Central Highlands and the coast

The Central Highlands consist of the Truong Son Mountain Range and its immediate environs. The mountain range is commonly referred to as the backbone of Vietnam and borders Laos and Cambodia to the west. The highlands provide flowers and vegetables to the southern lowlands and have several tea and coffee plantations that supply the whole of Vietnam. Tourism is an additional source of revenue. Most highlanders belong to one of 26 indigenous groups and, beyond the main towns of Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot, Play Ku (Pleiku) and Kontum, their way of life remains unchanged.

East of the highlands, on the coast, Nha Trang is a seaside resort with diving, boat tours and spas to entice foreign visitors. Further south, Mui Ne has golden sands and the best kitesurfing in Vietnam.

The Central Highlands have long been associated with Vietnam's hilltribes. Under the French, the colonial administration deterred ethnic Vietnamese from settling here but missionaries were active among the minorities of the region, although with uneven success. Bishop Cuenot (page) dispatched two missionaries to Buon Ma Thuot, where they received a hostile reception from the M'nong, however in Kontum, among the Ba-na, they found more receptive souls for their evangelizing. Today many of the ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands are Roman Catholic, although some (such as the Ede) are Protestant.

At the same time French businesses were hard at work establishing plantations to supply the home market. Rubber and coffee were the staple crops. The greatest difficulty they faced was recruiting sufficient labour. Men and women of the ethnic minorities were happy in their villages drinking rice wine and cultivating their own small plots. They were poor but content and saw no reason to accept the hard labour and slave wages of the plantation owners.

Since 1984 there has been a bit of a free-for-all and a scramble for land in the highlands. Ethnic Vietnamese have encroached on minority land and planted it with coffee, pepper and fruit trees. As an indicator of progress, Vietnam is now the second
largest producer of coffee in the world, although it produces cheaper robusta rather than arabica coffee. The way of life of the minorities is disappearing with the forests: there are no trees from which to build traditional stilt houses nor shady forests in which to live and hunt.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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