Pleiku is the capital of Gia Lai province, which is located in the central highland region of Vietnam. It is about 50 kilometres south of Kon Tum and 200 kilometres away from Qut Nhon. Pleiku is located at the intersection of Routes 19 and 14, making it the starting point for any kind of exploration in the Highlands.
Pleiku is a historically relevant town, specifically in relation to the Vietnam War. The town was the end of the military supply logistics avenue which extended to the west along Route 19 and also the main centre of defence for the highland region. When the North Vietnam Army launched an attack in this city, Lyndon Johnson gave the green light for 'Operation Rolling Thunder,' a campaign marked by extensive bombing. It was the site where the first formal battle occurred, and the place was later left in ruins.
After the war, Pleiku was rebuilt with the help of the USSR, which is why the town displays a Soviet influence. Even with foreign intervention Pleiku retains its rural charm thanks to the mountainous and stunning countryside.
Pleiku does not receive a lot of tourists. The select individuals who do get to this town quickly discover that while there are not many attractions, one of them is the Bien Ho (Sea Lake). Located about six kilometres north of Pleiku, is a flooded crater of an old volcano. Visitors should head north on Pham Van Dong and turn right at Ton Duc Thang to see the road to the lake, a tree-lined path that descends to the crater. There is a jetty with a gazebo, from which visitors can enjoy the best views.
Another attraction is the Cong Vien Dong Xanh, or the Fossil Tree Water Park. Found about 10 kilometres outside Pleiku, this tourist spot has fossilised trees on display, however, the trees did not originally grow in this location. Tourists should visit at weekends, when the waterslides, zoo and crocodile pond are open.
Other places are The Gia Lai and Ho Chi Minh museums, Yaly Falls and Phu Cuong Waterfall.
Pleiku is not especially known for its cuisine. Nonetheless, there are dining spots in the area that can pleasantly surprise such as the My Tam 1 and My Tam 2 restaurants. Their best dish is the roast chicken with rice.
Those who want an extensive dining selection should visit Acacia Restaurant in HAGL (Hoang Anh Gia Lai) Hotel, which can be found in the south of town. Aside from remarkable Thai dishes, the establishment also serves Western fare such as fish and chips, burgers and spaghetti as well as exotic dishes, like a plate of weasel or pangolin.
Travellers who enjoy great views should eat in Thien Thanh as the restaurant is located on a side road that dips into the valley; it has seating in a hall which surrounds the edge of the rice fields, allowing diners to see the hills in the distance. They serve Vietnamese fare and provide English-language menus.
Tourists who enjoy the drinking and party scene at night may be disappointed with what Pleiku has to offer in terms of nightlife. In this place, it is hard to find bars, pubs and nightclubs and the best bet when it comes to nightlife is the HAGL (Hoang Anh Gia Lai) Hotel in Phu Dong. This is probably the best place to stay when in Pleiku, which is not really surprising since it is a four-star hotel. The HAGL Hotel can be considered a nightlife destination because it houses a nightclub and a karaoke lounge and visitors who stay in this hotel are guaranteed to have an interesting night here.
Another hotel in Pleiku which night owls can visit is the Bamboo Green Hotel in Le Lai Street. Like the HAGL Hotel, this place also has karaoke rooms.
Meanwhile, visitors who just want to relax with a drink can go to Tan Tay Nguyen, a thatched longhouse with a garden bar.
Almost all streets in this city are lined with shops that sell wholesale merchandise. Pleiku is also one of only two cities (the other is Buon Ma Thuat) that sells authentic Central Highlands hill tribe handicrafts. Visitors who are fortunate enough to reach this area in Vietnam can get really unique souvenirs.
Unfortunately, the shopping scene is Pleiku is also fuelled by poaching with many stores that sell products from endangered species. For instance, leopards and marbled cats are often killed to be stuffed and sold, the teeth and claws of Asian black bears and moon bears are also extracted and made into lucky charms and souvenirs. Two of the most shocking pieces sold in the city are rhino skin and dried forest cow stomach; the former is taken from the Javan Rhino, one of the rarest mammals in the world, while the latter is from the endangered Gayal or Gaur.
There is not much to do in Pleiku and is a rather sleepy town, which is why it is not frequented by many visitors. The best thing to do while in the city is sightseeing, since the area does have picturesque views and the best way to explore Pleiku is to go on a tour. The group of tourists that arrive in Pleiku are usually part of pre-arranged tours with Gia Lai Tourist in the Hung Vuong Hotel.
There are many tour options that visitors can choose from such as tours of the Banhar and Jarai ethnic minority villages that last half a day; there are also day-long tribal village hiking excursions, which prove to be the most exciting. Meanwhile, there are boat tours that involve a visit to Bat Cave Island, among others. Tours which feature elephant rides and folk shows are highly recommended.
There are three Vietnam Airlines flights to Pleiku every week both from Ho Chi Minh City and Danang. The airport is five kilometres from town and easily accessible by taxi or xe om and there are many buses that get to and around the city. Pleiku's Ben Xe Duc Long Gia Lai, which is about 2.5 kilometres southeast of town, is one of the nicest looking bus stations.
There also is an express bus service from Ho Chi Minh City to Pleiku, but the trip takes 15 hours. It’s better to travel via minibuses or rental cars from Danang or Ho Chi Minh City. There is no railway service in the Central Highlands.
The best time to visit Pleiku is between November and April. During these months, there are lesser chances of rain. It is not practical to visit the city during the wet season from May to October.
You will need a permit to visit Gia Lai Province and will be required to hire a guide.