Dec 16, 2014
Overnight in Pleiku
GPS waypoint: 13°58'17.5"N 108°00'52.8"E
Location: Pleiku City, Gia Lai Province, Central Highland, Vietnam
Central Highland, Vietnam
To reach Laos without crossing Cambodia, it was necessary to go north and take the 12-hour bus ride to Pleiku, which happens to be Tuyen's hometown. This would be my first trip to the fabled 'Central Highland' of Vietnam. Pleiku is not exactly a tourist destination. It's a working agricultural city, producing mainly coffee. Tuyen's family owns a few hectares of coffee farm and most of her high school classmates' families are also in that trade.
First order of the day was to visit Tuyen's folks who were busy at the farm - it's harvest season and they had Bahnar people (an ethnic minority) who were contract workers manning the field. As landowners, I initially thought they were supervising the workers. I was surprised to see them working side-by-side with them. I found them to be simple people who believed in an honest day's work. I respect that. I was inquisitive about the process since coffee is one of the last few agricultural products that is still painstakingly harvested by hand. I have a history with coffee myself. Back in Canada, I worked 10 years on my Office Coffee Service company (OCS). I would host coffee parties where I play barrista and serve my guests coffee brewed from different methods (french press, drip, espresso) using beans from different parts of the world (Jamaican Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona, Kenya AA, etc.). Being at the farm perked-up the coffee guy in me, specially after being introduced to the single-bean coffee. Coffee beans usually come in pairs inside the cherry fruit. It is rare for a cherry to contain only one bean - usually oval shaped. It is said this bean has a more intense flavor as all the coffee goodness was concentrated on one bean instead of 2.
Tuyen's High School Classmates
Our trip to Pleiku was also some kind of homecoming for Tuyen. She has a tightly-knit high school batch who still hang-out together. We were invited to Da Lat-style pizza and then to special tea (the tea served to the Nguyen kings of Vietnam) while they reminisced about good times. These guys all come from the gifted class - so they're all smart. It's too bad I could not go with the conversation - my Vietnamese is limited to "Pho". They were all welcoming and generous - a staple of Vietnamese tradition. To those who speak English (Ben and Ti), I continue to keep in touch. Tuyen doesn't have too many friends, but the ones she keeps, have already been filtered through a fine mesh. She's also lucky to have them. I appreciate the warmth they gave me despite their protective concern to their beloved Tuyen.
It was just an overnight stay but it felt like an immersion. I met Tuyen's family - her folks, her brother, in-laws, who extended me their hospitality. I met with Tuyen's school classmates who welcomed me and treated us to sumptuous eats. I got an education about coffee and its layered processes. With its cool climate, coffee tradition and warm people, Pleiku proved to have more dimension to it than simply a transition point.
- take a sleeping bus from Saigon to Pleiku City, Gia Lai (Province), 12 hours (departs 7pm, so you sleep during the trip), $14/person
- I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS ROUTE: From Pleiku, there is a small bus departing for Pakse between 7 and 8 am, depending on which bus line you choose, 11-12 hours, $14/person including lunch. The small bus has no air-conditioning, crowded, very few stops, closed windows because of the cold, and a lot of the people smoke inside the bus - you had been warned! If you are making the direct connection from Pleiku to Pakse, make sure that the Saigon-Pleiku bus departs Saigon early enough to make to to Pleiku before the Pleiku-Pakse bus departs at 7am.
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- Vietnamese smokers used to smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. But this habit seems to be changing now.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
(Feb 13 , 2015) yah I am from Pleiku, same hometown with Bich Tuyen
(Feb 13, 2015) ok Thao Nhung, when you arrive home, let me know. Gigit, we'll talk bad things about you, bad guy! :P
Dec 16, 2014
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