|Holy place: Minh Thanh Pagoda is one of the biggest pagodas in Pleiku.
by Thanh Nga
With its foggy atmosphere, wintry evenings and winding roads encircling hills and mountains, Pleiku has the feeling of a beautiful painting.
Pleiku is the capital of Gia Lai province, located in the Central Highlands region of Viet Nam. It is about 50km south of Kon Tum and 200km from Quy Nhon at the intersection of highway 19 and 14, making it the starting point for exploration of the Highlands.
After a two-day assignment, I had one day to discover this city in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.
Waking up early, I opened the window at my hotel and was charmed with the morning sunlight, as well as the fresh air, which carried the scent of morning dew as well as a hint of nocturnal chill.
My friend, Hoang Nguyen, picked me up at the hotel. He promised to introduce me a speciality of the mountainous city, pho kho (dry noodles), named as one of 10 Vietnamese dishes of gastronomic importance to the international community by the Asia Record Organisation (ARO).
He took me to a small food shop on Nguyen Van Troi Street, where we met friendly local Ho Van Quy.
"Pho kho is the most delicious food in Gia Lai. You can see it everywhere, from roadside stalls to luxurious restaurants," Quy said.
Pho kho is also called pho hai to (two-bowl noodle) as the dish is served in two bowls. One contains dry noodle topped with a mixture of fried ground pork, fried onion, raw vegetables like lettuce and bean sprouts and hot chili garlic sauce. The other bowl holds a sweet broth with sliced beef or meatballs.
|Noodling around: Pho kho is a must-try speciality in Pleiku.
As Quy said, pho kho was very delicious. I wanted to order one more, but Nguyen said he would take me to have many kinds of food in Pleiku such as lui (skewered grilled pork paste), nem (spring rolls) and thit bo nuong ong (grilled beef in bamboo pipe) so I must stop my gluttony.
Near the pho kho stall, there was a small cafe where tens of locals sat drinking and talking.
"Locals here usually drink coffee in the morning. They don't care to drink in a smart shop. They're just looking for a place to sip coffee and chat with friends. Coffee is a key part of the cultural and spiritual life of Pleiku people," Nguyen explains.
I remembered that one of my friends had said that drinking coffee in Pleiku was the most wonderful experience, so I looked forward to my first cup.
We passed several roads filled with cafes. Wuu, Hai Ba Trung and Le Lai roads are even called "Cafe Streets" because so many coffee shops are packed so close together.
We stopped at Nhac Trinh Cafe, an old-fashioned place on Wuu Street that was very crowded.
"I was born and grew up in Pleiku. My love for this plateau is inseparable from my love for coffee," one local confided.
|Caffeine boost: Pleiku residents enjoy aromatic coffee, a regional speciality, at a local cafe. — File Photos
While I have enjoyed coffee in many regions, the taste of Pleiku coffee and the space overwhelmed by wind, sunshine, pine trees and misty slopes were unforgettable.
About 10km outside of Pleiku is tourist attraction Cong Vien Dong Xanh (Dong Xanh Park), the first water park in the province. There also displays a fossilised tree, which is said to be more than 1 million years old, found at an extinct volcano in neighbouring Ajun Pa District.
Diversions include water slides (only open on weekends) and a zoo that kids might enjoy, along with two ostriches running around in an enclosure near the entrance.
There's also a crocodile pond offering "feeding shows".
From the park, we visited Gia Lai and Ho Chi Minh museums, Yaly Falls and Phu Cuong Waterfall. In the afternoon, we made our way to Minh Thanh Pagoda, one of the biggest and most beautiful pagodas in Pleiku, located on a hill about 2km southwest of the city.
The pagoda draws many tourists thanks to its unique architecture and solemn atmosphere. In the late afternoon sun, the sound of bells can be heard, bringing peace for visitors. — VNS