Saturday, Jan. 16th (Kon Tum Day 1)

  • After 2 full days of riding we decided to take a recovery day in Kon Tum rather than continue immediately on to Hoi An as originally planned.
  • We arranged for a minority village tour with Highland Eco Tours led by Mr. Huynh, which has an excellent reputation.
  • At 9am Mr. Huynh showed up with an assistant and we all set off on our motorbikes.
  • First stop was a Jarai village cemetery where we saw many graves, all covered by sloping tin roofs, some with food and water tributes and some wreathed in flowers and flanked by wooden statues. Mr. Huynh explained that a “funeral” is a very expensive and very lengthy process among the Jarai. The initial burial is a celebration of life; a party with plenty of alcohol meant to honour the deceased and bring the community together. But this is not where the “funeral” ends. In subsequent years, the family tends to the grave with shelter, food, and water while saving money for a second celebration meant to release the soul of the deceased to the afterlife. This second party can go on for up to a week and is marked by flowers and statues around the grave to show that the family has properly cared for their dead.
  • Next was a Bahnar village which we were led through by Mr. Huynh’s assistant. We walked the dirt spines that separate different rice field plots and got to see the crop up close, which was a nice change after having driven by so many rice fields at a distance.
  • Next stop was a lake with row upon row of coffee plants running down from our vantage point towards the water. In the distance we could see mountains that had been sprayed with Agent Orange during the war, still bald in stark contrast to the vegetation of the foreground.
  • Next was another minority village where we took a break for some tea and tamarind candy before wandering through a rubber tree plantation on the outskirts of town. The plantation had thousands of trees on the plot, row upon row of bare trunks with white “rubber” running down carved lines into a collection bowl.  
  • We stopped back in Kon Tum to share a lunch of steamed vegetables and communal “hot pot” soup before exploring the alleys and fields of 3 more minority villages, all similar to what we had seen in the morning.
  • The final stop was a wedding in a Bahnar village quite close to our hotel. At first it was awkward as we were clearly the only foreigners among 50+ locals with no clue what to do, but it didn’t take long for a group of men to invite us to sit with them… and then the drinking began.
  • In Bahnar culture, I guess not so differently from our own, weddings are an excuse for everyone to get stinking drunk. We all sat on the ground in small circles surrounding huge communal clay pots, filled to the brim with “happy water,” the sweet local rice wine concoction. Each clay pot has a giant straw which is passed from victim to victim in the circle. When it is your turn, you don’t just take one sip, the clay pot is filled again to the brim and you keep drinking until a delicately placed piece of leaf or stem is exposed from the depths of the rice wine.
  • Within 20 minutes, Cory had sung two songs accompanied by the live band: Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan and one that he made up on the spot to go with the music.
  • For the next 3 hours we alternated between the dance floor, where everyone was moving and shaking as if their life depended on it, and the massive clay pot drinking circles, which mercifully had slowed down their pace as the evening wore on.
  • Just after 7pm we joined a group of younger local guests led by Mr. Huynh for beer and snail snacks on the street.
  • We voted a mid-twenties local with excellent English named Luna as chairman for the night and he led us to a private Karaoke bar where we sung well known English and Vietnamese songs for a few more hours.
  • By 10:30pm we were all drunk and exhausted and the group dispersed. Our trio (me, Dries, and Cory) returned to Thinh Vuong hotel for some much needed rest.

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