Vietnam Central Highlands, or “Tay Nguyen” in Vietnamese (roughly translated as “Western Highlands”), is a must in any off-the-beaten-track travel guides for Vietnam. Though the place has a humble reputation, it offers some of the most authentic cultures remaining and is well-known for its top-notch Vietnamese coffee and tea. Scroll down to find out more!
In this article, we will show you:
An Overview of the Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide
The Vietnam Central Highlands consists of 5 provinces: Lam Dong, Dak Nong, Dak Lak, Gia Lai, and Kon Tum.
The area is made up of contiguous plateaus, the heights of which can range from 500 meters (Kon Tum plateau) to as high as 1,500 meters above sea level (Lam Vien plateau). Therefore, the temperature in the area can vary, with the middle central highlands (Dak Lak and Dak Nong provinces) generally having hotter weather, and Da Lat (in the southern Lam Vien plateau) having an average temperature of around 20 Celsius degree.
Vietnam Central Highlands has no sea border.
Surrounding the region are grand massifs and magnificent mountain ranges where ancient forests still thrive. These woodlands act as protection from most natural disasters, and provide the ideal ground for food plantations like pepper, cashew, coffee, and tea. The forestry also explains the excellent keeping of its ethnic ‘groups’ diverse cultures.
Tay Nguyen is said to produce the best coffee beans in Vietnam.
Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide – When To Go
The best time to visit Vietnam Central Highlands would be from November to February since it is the dry season and the weather is generally cooler. Avoid visiting in March and April as they are the two hottest months.
Mexican ‘sunflowers’ and coffee flower seasons in Vietnam’s Central Highlands attract lots of tourists yearly.
We recommend visiting during December to witness the splendid blooming of the Mexican sunflower and the harvest season of coffee beans, and in February to see endless lands covered by the beautiful white coffee flowers.
Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide – Where To Go And What To Do
Gia Lai is the second largest province in Vietnam and has some of the most notable attractions in the “Tay Nguyen” area. This is where you can probably find the most convenient accommodation and transportation while observing the Vietnamese ethnic groups’ lifestyle and culture.
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/muxWTGtnCzMt6qkK6
Pleiku is the capital city of Gia Lai province, so it has a vibrant nightlife. Some attractions are Minh Thanh Pagoda – the largest pagoda in town with Chinese – Japanese-inspired architecture, and Ham Rong (Dragon Jaw) Mountain – a volcano dubbed as “the roof” of Pleiku city.
Ham Rong Mountain is good for hiking, but you cannot reach the top without permission from the military.
Sea Lake (Bien Ho)
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/gwFoFGvVYsT76Y2s5
Sea Lake is a flooded volcanic crater and the most beautiful lake, as well as the most religious site of Pleiku. The crystal blue water is usually compared to the innocent eyes of a Pleiku girl by Vietnamese poets and songwriters. The natural lake is an ideal fishing spot for both locals and tourists, or you can come here in the evening to witness a breathtaking sunset.
The name “Sea Lake” comes from the fact that on windy days, there are waves on the lake that make it look like a sea.
Fishing in Bien Ho is a favorite pastime of many people.
Due to the mountainous terrain, the Central Highlands of Vietnam are home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Vietnam. Some have tourist sites established in the surroundings, while some retain the rustic beauty and serene atmosphere.
Yaly Waterfall is where a major hydroelectric power plant is based – which is only open to group visits instead of solo travelers.
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/BKEV5QLC7wKDa44o8
The jaw-dropping (and non-touristy) Phu Cuong Waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls in Vietnam
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/inktxFcZfYbsoovEA
Chu Dang Ya Volcano
Chu Dang Ya is a volcano that has been inactive for millions of years. Now, it is the land of magnificent flora and fauna system, and if you visit during October and December, you’ll be able to witness endless fields of wild sunflowers. However, the mountains are not easily reached by any vehicles. It requires courage, determination, and a bit of exercise to get to the top.
The road to Chu Dang Ya does not have any beaten track for transportation
Unfortunately, there were little to no flowers by the time of our visit, yet conquering the path to the volcano is still worthwhile.
Kon Tum Province is adjacent to Laos and Cambodia and only a short distance from Gia Lai – which is convenient for a day trip to explore the area. The name “Kon Tum” is derived from the Bahnar people’s language, “Kon” stands for “village”, and “Tum” means “a pool/lake”.
Read more in our Kon Tum Travel Guide
Bahnar Catholic Church (or Kon Tum Wooden Church)
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/WipB7f5VbhKDs4hW9
The Church of Kon Tum has a gorgeous design combining ancient Roman architecture and the traditional stilt house construction of the Bahnar community. Hence, make sure to check out the stained-glass windows and engravings on the walls. Behind the church is an orphanage where you can ask for permission to hang out with the kids or take part in charity work.
Completed in 1919, the church is over 100 years old already!
The Bishop’s House of Kon Tum
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/SbAN9BtXcVC6FrxA9
Not so far from the church is the Bishop’s House. Since it is still the actual place where the priests and nuns live and work, you cannot visit inside. However, the architecture outside is worth admiring nonetheless.
Elegant design of the building.
The Kon Tum Prison
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/SUGdozcHayyZKwYD7
The historic site reminds you of the fight for Vietnam’s independence during the Vietnam – French war.
The Kon Tum Prison.
The horrific scene of the prison is supposed to be as intense as that in the infamous Con Dao prison, but the remnants have almost completely gone after many war battles and the country’s re-establishment. You can still have a look into the past with the historical records at the small museum within the site.
Kon Klor Suspension Bridge
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/rMt9LEiC8LhG9qeEA
Kon Klor is the biggest and most beautiful suspension bridge in Kon Tum city and is an exciting background for memorable pictures, thanks to the massive river and green tree ranges on the sides. The structure is unfortunately quite weak, so transportation is only allowed to cross the bridge one by one. On the bright side, you can take as many pictures as you want without worrying about the traffic.
Kon Klor Bridge
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/xGCTR7aSsvsufLC97
The town of Kon Tum is considered the “second Da Lat” mostly because of the cool climate and untouched rural mountainous nature. The downside is that Mang Den is not yet a tourist-centric area, meaning you won’t be able to find some convenience services. Having said that, the weather, nature, and tranquility will guarantee the most relaxing leisure vacation.
The road to Mang Den
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/bdbT6PNH4yjbS6Y7A
Ban Don has long been a well-known tourist attraction for Vietnam Central Highlands. With a small fee of VND 70,000, tourists can feed and ride lovely elephants through ancient forests. There are also gong and traditional song performances.
Tourists experience riding on elephants in Ban Don.
Buon Ma Thuot City
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/FvaWgSzBQ5UPWQTH9
The city is Vietnam’s “coffee capital” and the most popular of the Vietnam highlands, below are some attractions you shouldn’t miss:
- Ethnographic Museum: Visit here for a thorough understanding of ethnic ‘groups’ lives, traditions, and history of the region.
- Coffee Museum: A photographers’ hotspot and an interesting address to learn all about coffee.
More than 10,000 artifacts in the Coffee Museum were brought from the Jens Burg Museum in Germany.
- Trung Nguyen Coffee Village: Highly recommended for buying high-quality coffee and taking photos.
- Sac tu Khai Doan Pagoda: the biggest temple in Dak Lak and the first temple built in Vietnam Central Highlands.
Dray Nur Waterfall
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/Bjn2cpBsMFaE8uUm6
After marveling at the majestic beauty of Dray Nur Waterfall, you can visit nearby Ede villages to witness their daily lives.
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/th2nFoBU6HkWyehv7
Lak Lake is the biggest freshwater lake in Tay Nguyen and one of the prettiest natural lakes in Vietnam. You can come here to learn about the Mnong ‘minorities’ traditions for an off-the-beaten-path experience.
Sunset on Lak Lake.
Da Lat City
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/AEuzXBWHUeAY9SFdA
Da Lat is one of the most romantic places in Vietnam. There are endless things to do from extreme sports to wine tasting, from visiting pagodas like Thien Vien Truc Lam to historical sites like Bao Dai Palace. At night, the Da Lat night market is always crowded because of the tasty Vietnamese pizza, fruits, and “banh can” – Vietnamese mini pancakes.
Da Lat is also known as “the flower paradise of Vietnam”
Hiking – Trekking
Lam Dong is heaven for hikers and trekkers in Vietnam. Here we have 3 of Vietnam’s top mountains for trekking: the famous Ta Nang – Phan Dung route, which runs from the Central Highlands to the Central Coastal area, Lang Biang Mountain at 2,167 meters and Bidoup Mountain at 2,287 meters.
Ta Dung Lake and Dak G’Lun Waterfall
The untouched Ta Dung Lake is the “Halong Bay” of Vietnam Central Highlands
Ta Dung Lake: https://goo.gl/maps/kXAWjVcvTvEmU5kU8
Dak G’Lun Waterfall is as magnificent as a hidden fairy-land
Dak G’lun Waterfall: https://goo.gl/maps/oaUjTSxRaDAuUvW1A
Chu B’luk Volcano Cave
Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/wA1ut6fUQxySsnbe9
Chu B’luk is the longest volcano cave in Southeast Asia and is a genuinely unique experience yet remains little known to worldwide tourists.
Chu Bluk Volcano Cave
The Gong Culture in Vietnam Central Highlands
Gong is an integral part of the ethnic groups’ lives in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. The traditional musical instrument appears in most major ceremonies and celebrations like weddings or funerals and acts as a form of communication between humans and gods.
Tay Nguyen Gong culture festival in Gia Lai
In 2005, it was recognized by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. You can find this unique culture throughout the Vietnam Central Highlands in many festivals like the “Village Land Praying festival” of the Bahnar community (held in February and March of the lunar calendar).
“Nha Rong” (The “Rong” House) is also a unique trait in the Vietnam Central Highlands
Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide – What To Eat And Drink
Ruou Can (“Can” Wine)
Ruou Can is a traditional rice wine of the ethnic minorities, which appears not only in significant ceremonies but also in family gatherings. Apart from rice as the main ingredient, the herbs in Ruou Can add a distinctive taste to the wine.
Ruou Can appears in almost every family in the Vietnam Central Highlands
Pho kho Gia Lai (Gia Lai dried pho)
Unlike the familiar soup version, this variation of Pho in Gia Lai has a bowl of rice noodles, and a bowl of soup served separately, which brings an oddly delectable taste.
Com lam (Bamboo rice)
Glutinous rice is grilled over burned charcoal in a bamboo tube, and then eaten with grilled mountain chickens. The one-of-a-kind cooking method helps create a satisfying aroma for the unique rice dish in Vietnam.
Banh khot (Mini rice pancake)
The mini rice pancakes have caught the attention of many tourists due to their crunchy fried batter and the creamy, savory fillings inside.
Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide – How To Go
From Northern Vietnam, the best way to reach Tay Nguyen is by plane. You can catch a 2-hour flight from Noi Bai Airport (Hanoi) to either Pleiku, Buon Ma Thuot, or Da Lat. You can also go by plane from the South; it’ll take you under 1 hour to fly from Tan Son Nhat Airport (Ho Chi Minh City).
Some popular Vietnamese airlines are Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet, and Jetstar. Place your tickets soon to get it from VND 1,000,000 to VND 3,000,000.
Lien Khuong Airport in Da Lat
From Southern Vietnam, the best way is by bus. It’ll take roughly 6 hours from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Lat. The bus is also a good choice for traveling between the provinces with each ride taking from 2 hours up to 6 hours.
To get competitive prices, book your flight and/or bus ticket at 12go Asia.
Between the provinces, you can also ride motorbikes. Many hotels offer motorbike rental at around VND 200,000 per day, so you can ask them beforehand.
Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide – Where To Stay
If there’s one thing to remember while picking a hotel in Tay Nguyen, it is “you can’t be picky”. While in major cities, the choices are abundant, in more “rural” provinces like Dak Nong where traveling is not its primary income, the quality of lodging can be less satisfactory. With that said, we have picked out for you a few recommended accommodations:
Green Bamboo Plaza Hotel
Address: 18 Le Lai Street, Pleiku City, Gia Lai
Booking link: Green Bamboo Plaza Hotel
Price: from USD 20
Address: 1 Phu Dong Street, Pleiku City, Gia Lai
Booking link: HAGL Hotel
Price: from USD 50
Konklor Hotel Kontum
Address: 38 Bac Kan, Thang Loi, Kon Tum
Booking link: Konklor Hotel Kontum
Price: from VND 250,000
Hnam Chang Ngeh Hospitality Training Center
Address: 16A Nguyen Trai, Thong Nhat, Kon Tum
Booking link: Hnam Chang Ngeh Hospitality Training Center
Price: from VND 310,000 – VND 500,000
Konklor Hotel Kon Tum.
Address: 37 Ho Giao, Buon Me Thuot City
Booking link: Zan HomeStay
Price: VND 100,000 to VND 500,000
Muong Thanh Luxury Hotel
Address: 81 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Buon Me Thuot City
Booking link: Muong Thanh Luxury Hotel
Price: from VND 1,000,000
Pi Hostel Dalat
Address: 61 Thủ Khoa Huân, Ward 1, Dalat City Center, Da Lat
Booking link: Pi Hostel Dalat
Prices: around VND 300,000
Du Parc Hotel Dalat
Address: 15 Tran Phu Street, Dalat City Center, Da Lat
Booking link: Du Parc Hotel Dalat
Prices: from VND 2,000,000 – VND 3,000,000
Vietnam Central Highlands Travel Guide – Tips
Tay Nguyen’s land is ideal for producing high-quality tea.
- Souvenirs to buy are: coffee, weasel coffee, tea, fruits, nuts, dried beef/deer, ruou can (“can” wine)…
- There are hardly any English-speaking medical facilities, so consult with your doctor about necessary vaccinations before the trip and bring your medicines.
- Bring your own hygiene kit in case your hostel/inn doesn’t have one.
- English is not commonly spoken here, so learn some useful Vietnamese phrases or better yet, have a local tour guide!
- Don’t drink tap water! And be careful with food poisoning. Read our tips on how not to get food poisoning.
- Research beforehand where you can and can’t go because some places require permission from the government, especially for international visitors.
- Bring a jacket as the temperature can vary and bring sneakers since there’ll be a lot of hiking.
In Conclusion about Vietnam Central Highlands
For those who prefer a unique, non-touristy journey, Tay Nguyen with many untouched attractions and vibrant traditions from various ethnic groups will be a perfect choice. We hope our Vietnam Central Highlands travel guide has helped you plan a fun and safe trip to this land of mystery.