Founders' Stories | Kon Tum and its Indigenous Tribes
Kon Tum, is a city along found along the Ho Chi Minh Highway, in Central Vietnam. It is mountainous here, there's always a chill in the air in the mornings and nights, and there's something really special found in the mountains here.
I have always had a fascination and respect for indigenous cultures worldwide. I find their "primitive" ways beyond interesting; it is their dependence on their land that gives that so much respect for it, something city dwellers have long forgotten.
The first time I went to Kon Tum, I blitzed through it on my bike, it was just a convenient stopping point for the afternoon. I went around, checked out the very few things, that was suggested online and then started speaking with a few locals. I heard about A and I was obsessed about coming back to meet him and go trekking with him.
About a year later, I finally made it back and had the best 3 days with him and the indigenous mountain folk here. A acts as your guide and translator. A is an artist, a gardener, and a humble man. He knows so much about Montagnard friends, a name originally given to this group of people by the French, because of his naughty childhood; basically as a boy, he was sent out to live with them as "punishment" because his parents didn't know what else to do with him. He developed a relationship and respect for the Montagnard and has been supporting them as much as he can through tourism and personal means.
On this light trekking tour, you experience a throw back to our ancestral ways. Translated to English the Montagnard "eat the forest, and eat the mountain". You will learn about how they live off their land, work together as a community, continue to uphold traditions of their parents' parents' parents'! It truly is humbling spending time with A and the Montagnard.
Just a quick head ups - Southeast Asia is comprised of mostly "developing" nations but you will be surprised how developed everywhere is. Locals may live simply, but they live comfortably and happily.
I spent three days in Kon Tum. A day around the surrounding villages. Two days in the mountains. Here are the highlights
Spending the night with a Montagnard family
I was invited into their home with open arms. Although I do not speak their local language, A was there to answer all my questions. My night with them was just one of those nights that will stay with my forever. The other families came over and sat around drinking rice wine to stay warm, they gossiped about what was happening in nearby villages, and shared everything. The one thing I truly admired about the Montagnard was the importance of fire to them. The word for fire is Unh, and their lives revolve around fire. So in English there is cooking fire, field fire, togetherness fire, home fire, and their word and explanation for marriage fire. I don't want to butcher the story and ruin things for you, but this truly is one of those "you had to be there" kind of situations.
I accidentally ended up at a traditional indigenous wedding of the BaNar Kon Tum people. The bride was dressed like a princess. And all this wedding boiled down to was a good time. Vases of rice wine, karaoke, food and all their friends and family. My favourite touch was rice wine that came in a packaged how you would win a goldfish at a county fair. This just made me think about the contrast of local village weddings to the extravagant western and Chinese weddings I have been to. I think that this one was more fun and definitely less stressful.
Kon Tum Gong Culture
I am a big into origin stories and heritage so for me to have not heard of this; UNESCO named this a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. And once again I was brought back down to Earth when the elders of the village thought that my presence there was important enough for them to play a traditional gong number. There was met a man who was 103 years old, the oldest of the tribe and the "gong doctor", the only man who knows how to fix the sound of misshapen gongs. To say the least, this was special.
A long weekend is all it takes to make your way to Kon Tum and back. Obviously, the longer you can stay the more you can get out of you trip. But I recommend 3 days 3 nights minimum.