showed us some really interesting people and their way of life. The night continues with more drinking, laughing and just good times. Then me and Al head out exploring the termite mounds in the fields with our head torches. More booze. Bed.
After another night of drinking we wake up to the welcoming smell of coffee. An meditating which I didn’t realise saying good morning to him a few times until he possibly a little grumpily replied. Alistair was trying to mime “he’s meditating!”.
We stuck around the village for a little while, said our thanks and goodbyes, then headed back down the mountain to where our bikes where being kept.
The bikes were being looked after further down the mountain at a small house with just a young boy there. His parents were out working. Our host dad was talking to him then he brought out a black bird that he had killed with a spear gun he had made himself. It was really quite impressive how he’d made it! (See the picture below).
We rode down the mountain back towards the town, we were almost there then An turned off the main road and took us into another village. We went into a big wooden house on stilts were people where sat drinking. The bad thing for us about this was there was a very old couple and a young boy sleeping in here because they were all ill. But people were sat around in a circle drinking and being generally loud. If this wasn’t enough they got the gongs out and asked us if we would like to join them playing the gongs. We did but felt pretty guilty for the poor people trying to sleep.
One of the men playing the gong’s, drinking and smoking away was 103 years old! The oldest person I have ever met.
We then had a walk around the village, met some more people along the way. Took a walk to the river and then headed back to Ans cafe Eva.
Along the way we passed a crazy church, nothing like I’ve seen before. Really colorful, angular and with a tribal look to it. We stopped to look. An told us he knew the guy who’d designed the church (it’s about 4 years old), and even helped consulting with him on the design.
We had coffee back at Eva, chatted about the past few days, said thanks to An and headed back to the homestay, slightly exhausted but feeling pretty humbled by the whole experience.
Everyone we met were so welcoming, happy and giving. They felt like family from when we met them even with the language barrier. I’m glad we decided on this as a tour since we haven’t really done any. It felt like a genuine experience and I’m very grateful to An for letting us into their world.
If you’re looking for the best village homestay in Vietnam, come to Kon Tum.