What to see in Kontum, the amazing land of the Central Highlands?
- on Nov 21, 2019       By: BN
Kontum Province is a landlocked province in the Central Highlands near the borders of Laos and Cambodia. It’s a popular destination for travellers wishing to get off the beaten track and want to discover another face of Vietnam, where reside the famous gongs, songs and traditional dances of ethnic minorities that populate this hilly region. A province marked by the imprint of history, this is a place full of beautiful surprises and captivating encounters.
During the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, the Central Highlands were the scene of fierce fighting between US forces and those of the Vietnamese People's Army. Kontum Province repeatedly experienced fierce battles like Dak To which took place from November 3rd to 22th, 1967. This battle was one of the fiercest and bloodiest of the conflict. 1,000 to 1,664 soldiers of the Vietnamese People's Army and Việt Cộng were killed in the battle and 2,000 more were wounded. The American losses amounted to 361 killed, 15 missing and 1,441 wounded.
Another great confrontation was the "Kontum war" which took place between May and June 1972 during the Passover offensive which the Vietnamese People's Army conquered Kontum city, the eponymous capital of the province.
In the neighbouring Gia Lai province, the Battle of Ia Drang Valley was one of the first major clashes between the US Army and the Vietnamese People's Army during the Vietnam War. A terrible confrontation that caused heavy losses on both sides.
Kontum, land of Catholic missionaries
It was in 1850 that the first missionaries entered these mountains that no European had yet explored. With Animist peoples, the beginnings were as difficult for these missionary Catholics as for François-Xavier Nguyen Do who opened the way of the evangelisation and would allow the coming of the missionaries. The witness to this past was the beautiful wooden church of Kontum. Built more than a century ago out of rot-proof ironwood, with a pointed roof like that of communal houses, the church is an architectural masterpiece. Visitors appreciate the precious wood decorations, the majestic belfry of more than 20 m high, the raised wooden floor of one metre to allow the ventilation and the superb stained glass multicolour tracing passages of the Bible.
Today, the Cathedral of Kon Tum has more than 200,000 Catholics, two-thirds of whom belong to ethnic minorities. In November 2018, the Catholic community of Kontum commemorated the 170th anniversary of the beginning of the evangelisation in the region, the 165th anniversary of the first missionary journey accomplished among the Highlanders by the deacon François-Xavier Nguyen Do.
Ethnic minorities in Kontum Province
Kontum Province is the cradle of ancient peoples who still today preserve their fascinating complex cultures. In this region live several ethnic minorities such as Bahnar, Sedang, Giarai and Romam who are the smallest ethnic minority in Vietnam with only a population of 200 individuals. These ethnic minorities still live in their traditional villages, speak their language, perpetuate their customs and have their own music and architecture. They continue farming and raising cattle, mainly growing cassava, sugar cane, banana and rice. The Bahnar ethnic group is the most represented. The Bahnar live mainly in stilt houses decorated with horns at each end and are known for their spectacular communal house (nha rong) where all the public activities are held, such as the rituals during which the Bahnars take out their gongs and dance and sing then empty some jars of rice liquor.
The Nha rong is a formidable piece of traditional architecture with a thatched roof in the shape of an axe steeply inclined whose height reaches twenty meters, usually built in the heart of the village. It’s one way to show the power and prosperity of the village to everyone. The Sedang are characterised by their long stilt houses built of wood and bamboo. At the end of the 19th century, a French adventurer, Marie David de Meyrena, succeeded in uniting certain Sedang tribes into a confederation and proclaimed himself king of the Sedang under the name of Mary I.
Coffee is one of the pillars of the economy of Kontum province. The temperate climate and fertile basaltic soil are favourable for coffee growing introduced by French settlers. These are many small family coffee plantations that we invite you to visit so you can see and understand the whole process of harvesting and processing of coffee.
We also invite you to enjoy a good cup of local coffee at Kontum Indochina Café in downtown Kontum City to enjoy the extraordinary architecture of the bamboo structure.
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